Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing an impeachment trial in the state Senate over accusations that he abused his power to help a wealthy donor and friend who was under FBI investigation. The trial, which began on Tuesday, could last for weeks and determine the political fate of the embattled Republican.
Former aides testify against Paxton
The first key witness in the trial was Jeff Mateer, who was Paxton’s second-in-command at the attorney general’s office until he reported Paxton to the FBI in 2020. Mateer testified that Paxton’s orders to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul rattled the office and raised questions about his motives.
Mateer said that he learned that Paxton had an extramarital affair with a woman who worked for Paul, which helped him connect the dots about why Paxton was using his power in ways that benefited Paul. “It answered that ‘why’ question,” Mateer said.
Mateer also said that Paxton “turned the keys” of his office over to Paul, allowing him to influence investigations, hire outside lawyers, and access confidential information. Mateer said that he and other top aides tried to resist Paxton’s directives, but were ultimately fired or resigned.
Paxton’s attorney Tony Buzbee cross-examined Mateer and suggested that he and other deputies wanted to seize power from Paxton. “You were staging a coup, weren’t you?” Buzbee asked. “Absolutely not,” Mateer replied.
Another former aide who accused Paxton of wrongdoing, Blake Brickman, also testified on Wednesday. He said that Paxton asked him to intervene in a dispute between Paul and an Austin charity over a $10 million donation. Brickman said that he refused to do so, and was later fired.
The allegations against Paxton
Paxton is accused of abusing his office to help Paul, who was under FBI investigation at the time and was indicted this summer on charges of making false statements to banks. According to the impeachment managers, who are representatives of the Texas House, Paxton took several actions that favored Paul, such as:
- Ordering an investigation into Paul’s claims that he was mistreated by federal agents during a raid on his home and office in 2019.
- Hiring an outside lawyer, Brandon Cammack, to handle the investigation, despite objections from his own staff.
- Intervening in a lawsuit filed by Paul against an Austin-based company over a failed business deal.
- Seeking a legal opinion from the Texas Supreme Court on whether Paul could access records from a grand jury that indicted him.
The impeachment managers have submitted nearly 4,000 pages of evidence to support their case, including emails, text messages, memos, and recordings. They have also identified more than 100 potential witnesses for the trial.
Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and has described his impeachment as a “politically motivated sham”. He has not attended the trial so far, but his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, has watched from her desk. She is not allowed to vote in the trial.
The political implications of the trial
The impeachment trial is the gravest threat to Paxton’s political career after years of criminal charges and alleged scandal. Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges, which he has also denied. He is also facing a lawsuit from four former staffers who claim they were fired for blowing the whistle on his corruption.
Paxton is a firebrand conservative who has aligned himself with former President Donald Trump. He sued in a failed effort to overturn Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election, seeking to have the electoral college votes of four swing states won by Biden thrown out.
Paxton is seeking re-election in 2022, but faces a tough primary challenge from George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush. Bush has criticized Paxton for his legal troubles and ethical issues.
The impeachment trial could have an impact on Paxton’s political prospects, as well as on the reputation of the Texas attorney general’s office. The trial is expected to resume on Thursday with more testimony from former aides and other witnesses.