AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The historic impeachment trial that could remove Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from office began with testimony about an extramarital affair and the Republican’s former top aides testifying they felt compelled to report him to the FBI.
Paxton, who is accused of bribery and abuse of office, skipped all of the early testimony. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, sat and listened to it all.
The articles of impeachment center on allegations that Paxton improperly used the powers of his office to protect Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who was indicted this summer on federal charges of making false statements to banks.
If convicted by the Texas Senate, where Republicans hold a dominant majority, Paxton would be removed from office and possibly barred from holding any political office in the future.
A look at the trial so far and what is still to come.
ACCUSERS TAKE THE STAND
The first witnesses were Paxton’s top former staff as Republican impeachment managers got straight to the heart of case.
Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s former second-in-command, and Ryan Bangert, a former deputy first assistant attorney general, testified about why they and other aides took their concerns about Paxton to the FBI in 2020.
“I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical, and I had the good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer testified.
Mateer said staff realized “the why” behind Paxton’s determination to help Paul when they learned about Paxton’s extramarital affair with a woman who had been hired by Paul.
“We had stepped into the void at that point. There was no roadmap to follow,” Bangert said of deciding to go to the FBI. “In my view there was simply nothing more we can do.”
On cross-examination Thursday, Paxton attorney Mitch Little laid into another of Paxton’s deputies, Ryan Vassar, saying he went to the FBI with no evidence and asking if he owed Paxton a phone call first.
“I would disagree that we didn’t have any evidence,” Vassar replied. “But I didn’t owe General Paxton anything.”
PAXTON MOSTLY ABSENT FROM TRIAL
Senate rules only required Paxton to be present at the start of the impeachment trial. They also say he cannot be forced to testify. Paxton attended the start of the first day Tuesday, when he gave a kiss to his wife on the Senate floor. She waved to a few dozen supporters in the gallery.
Paxton let his attorney enter “not guilty” pleas on his behalf before leaving, over the protests of a lawyer hired by House impeachment managers to lead the case.
“The defendant ought to be ordered to appear throughout this just as everyone else,” attorney Rusty Hardin said.
Angela Paxton is required to attend because she is a senator, though she cannot vote or participate in the trial in any way because of a conflict of interest. She has been there for the duration, including testimony about her husband’s affair.
From her desk on the Senate floor, she has taken notes while listening to testimony and chatted with other senators during breaks. She has also posted Scripture on social media.
Ken Paxton has also been active on social media, reposting messages from prominent supporters, including Donald Trump Jr.
A JURY OF SENATORS
The state Senate conducts the trial with the 31-member chamber acting as jury. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority. Under the Texas Constitution, a two-thirds majority, or at least 21 votes, is needed to convict Paxton and remove him from office.
That means if all Democrats vote against Paxton, they still need nine Republicans to join them.
The early votes in the political trial did not go Paxton’s way. His efforts to dismiss all the charges on the first day were rejected, with all but one carrying the 21-vote margin needed to convict.
But the early votes showed Paxton has a solid block of support from at least six Republicans who consistently voted to dismiss the charges. That group includes some of the Senate’s bedrock conservatives, and they would appear unlikely to be moved off their position.
More testimony is scheduled Friday. The trial could last several weeks.
The list of potential witnesses is more than 100 names long but it’s unclear how many will be called to testify. The list includes the woman with whom Paxton had an affair; former state Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a nephew of former President George W. Bush who previously ran against Paxton; and Paul. It is unclear, however, whether any of them will be called.
Much of the key testimony to come is likely from former staff inside Paxton’s office, including the whistleblowers who took their concerns to federal criminal investigators.
Paxton is just the third state official to be impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history, and the first statewide officeholder since former Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917, who resigned the day before he was convicted.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton
Jim Vertuno And Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press