The impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton got underway on Tuesday, with the legislators adjudicating the trial denying the beleagured politician’s request to deny the claims and opening statements that teed up a battle over whether Paxton is either a wrongdoer or a target.
Ken Paxton is currently facing impeachment by the Texas House of Representatives after years of alleged wrongdoing, including taking bribes, obstructing justice in a criminal case pending against him, issuing improper grand jury subpoenas, and violating state whistleblower laws by firing employees who reported his misconduct. He is also accused of colluding with a real estate investor to employ a woman with whom Paxton had an extramarital affair in exchange for Paxton allegedly providing the investor with an FBI file related to an investigation of him. That investor, wealthy Paxton donor Nate Paul, was indicted in June for federal financial crimes.
The day started with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick having the state senators vote on whether to grant or deny Paxton’s motion to dismiss the counts, which were largely based on the “prior-term doctrine” and the argument that the allegations against Paxton were public when he was reelected in 2022 and, therefore, he was what Lone Star State voters wanted.
Those motions were all denied Tuesday morning.
Patrick then went through each of the counts, giving Paxton the opportunity to say his plea out loud. Paxton, flanked by attorneys Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell, didn’t speak, instead allowing his lawyers to do the talking for him.
In response to one count, Buzbee said that everything in the allegation “is legally and factually incorrect and therefore he pleads not guilty.”
In response to another count, Buzbee said that it is “flat-out false, the attorney general pleads not guilty.”
“Those allegations are offensive, false, and the attorney general pleads not guilty,” Buzbee said in response to another count.
Rusty Hardin, an attorney representing the House board of managers, objected, asking Buzbee to “stop making speeches” and simply enter a plea. Patrick sustained the objection — but Buzbee wasn’t about to go quietly.
“Absolutely not guilty,” the defense lawyer said of his client’s position as to the next impeachment count.
Once Paxton’s guilty pleas were entered, impeachment witnesses were sworn in, after which the proceedings stopped for lunch.
Opening statements got underway after the lunch break, with Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr leading off proceedings for the House.
Paxton, Murr said, “turned the keys of the office of attorney general over to Nate Paul so that Mr. Paul could use the awesome power of the peoples’ law firm to punish and harass perceived enemies,” Murr said. He told Patrick and the state senators that he was “raised in rural Texas” where a “person’s honor is more important than money, where integrity matters.”
He said that Paxton’s actions were “precisely the type of grave official wrongdoing” that the Texas Supreme Court has said warrants impeachment.
“Mr. Paxton has been entrusted with great power, and unfortunately, rather than rise to the occasion, he has revealed his true character,” Murr said. “He is not fit to be the attorney general for the state of Texas.”
Murr added that while Paxton may argue that his acts were in support of his policy agenda, that’s simply not the case.
“Mr. Paxton’s actions have nothing to do with implementing conservative policy, and in fact his efforts violated those great principles,” the representative said.
Buzbee, for his part, didn’t hold back on the histrionics when it became his turn to make opening statements. He called the impeachment a “tale full of sound and fury that means nothing,” adding that there was “nothing of significance” in the counts against his client.
“This whole case is a whole lot of nothing,” he said. He signaled that he felt it was impossible for Paxton to get a “fair trial” because state senators may do “what is politically expedient” for themselves, and decried the entire process as “rushed,” “secretive,” and “poorly planned.”
He promised that state senators would see a “mind-numbing” amount of photos showing that Paxton and his wife Angela Paxton — a state senator who will not be allowed to participate in the trial — paid for their own home renovations and that they were in fact “pinching pennies” to do so.
Buzbee was utterly dismissive of Paul’s relationship with Paxton and a $25,000 donation made in 2018.
“Oh, goodness gracious,” he said in mock surprise.
“A campaign donation is not a bribe,” he also said. “If campaign donations were bribes, everyone in this town would be impeached. Just line up, once we’re done impeaching Ken Paxton we’ll impeach everyone else.”
The first impeachment witness to take the stand was attorney Jeff Mateer, a lawyer with the conservative First Liberty legal group who lost out on a federal judgeship due to reports that he referred to transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan.”
Mateer, who served as Paxton’s top deputy, resigned in October 2020 after he and other top officials brought their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul to the FBI. As if to refute allegations that Paxton’s impeachment is an effort led by political liberals on Monday, Mateer ranked himself as a “ten or 11” when asked to rank himself on a scale of one to 10 as to how conservative he was.
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