After eight days of testimony, a jury of state senators started deliberation Friday in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s (R) historic impeachment trial.
Paxton is accused of corruption and bribery, and misusing the powers of his office to help real estate developer Nate Paul. Currently suspended from his post, a conviction on even one of the 16 articles of impeachment he now faces would permanently remove him from office. Paxton pleaded not guilty.
The attorney general is only the third sitting official in the Lone Star State’s history to be impeached. Paxton, who couldn’t be compelled to testify, appeared Friday for closing arguments, his first time in the chamber since the trial kicked off.
Here are five things to know about the proceedings so far as the jury deliberates:
Ex-Paxton aides, whistleblowers detail concerns
The House impeachment team called multiple former Paxton aides and whistleblowers to testify to their concerns about the attorney general’s actions and connections with Paul.
Former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer said in the first week of trial that Paxton used the state’s coronavirus response to help Paul avoid foreclosures on his properties.
Paxton’s actions with regard to Paul made Mateer think “he was under undue influence — at one time I thought, ‘Is he being blackmailed?’”
Former Texas Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley — one of the whistleblowers who filed suit against Paxton, alleging they were fired in retaliation for reporting him — said he warned Paxton that there was no legal or ethical basis to investigate Paul’s allegations of law enforcement misconduct.
Because Paul was a friend and campaign donor to Paxton, looking into the claims was “a very dangerous investigation for him to continue,” Penley recalled telling the attorney general.
Paxton’s then-head of law enforcement, David Maxwell, said Paxton got upset with him “because I was not buying into the big conspiracy that Nate Paul was having him believe.”
Brandon Cammack, a lawyer allegedly hired by Paxton to look into Paul’s claims, said Paxton misled him about the work, and that a Paxton aide later told him to “eat” an invoice.
Ex-chief of staff talks Paxton’s alleged affair
One of the articles of impeachment alleges that the attorney general benefited from Paul’s employment of the woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an extramarital affair, and that Paul in turn “received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to” the office.
Paxton’s former chief of staff testified earlier this week that Paxton’s alleged affair strained office morale, and said she cautioned the top law enforcement official that his actions “could be both ethically, legally and morally challenging.”
Katherine “Missy” Minter Cary said she told the top law enforcement officer that it “wasn’t my business who he was sleeping with” but that “when things boiled over into the office and into the state work, that it had become my business, and that I was having concerns about how the time and the effort of the travel aides, the security detail and myself was being spent.”
While Paxton wasn’t present for most of the trial, his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton (R), has reportedly been in the chamber throughout the trial, though she’s ineligible to vote with her fellow state senators on the verdict.
The House impeachment team attempted to call Laura Olson, the alleged affair partner, to testify, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who’s presiding over the proceedings, announced before she could take the stand that she’d been “deemed unavailable to testify.” He provided no further explanation regarding the call but said both sides had agreed to the decision.
Defense rests after just a day
Rusty Hardin, an attorney for the House impeachment managers, announced that his side rested its case Wednesday evening — before Paxton’s defense had the chance to cross-examine the witness on the stand.
“I messed up,” Hardin said, suggesting that the defense should cross-examine anyway. But defense attorney Tony Buzbee pressed to accept the rest, and pushed forward with a motion for a directed verdict, seeking to end the trial. The House said it had a counter-motion.
Shortly thereafter, Patrick told the court that both motions had been withdrawn, and that the defense would start its case-in-chief.
The defense called just four witnesses, all current agency employees, before resting its case Thursday with several hours of time left on its clock. Both sides also reportedly forewent the chance to present rebuttal evidence, and started with closing arguments first thing Friday.
Texas officials, Paxton attorneys spar in closing arguments
“This is not a criminal trial. This is a political trial. I would suggest to you this is a political witch hunt,” Buzbee said in the closing argument for Paxton’s defense.
“This trial has displayed, for the country to see, a partisan fight within the Republican Party.”
He lauded Paxton’s work as attorney general and invoked President Biden, saying the president’s “policies come to die in Texas” because of the attorney general.
Buzbee also took a swipe at the media, telling the jurors that “if you decided this case from the Houston Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News — oh my goodness gracious, Ken Paxton is guilty.”
He dismissed “so-called whistleblowers” as “disgruntled ex-staffers” and took aim at allegations surrounding Paxton’s affair. “If this impeachment is based on a marital impropriety, then line up. Line up. We’re going to be doing a lot of impeaching in this city.”
In rebuttal, Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, one of the House impeachment managers, walked through the various articles of impeachment upon which the jurors will need to decide, playing clips from earlier testimony to the chamber.
“Members of the jury, this is the most important choice you have ever faced. In 100 years, it’s probably the only vote that anyone will ever talk about in your careers. It will also decide what Texas politics look like. This is about: What does public service mean?” Murr said.
“To Mr. Paxton, it meant serving himself and his friend, Nate Paul. Mr. Paul brought incredible wealth and a lavish lifestyle to the partnership. And Mr. Paxton brought the incredible power of the state,” Murr said.
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R) took a more personal note, knocking back at a defense comment that Paxton was being targeted out of hate.
“In voting to impeach Gen. Ken Paxton, my dear friend, a political mentor, a brother in Christ and a once-trusted advisor, this has not just been a hard vote, this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Leach said. “I have loved Ken Paxton for a long time.”
Timing of verdict uncertain
Thirty of Texas’s 31 senators are deliberating on whether to convict Paxton, with the exception of Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton. She’s one of 19 Republicans in the state chamber.
Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of all state senators, meaning 21 votes are needed to convict on each article.
The jurors are deliberating in private, but they’ll come back together to cast their votes in open court on the Senate floor, without debate — going through each of the 16 articles of impeachment one by one, Patrick said Friday.
All articles will be voted on, but a conviction on just one of the 16 articles will remove Paxton from the attorney general’s office.
“I have no idea of how long the jury is going to deliberate. It could be hours. It could be days,” Patrick said before closing arguments.
He outlined rules for jurors during the deliberation period, permitting them to sleep outside the Capitol if the process continues into the weekend, but stressing that they cannot watch television, read news, or use their computers until the votes.
“You have serious work to do,” Patrick told the jurors after closings wrapped up. “Take as much time as you need to come to a decision that you believe is the right decision.”