Eye on Politics: The impeachment trial of Ken Paxton gets underway – CBS News

AUSTIN (CBSNewsTexas.com) — The historic impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton began in Austin this week.

Paxton is only the third Texas official to be impeached, and if the Senate votes to convict, this could end his political career in the state.

In this week’s episode of Eye on Politics, CBS News Texas reporter Jack Fink dives into what’s happened so far and the key points witnesses have made on the stand. Additionally, we get the opinions of political and legal professionals on what they have learned from the trial so far.

Every week, CBS News Texas political reporter Jack Fink breaks down some of the biggest political stories grabbing headlines in North Texas and beyond. Watch the latest episode of Eye on Politics in the video player above and stream new episodes live every Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. on CBS News Texas.

Ever since he was impeached on Memorial Day weekend, Paxton has been suspended from his job without pay.  

If he’s convicted of just one of the 20 articles of impeachment, he will be removed from his job permanently. 

And that’s up to the senators, who are the jurors. They could also decide whether to keep Paxton from ever holding office again in the state.

Some crucial choices were made on Tuesday, the opening day of the trial:

As anticipated, Paxton entered a not-guilty plea to every charge brought against him.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick ruled Paxton would not have to take the stand to answer questions and would not have to stay in the chamber during the trial. He hasn’t attended since entering his not-guilty pleas.

By a vote of 24 to six, the Senate rejected dropping the articles of impeachment against Paxton.

The six senators who voted to drop the articles of impeachment were Republicans Paul Bettencourt, Donna Campbell, Brandon Creighton, Bob Hall of North Texas, Lois Kolkhorst, and Tan Parker of North Texas.

During the impeachment trial, numbers are crucial. There must be 21 senators in favor of convicting Paxton on an impeachment article for it to pass.

There are 12 Democratic senators and 18 Republican senators who can vote. Senator Angela Paxton, the attorney general’s wife, cannot vote because of her conflict of interest.

With six Republicans already voting to drop all the articles of impeachment against Paxton, his defense team may only need to convince four other Republicans to side with them.

On Tuesday, the House impeachment managers and the attorneys for both sides gave their opening remarks:

State leaders, Paxton attorneys preview vastly different styles in opening statements

As the trial progressed, some of Paxton’s former top deputies expressed their deep concerns about the attorney general’s activities in 2020 in their testimony.

Specifically, their beliefs that Paxton was abusing the power of his office and authority at the expense of the public to benefit himself and Nate Paul, an Austin developer who had donated $25,000 to his campaign in 2018. 

Some of the articles of impeachment against Paxton accuse him of misusing the power of his office. 

One of the accusations centers around a legal opinion that would benefit Paul with regard to foreclosure sales during the pandemic and another around a grant for a public information request to Paul’s attorneys that would have disclosed a sealed FBI affidavit against Paul, who was under federal investigation at the time. 

He’s since been indicted on unrelated charges. 

Paxton’s top aide, First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer, was the first witness for the House impeachment managers. 

“The problem is the office is being used for the benefit of one person,” Mateer said. “It’s not exercising its own independent judgment. You have the attorney general acting on behalf of one person and by this time, I knew that he was a campaign donor.” 

Former top aide Jeff Mateer testifies that Ken Paxton misused the power of his office

Another impeachment allegation against the attorney general involves Paul hiring Paxton’s alleged mistress, which, according to House prosecutors, made it possible for the attorney general to see her in Austin rather than San Antonio, where she had previously lived.

“It answered the question, ‘Why is he engaging in all these activities?’ At times I thought, ‘Is he being blackmailed?’ This is so unlike what I experienced with him for four years. And this was part of it,” Mateer said. “There may have been more, there may have been others, but this was certainly part of it.”

“Is he being blackmailed?” Jeff Mateer testifies in the Ken Paxton impeachment trial

During cross-examination, Paxton’s lead lawyer Tony Buzbee accused Mateer and the other former deputies in the attorney general’s office of trying to overthrow Paxton.

He asked Mateer, “You were involved in staging a coup, weren’t you?”  

Mateer replied, “Absolutely not.” 

Buzbee responded, “That’s what you were up to? That’s the reason you went to the governor’s office…you were staging a coup, weren’t you?” 

Mateer answered, “Absolutely not.”

Jeff Mateer testifies in the Ken Paxton impeachment trial

 Ultimately, he and seven other top deputies in the attorney general’s office went to the FBI with their concerns in October 2020.

 Buzbee asked Mateer about that. “Is it possible you jumped to a lot of conclusions really fast?

 Mateer said, “I don’t think so.”

 Buzbee asked, “You could have put all this to bed if you had just talked to your boss.”

 Mateer answered, “I attempted to talk to him starting probably in June, July, August, September.”

 Buzbee said, “No.”

 Mateer raised his voice, saying, “I did.”

 Buzbee said, “Take it easy.”

 Mateer replied, “I did talk to him, sir.”

Former Deputy Attorney General Ryan Bangert explains why they went to the FBI

Another top deputy in the attorney general’s office, Ryan Bangert, was also asked by Rusty Hardin, the lawyer for the House impeachment managers, about why they went to the FBI about Paxton’s actions.

“The attorney general was determined to follow this course of action in favor of Nate Paul despite all of our efforts to persuade him otherwise,” Bangert said. “The power of our office had been fully harnessed to advance Nate Paul’s interest and we had lost the ability as senior staff to protect our principal.” 

Hardin asked, “Why didn’t you just go to the attorney general? Did you?” 

“Concerns were raised repeatedly and consistently by multiple members of senior staff over the course of several months. There was no question in my mind that he was well aware of our objections,” Bangert replied.

Paxton has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and his legal team has called the impeachment a sham from the start. The trial may take several weeks to complete.

CBS News Texas spoke with appellate attorney David Coale of Dallas for legal analysis about the first few days of the trial.

This may be a trial, but ultimately the impeachment of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is political.

CBS News Texas also spoke with Dr. Josh Blank of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin about his observations so far.

Dr. Josh Blank discusses the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton

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