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Exclusive: Ken Paxton impeachment records reveal fights over witness testimony and alleged bullying

Ken Paxton was acquitted of all 16 impeachment charges Saturday. Four other charges were later dismissed.
Michael Minasi
Ken Paxton was acquitted of all 16 impeachment charges Saturday. Four other charges were later dismissed.

Do you see a story in these documents we should pursue, or do you have another tip? Reach us at tips@kut.org.

Witnesses subpoenaed before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial last year accused him of bullying them during the proceedings and argued they shouldn’t have to answer questions under oath, newly-released records show.

The Texas Newsroom filed a public records request for all documents files with the Court of Impeachment. In response, the Texas Senate released hundreds of pages of previously-unreleased documents that pull back the curtain on the proceedings, revealing behind-the-scenes fights between Paxton’s defense team and the prosecution.

They also show more about who was made to testify under oath — and who wasn’t.

To ensure a full and transparent public record of the historic impeachment trial, the first to take place in Texas in nearly half a century, The Texas Newsroom is publishing the document trove in its entirety. The records are in batches in the order they were received with no redactions or other additional alterations made.

Below are three things that stood out in the filings.

Many of the records were requests from potential witnesses, including the woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair, not to produce documents or answer questions under oath.

It is unclear how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who served as judge, ruled on many of their requests. When asked for an explanation, Patrick’s spokesman, Steven Aranyi, said they were handled properly.

“The matters were addressed by order of the court, agreement between the parties, withdrawal by the filing party, or not broached because the matter was moot,” Aranyi told The Texas Newsroom.

Central to the impeachment trial were allegations raised by a group of whistleblowers that Nate Paul, a campaign donor and Austin-based real estate investor, bribed Paxton to receive favorable treatment at the Office of the Attorney General. Paxton was accused of bribery, conspiracy and general unfitness for office and faced 20 articles of impeachment approved by the Texas House.

After a 10-day trial, the Texas Senate acquitted Paxton and reinstated him to office.

Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s defense attorneys, said he was happy with Paxton’s win and was now focusing on future cases — not looking back to impeachment. He is also defending Paxton in a felony fraud case that goes to trial in April.

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to continue to argue about the DNA of any breadcrumbs that remain,” Cogdell told The Texas Newsroom.

“[She] has done nothing wrong:” Laura Olson did not want to testify

One of the articles of impeachment accused Paul of getting favorable treatment from Paxton after he hired Laura Olson, a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.

The newly-released records show Olson pushed back against demands that she testify or produce phone records about their alleged romantic relationship.

“Ms. Olson is not a party to these proceedings and has done nothing wrong. This intrusion into her personal life cannot be justified,” Olson’s lawyer wrote in a motion filed Sept. 5.

A week later, more than halfway through the trial, she filed another motion stating Olson would tap her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if ordered to the stand. She also expressed confusion over why her client was being called to appear at the court because she had been assured Olson would not have to testify at all, the records show.

“She should not be called as a witness, as it would be a waste of time, and could only be for an improper purpose,” Olson’s lawyer wrote in a motion to quash dated Sept. 13.

Prosecutors intended to call Olson to testify that day, according to reporting at the time. Sporting a white dress and toting a large Balenciaga handbag, Olson appeared in the court to wait her turn on the stand.

But, after several hours’ delay, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick determined that she was given fewer than 24 hours’ notice to appear and was deemed "unavailable to testify."

She never took the stand.

Nate Paul, the Austin real estate developer central to allegations of illegal conduct by Ken Paxton, Texas’ now-suspended attorney general, was booked into Travis County Jail on Thursday afternoon.
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Nate Paul, the Austin real estate developer central to allegations of illegal conduct by Ken Paxton, Texas’ now-suspended attorney general, was booked into Travis County Jail on Thursday afternoon.

Nate Paul pushed back on subpoena to his lawyers

Paul, the man at the center of the corruption allegations against Paxton, opposed attempts to have two of his former lawyers testify. According to a motion to quash filed on Sep. 5, Paul argued his ex-counsel couldn’t answer questions on the stand about their private legal matters.

“We also request a hearing outside the presence of the public and the jury to resolve this motion,” Paul’s attorney at the time wrote.

It’s unclear whether he got it.

Paul himself never testified.

Three months before the trial, a federal grand jury indicted Paul for alleged financial crimes unrelated to Paxton. He pleaded not guilty. His trial, which has been repeatedly delayed, won’t start before the general election in November.

Whistleblowers accused Paxton’s side of harassment 

The impeachment records show other witnesses produced thousands of pages of documents ahead of the trial at Paxton’s demand.

But they argued the attorney general’s lawyers wanted to go farther, filing broad subpoenas they argued were only meant to bully them.

James “Blake” Brickman, one of the whistleblowers, wrote on Aug. 15 that he produced 2,794 pages of documents within a week in response to Paxton’s requests. He asked the court to allow him to withhold other records, which he said had no bearing on the trial.

“The Subpoena contains wildly-expansive requests for broad and vague categories of information and clearly seeks to burden and punish Brickman by purporting to require him to search for and produce unspecified documents, including privileged documents, attorney work product, and communications and documents having no bearing on the Impeachment trial,” Brickman’s lawyer wrote.

Jordan Berry, Paxton’s longtime campaign consultant who was not a whistleblower, said Paxton’s requests for documents violated his free speech rights.

In a motion dated Aug. 14, Berry’s lawyer said Paxton asked him to turn over years of his communications with elected officials and members of the media, and a decade’s worth of information about contributions to the attorney general’s campaign account.

“The subpoena appears to be a cynical tool of harassment and invasion of constitutionally protected interests, perhaps motivated as revenge for the fact that [Berry] ceased providing general consulting services to Paxton in Fall of 2020,” his lawyer wrote.

Berry did not testify at trial.

He did not respond to a request to comment for this story.
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Lauren McGaughy