The biggest revelations from Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial so far
The Texas Senate began historic impeachment proceedings this week against suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, a member of the Texas Republican Party’s most conservative bloc. Before the trial kicked off Tuesday, it had been nearly half a century since Texas lawmakers considered removing an elected official from office.
Here's a recap of the most significant moments and surprising revelations to come out of Paxton’s trial so far.
1. An early attempt to drop the charges failed…but Paxton won’t be compelled to testify.
The trial opened with significant defeats for the suspended attorney general, who faces allegations that he abused the power of his office, committed bribery and more. The Senate shot down motions to drop virtually all of the impeachment charges against Paxton, with a majority of Republican senators voting to proceed with the trial. At least 21 senators – or the minimum needed to vote to remove Paxton from office permanently at the end of trial – shot down each motion.
One motion that did go Paxton’s way exempts him from testifying. Paxton had said shortly after his impeachment that he would not take the stand. House impeachment managers sought to compel him to do so, and prosecutors could have called him as a witness. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled that Paxton should be protected against self-incrimination, since the House impeachment managers and their attorneys repeatedly likened his case to a criminal trial.
Paxton was suspended in May by the Texas House after an investigative committee presented the chamber with 20 articles of impeachment. Paxton was then ousted by the chamber after 121 members, including 60 Republicans, voted for his removal.
2. Former Paxton loyalists were shocked by his behavior concerning Nate Paul.
Several of Paxton’s former top lieutenants in the Attorney General’s Office testified in the first four days of the trial. All were conservative Republicans who, though once loyal to Paxton, said they became disillusioned after seeing him allegedly abusing his office on behalf of Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.
Investigators alleged Paxton used his office to intervene in a federal investigation into Paul and asked staff in the attorney general’s office to modify a legal opinion to benefit his friend and donor – all despite several top Paxton staffers and aides pleading with the attorney general to reconsider.
Former first assistant attorney general Jeff Mateer said that Paxton had repeatedly ignored warnings that his intervention on behalf of Paul was improper. Mateer described how Paxton became irate and pushed back on such warnings, and said he was concerned that Paxton may have been blackmailed over an extramarital affair.
"One of the jobs of the first assistant is to protect, in addition to running the office, was to protect the attorney general,” Mateer told prosecuting attorney Rusty Hardin. “And, quite frankly, I obviously failed at that.”
In testimony that followed Mateer’s, former deputy first assistant Ryan Bangert said Paxton’s insistence that his staff craft an opinion about foreclosure sales during the pandemic raised alarm bells for a group of eventual whistleblowers. The opinion recommended halting the sales, which would have benefited Paul.
Bangert said his discussion with Paxton on the matter was concerning.
“It was bizarre,” he said. “He was acting like a man with a gun to his head.”
Bangert said the amount of time spent crafting the opinion added to the group’s suspicions.
“We were devoting far more resources to Nate Paul than we ever should have,” he said.
Former deputy attorney general for legal counsel Ryan Vassar testified that Paxton had intervened to ensure the Attorney General’s Office released a file to Paul containing confidential information regarding a federal investigation into his business affairs. Vassar said Paxton pressured both him and Bangert to provide legal opinions that would have prevented the foreclosure of some of Paul’s properties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vassar also described how Paxton arranged for outside counsel to investigate a complaint made by Paul. Attorney Brandon Cammack was hired for the job, looking into what Paul alleged were improper state and federal searches of his home and businesses.
3. Paxton whistleblowers felt a responsibility to report their boss to the FBI.
Witnesses testified they had no choice but to report their boss to federal law enforcement.
“It became clear to me that there was nothing more I could do — that the office, the attorney general, was determined to harness the power of our office to fulfill the interests of a single individual against the interests of the state,” Bangert said. “In my view, [we were] signing our professional death warrant. We understood the gravity.”
Mateer, Vassar and Bangert were among seven top Paxton staffers who went to the FBI on Sept. 30, 2020.
In explaining why he made the decision, Vassar testified, “I formed a conclusion that General Paxton was using the power and authority of his office to benefit a private individual.
“The concern was that it would only get worse,” he added.
Shortly after going to the FBI, Vassar was terminated from his position in the AG’s office, allegedly for disclosing confidential information outside the agency. Mateer resigned on Oct. 2, 2020, when faced with the prospect of being put on investigative leave.
Paxton has repeatedly attempted to discredit the whistleblowers, painting them as “rogue” employees. Vassar said the label offended him, and he was close to tears as he testified.
“[I] worked for the state for eight years as a public servant, as one who values the commitment to public service, to set an example for my kids, the people that I worked with, the people that I managed,” he said.
David Maxwell, a longtime Texas Ranger and former head of law enforcement in the Attorney General’s Office, testified Friday that Paxton tried to pressure him to open an investigation of federal and state authorities over an FBI search of Paul’s home and businesses. Maxwell refused.
“I told him that Nate Paul was a criminal, he was running a Ponzi scheme that would rival Billy Sol Estes, and that if he didn’t get away from this individual and stop doing what he was doing, he was going to get himself indicted,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell was fired in November 2020, just over a month after he and his colleagues reported Paxton to federal authorities.
Four of Paxton’s former top deputies sued Paxton over their terminations, saying they were improperly dismissed as retaliation for going to the FBI. Earlier this year, the group reached a $3.3 million settlement with Paxton, who then asked the Texas Legislature to foot the bill. His request allegedly sparked the investigation that ultimately led to Paxton’s impeachment.
4. Besides day 1, Paxton has been absent from proceedings.
Per the Texas Senate adopted rules for the impeachment trial, Paxton was required to be present at the beginning of the trial on Tuesday. After pleading not guilty to all the impeachment charges, he left the Texas Capitol.
But at least one Paxton has been in the Senate chamber every day this week: Sen. Angela Paxton, the suspended attorney general's wife.
The Texas Constitution requires every senator to be present in the trial, but Senate rules exclude Sen. Paxton, R-McKinney, from participating in deliberations or voting on whether to convict him.
Sen. Paxton has spent her time writing notes and has waved to supporters in the Senate Gallery. Shedeclined multiple requests for comment from The Texas Newsroom.
5. Paxton’s got supporters.
Throughout the week, Paxton’s supporters have taken to social media to support the embattled attorney general and criticize the so-called “sham” impeachment. Matt Rinaldi, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, reposted a statement from late May on X, formerly known as Twitter, slamming the impeachment process.
“As this sham impeachment falls apart under cross examination, I want to remind conservatives that the @TexasGOP has stood against it from the beginning. As I said then, due process matters. This colossal waste of time is the result of the House not following it,” he posted.
As Paxton’s team watched its various motions fail Tuesday morning, several of his supporters gathered in and outside the Senate chamber to show their support.
Peter Bowen, a Michigan native who’s called Houston home for more than 20 years, said the charges against Paxton are tied to another controversial Republican.
“You have to understand something (in) this country right now: The only thing that’s going on is whether or not Trump’s going to be the next president,” Bowen said. “Paxton is a big supporter of President Trump. He has fought to stall this idiotic ESG control over finance and he has supported the fight to investigate vote fraud. And he has championed Trump as that’s why he’s being attacked.”
Meanwhile, Texas Democrats have continued to cheer on Paxton’s prosecutors and the witnesses they’ve called. The group posted a video of Bangert testifying that he felt the office had been “hijacked” to aid Paul.
The Texas Newsroom's Rachel Osier Lindley contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Dick DeGuerin, one of the lead prosecutors for the state House in the Senate impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, is a board member of Marfa Public Radio.