Texas Senators set to decide Paxton's fate

The political fate of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is now in the hands of the senators.

The 30 senators will deliberate on the multiple articles of impeachment that accuse the state’s top cop of sweeping abuses, including bribery and obstruction of justice related to embattled real-estate investor Nate Paul.

Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, is prohibited from participating in the deliberations or voting.

The verdict will bring an end to the first impeachment proceedings of an elected official in more than100 years.

If two-thirds of the Senate, or 21 members, vote to convict on any one of the 20 articles, Paxton will be permanently removed from office, an abrupt end to the tenure of a three-term Republican who has been admired by the more right-wing factions of the Texas GOP.

But if he is acquitted, Paxton returns to his office (He has been suspended since the Texas House voted to impeach him in May).

Here were five pivotal moments from the impeachment trial:

A turbulent 90 minutes

The seventh day of the trial was the most eventful and drama-filled, and that is absent the hours where it looked like Paxton’s former ex-lover would take the stand (we will touch on that in a moment).

Rusty Hardin, one of the two high-profile lawyers hired by House impeachment managers, abruptly rested the prosecution’s case against Paxton. But then he immediately tried to walk it back, telling Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that it was a “screw up.”

Patrick declined to let Hardin take it back.

“I messed up and I shouldn’t have rested,” Hardin told Patrick.

Immediately after resting, Paxton lead defense attorney Tony Buzbee filed motions for a “directed verdict” asking for a vote on whether the prosecution had presented a strong enough case. A simple majority would have been needed. For a moment, it appeared a floor vote would take place on the motions.

It never happened.

After a 30-minute break, Patrick said that Paxton’s team had withdrawn the motions. It was Paxton’s team’s turn to make their case, Patrick said, and they called their first witness.

But that witness never testified. After Patrick called both parties to the dais, he adjourned for the day.

Paxton’s alleged ex-lover doesn’t take the stand

Heads turned and the gallery quickly filled up when House impeachment managers called to the stand the woman who allegedly had a years-long affair with the attorney general.

Laura Olson, who was identified in filings by Paxton’s defense team, appeared at the Texas Capitol and it looked as if she would have to answer questions over the alleged affair. Paxton has never confirmed or denied he had an illicit relationship. Olson has never spoken publicly about it.

But before she took the stand, Patrick announced that she would have to wait until the afternoon in order to be in compliance with the rules. Witnesses had to wait 24 hours from the moment they were notified before they could take the stand, according to Senate rules. Sen. Paxton would have been in the room during her testimony.

When she did become eligible to testify, Patrick announced that she was “deemed unavailable to testify.” He added that both sides agreed to the decision.

House managers are accusing Paxton of being bribed by Paul after he hired Olson to work at one of his Austin companies. Paul confirmed he hired Olson in a 2020 deposition but denied doing it as a favor to Paxton.

Nate Paul doesn’t testify

There were two key figures in this trial: Paxton and Paul. House managers accused Paxton of egregious violations for trying to help Paul investigate law enforcement officials throughout 2020.

Paul was the subject of an FBI investigation and was federally indicted in June.

On the trial’s first day, Patrick ruled Paxton could not be forced to testify. Paxton has not appeared at the Capitol since that first day – until he showed up in the Senate chambers for closing arguments on Friday. That left many wondering whether Paul would be forced to take the stand and answer questions under oath about his relationship and friendship with the attorney general.

Not much is publicly known about their relationship. Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2018. Paxton’s former top deputies testified at the trial that they attended lunches with Paxton and Paul in 2020.

It was that year, House managers allege, that Paxton misused the agency for Paul’s benefit, and, in return, Paul paid for Paxton’s home renovations and hired the woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair.

Paul, however, was federally indicted in June on eight felony counts of making false statements to mortgage lenders and credit unions to secure loans for his businesses.

‘Possible’ crimes

One piece of testimony that could be a factor for the jurors was that of Gregg Cox, a former assistant district attorney for Travis County.

Cox conducted a “preliminary investigation” into Paxton’s relationship with Paul in 2020, after the attorney general’s top deputies reported him to the FBI for what they believed were high crimes and corruption.

The state’s top cop “potentially” committed bribery and other “possible” crimes, Cox told the jury. He also identified potential crimes by other individuals but did not reveal their identities in court.

The Travis County District Attorney’s office, however, never charged Paxton. Cox had multiple discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office before he launched a more thorough investigation because he knew Paul was under federal investigation, he testified. He wanted to make sure a local investigation into Paxton would not interfere with the federal one.

At one point, the U.S. Attorney’s office told Cox not to follow through with a full investigation, he testified. He did not divulge who asked him to stop. He did acknowledge he was “frustrated” by the request.

Paxton’s team attempted to discredit Cox’s testimony by revealing he applied for a job at the state agency following his preliminary investigation.

Evidence to the FBI

The attorney general’s team appeared to score a win in the first week when Ryan Vassar, the former deputy general counsel under Paxton, said he and other former deputies had “no evidence” against their boss when they went to the FBI.

“We had reasonable conclusions that we could draw,” Vassar said during cross-examination.

Supporters of Paxton circulated that part of his testimony on social media, trying to paint that as further evidence that Paxton was unfairly targeted by his former top aides.

Vassar, however, clarified the next day that he meant they did not take “documentary evidence” to the hours-long meeting with the FBI.

“My opinion is that our experiences were evidence,” he testified. “We did not conduct our own investigation to provide documentary evidence of what we had come to learn.”

Other whistleblowers who testified reiterated the point that it was the FBI’s job to gather evidence. And they all spoke about their collective experiences and what they witnessed.

“This was the seven most senior people in the agency,” said Blake Brickam, who was deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives. “We took first-hand knowledge of Ken Paxton’s illegal, immoral and unethical conduct to federal law enforcement officers.”

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