By Richard Lee
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pled not guilty as each of the 16 articles of impeachment were read, accusing him of disregard of public duty, misapplication of public resources, and abuse of the public trust, among other charges. The House overwhelmingly approved the impeachment of Paxton in May, during the last weekend of the regular session, with 121 of the 150 members voting to proffer the charges to the Senate for consideration. Like the federal constitution, the Texas constitution vests the power of trial and removal of public officials in the Senate.
“The Senate is committed to conducting a fair and impartial trial”, said Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who will act as the presiding officer for the proceedings. Patrick also laid out the trial schedule going forward: court will convene at 9 a.m. and run through at least 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with Saturday hearings possible depending on how the trial progresses.
House manager and General Investigating Committee Chair Representative Andrew Murr of Kerrville was first to deliver the House’s opening statement. He outlined a number of violations of conduct allegedly committed by Paxton while in office, many of which are connected to the relationship between the attorney general and Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. Murr said the House investigation revealed that Paxton allegedly leveraged the power of his office to aid Paul in business dealings, receiving home renovations and unusual access to the resources of the Office of Attorney General in return. Alleged improper aid offered by the attorney general to Paul, said Murr, includes improperly appointing outside counsel to look into complaints made by Nate Paul regarding law enforcement searches of his properties, improperly issuing an attorney general opinion to prevent foreclosure on Paul properties during the pandemic, and retaliation against top deputies when they blew the whistle on what they believed was inappropriate activity.
“The allegations in the articles reveal that the state’s top lawyer engaged in conduct designed to advance the economic interests and legal positions of a friend and donor to the detriment of innocent Texans,” Murr told senators. “Mr. Paxton turned the keys of the Office of Attorney General over to Nate Paul.”
Paxton’s attorneys used their opening statement to cast doubt on the allegations laid out in the articles of impeachment, calling them overwrought, based on incorrect assumptions, non-impeachable offenses, or bald-faced lies. Attorney Tony Buzbee said that a gag order laid on all parties prior to the trial meant his client could not be defended in the court of public opinion. “That gag order put our team at a distinct disadvantage,” he said. “That gag order prevented us from rebutting the false narrative created by a frenzied press.”
Buzbee also questioned the process of impeachment conducted in the House. “This scheme was rushed, it was secretive, it was poorly planned, and wholly unsupported by evidence,” he said. The impeachment, he said, would subvert the will of the 4.2 million Texas voters who picked Paxton in the most recent election. “Texans chose at the voting booth who they wanted to be their attorney general, despite the same baseless allegations that are being made here,” said Buzbee. “Because of what this House has done, only 30 people out of almost 30 million will decide whether Ken Paxton is allowed to serve in the office he was voted into.”
House managers called their first witness, former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateen. Mateen served in that office until he resigned in 2020, along with other high ranking OAG officials, in response to what they saw as abuses of office by Paxton.