Texas officials, Paxton attorneys trade accusations with opening statements of impeachment trial

Texas House officials and attorneys defending state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) went head-to-head with a dueling pair of scathing opening statements in Paxton’s impeachment trial Tuesday.

House managers emphasized the gravity of the charges against Paxton and the conservative credentials of the deputies who notified federal investigators about his alleged collaboration with realtor Nate Paul.

Tony Buzbee, Paxton’s defense attorney, instead argued that Paxton’s impeachment resulted from “foolishness.”

Neither Paxton nor Paul, an Austin real estate developer, received anything from each other, Buzbee said. The attorney claimed the impeachment was attempted retribution by state House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) after Paxton accused him of public drunkenness in the days leading up to it.

In laying out the case against Paxton, Rep. Andrew Murr (R) shared a quote from Abraham Lincoln. “Nearly all men can stand adversity,” he said, but to really test an official’s character, “Give him power.”

Paxton was given power, Murr said, “but rather than rise to the occasion, he’s revealed his true character, and as the overwhelming evidence will show, he is not fit to be the attorney general for the state of Texas.”

Murr worked to appeal to members of the state Senate’s Republican coalition, nine of whom would need to vote for Paxton’s conviction in order to remove him from office.

On Tuesday morning, state Senators overwhelmingly voted to dismiss a push by Paxton’s lawyers to throw out the charges entirely.

Murr presided over the blockbuster May unveiling of charges against Paxton in the state House, which relied heavily on testimony from four former deputies who the attorney general ultimately fired.

These deputies’ conservative principles hadn’t changed, Murr said. He argued a problem arose because “at the end of the day, Mr. Paxton wasn’t the man they thought he was, and he wasn’t the man he publicly proclaimed to be.”

Paxton’s former deputies are “not RINOS, or part of some deep state conspiracy,” Murr said, referring to the acronym for Republicans in Name Only, a common smear applied to moderate Republicans by the far right.

He added that Paxton’s alleged breaking of his oath of office, represented more than just a violation of “words on paper,” saying it was a transgression of his “oath to god.”

“How far would Mr. Paxton have gone in using the power of the attorney general’s office to harass and punish his and Nate Paul’s perceived enemies and hurt innocent Texans?” Murr asked.

Challenging Murr, Buzbee sought to cast the prosecution of Paxton as a political attempt to railroad the attorney general — and a warning sign of things to come.

“They say this is the impeachment of a lifetime — but because depending on what you do here, maybe it will become commonplace,” he said.

“What happens here will have consequences no matter how it turns out. But be clear, if this misguided effort is successful — which I feel confident it will not be — the precedent would be perilous for any elected official in the state of Texas.”

Buzbee spent several minutes arguing that one much-repeated element of the case against Paxton — that Paul allegedly gave the Paxtons a free kitchen renovation — had “defamed” the Paxtons.

He also argued against “salacious” allegations concerning Paul providing a job to Laura Olsen, Paxton’s former affair partner. “That was not a bribe,” Buzbee said. “It was a job, sought out and received, and she’s doing it today.”

Buzbee described the charges against Paxton as the product of “media members with agendas or those media outlets aligned with the House managers.”

He also sought to discredit Paul, who is expected to take the stand against Paxton. In evidence released by the Senate in mid-August, “you will see email after email after email of Nate Paul and his lawyer sending letters to the AG’s office, madder than a hornet’s nest. You’re not doing what, you’re not doing your job. You’re not doing your job. You’re not doing what you’re supposed to.”

“Does that sound like somebody who has the keys to the AG’s office?” Buzbee asked. “No, it sounds like someone who might be a little entitled and thinks that public officials should jump when he says jump,” he said, in a possible dig at the elected officials before him.

Buzbee argued that the impeachment had been a political hit and that the attacks on Paxton began after he defeated Dan Branch, who Buzbee called “the anointed candidate for [Bush family stronghold] Highland Park and the political elites,” in the 2014 GOP primary in the state attorney general race.

And he added that despite the growing awareness of Paxton’s alleged crimes, in the 2022 primary, “Ken Paxton thumped the establishment candidate — who this last time happened to be a Bush — and it wasn’t even close.”

Buzbee argued that in impeaching the attorney general, the House “took away the votes of over 4 million Texans who voted for Ken Paxton.”

“There is a right way for Texas voters to remove someone from office. It’s called a vote against them,” Buzbee said.

This was an idea that the Senate had already roundly axed by rejecting the attempts to dismiss the charges — and that Murr had specifically attacked.

Murr said the assertion that it was illegitimate for 30 Senators to decide the fate of an official elected by millions broke the will of the Founders, who included impeachment in the Constitution after rejecting the idea “that elections could singularly protect the public against abusive officeholders.”

He argued that a sitting officeholder could easily use their powers of office “to conceal the truth until after the next election.”

Paxton’s “brazen abuse of the criminal justice Division at the Office of Attorney General is finally what caused eight of his senior staff to report him to the police,” Murr added.

“The question that haunts me now and should fight in all of this is what would have happened if they had not reported him?” he asked.

But Buzbee argued that all would have been well if Paxton had not been indicted. Murr’s statement, he said, “begs the most pressing question. If Ken Paxton is so good at his job and handily beats opponents of the box — then what the devil are we doing here?”

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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