Paxton lawyer hammers key prosecution witness for going to FBI

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lead attorney Tony Buzbee berated a key prosecution witness during the Republican’s impeachment trial on Wednesday.

Jeff Mateer, a conservative lawyer who formerly served as the first assistant Attorney General, had told Buzbee that he and other deputies in the AG’s office met in late 2020 to report Paxton to the FBI for, “asking illegal actions on behalf of what we then knew was a campaign donor.”

The donor in question was Nate Paul, the Austin realtor whose controversial relationship with Paxton set the stage for this impeachment. 

At that 2020 meeting deputies compared notes on their boss’s allegedly erratic behavior. At that meeting, Mateer said, they found that Paxton had resumed an extramarital affair with Laura Olsen. And they realized that Paul had given Olsen a job.

They also discovered that Paxton had gone against both office procedure and the law to hire an inexperienced attorney to file subpoenas on Paul’s behalf.

Paxton’s counsel sought to cast this as disloyal, and Mateer — Paxton’s former first assistant and a member of the right-wing Federalist Society — as allied with Paxton enemies like Texans for Lawsuit Reform and George P. Bush.

“You called the FBI? That’s how you protected your friend?” Buzbee asked.

“In order to help your friend — a guy who had given you a real plumb of a job — instead of asking you some questions, you circled up and decided to go to the FBI,” he went on.

“I didn’t know what he was doing,” Mateer said.

“You know how you could have found out?” Buzbee thundered. “You could have picked up the phone and called your boss and said, ‘Hey, Boss, What’s up with this?’

“Is it possible, Mr. Mateer, that you jumped to a lot of conclusions really fast?” Buzbee pressed. “You could have just put this all to bed if you just talked to your boss.”

“I did talk to him, sir!” Mateer responded during one exchange.

Mateer described the September 2020 meeting as a momentous occasion in which Paxton deputies — all conservative Republicans — decided they had no choice but to report him to federal law enforcement, Mateer said.

“We considered it sort of a crisis moment — everything regarding Paul was kind of coming to a head,” Mateer said.

Mateer said this 2020 meeting was the when the deputies “started to share information concerning each bits and pieces about Mr. Paul and his activities with the Attorney General.”

It also recalled another staff gathering in 2018, in which Paxton gathered his staff for an “emotional” confession.

At that meeting at his campaign office, with his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, at his side, Paxton “revealed that he had been engaged in an extramarital affair and asked for our forgiveness. And was in a very emotional sympathetic meeting. It was a very emotional meeting.”

After that 2018 meeting, Mateer said, he was convinced that Paxton had “repented” — something he discovered wasn’t true at that meeting in late 2020.

Mateer told the court that news that Paxton’s affair with Laura Olsen had resumed — and that Paul had given her a job — answered a question that had long troubled him.

“It answered one of the questions that I kept struggling with: Why would [Attorney] General Paxton jeopardize all this great work we’ve been doing in the Office of Attorney General?

Paxton’s conduct regarding Paul had been so unusual that “it seemed to me he was under undue influence — at one time I thought, ‘Is he being blackmailed?’” Mateer said. The discovery that Paul had given Olsen a job, he said, explained “why is he engaging in all these activities?”

The other news that rattled them was the discovery that Paxton had hired an inexperienced Houston attorney named Brandon Cammick — against departmental policy and, Mateer argued, the law.

Cammick, they discovered, had been sending subpoenas to banks “that appeared to be related to Nate Paul.” Mateer said his concern was that “somebody out there that wasn’t part of our organization representing that he was an official with the Attorney General’s Office.” 

The next day, Mateer said, “is when we go to the FBI and DOJ. By that time,  I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral and unethical, and I had a good faith belief that it was illegal.”

If Paxton was guilty of a crime, Buzbee asked, why had federal investigators not filed charges? 

“They certainly are pretty, pretty good about letting us know if somebody has been indicted, aren’t they?” Buzbee asked.

“That’s your area. I actually don’t know,” Mateer said.

Paxton remains under a corruption investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, though charges have not yet been filed.

In emotional testimony, Mateer said he had repeatedly tried to persuade Paxton to step away from Paul — only to have his boss lie to him.

“I cared for him,” he said. “I cared for Senator [Angela] Paxton. And I wanted him — I mean, I think one of the memos I say ‘Come clean. I want you to come clean. Come clean.’”

As first assistant, one of his jobs “was to protect the attorney general,” Mateer said. “And quite frankly, I obviously failed at that.”

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