By Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune
“Paxton trial, Sept 8: AG’s former top cop says he warned Paxton about “criminal” Nate Paul” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Editor’s note: Today’s impeachment proceedings have ended and this post will no longer be updated. You can find new articles reporting the latest from Ken Paxton’s trial here.
The historic impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is underway in the Texas Senate. He faces 16 articles of impeachment that accuse him of misusing the powers of the attorney general’s office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who was under federal investigation. Paxton pleaded not guilty to all impeachment articles on the trial’s first day. His defense attorneys have vowed to disprove the accusations and said they will present evidence showing they are based on assumptions, not facts.
During cross-examination, Ken Paxton’s defense attorney, Dan Cogdell, repeatedly pressed Maxwell on how and why he decided that Paul’s claims were baseless and potentially criminal. He also asked numerous times for Maxwell to specify what crimes Paul had committed by asking for the attorney general’s office to investigate his allegations that he had been unfairly targeted.
Maxwell often responded by saying that Paul did not explicitly ask for him to break the law — but that the request, if fulfilled, would have created a “map” for a crime.
“To create this investigation and follow through with it would be obstruction of justice and interfering with a federal investigation,” Maxwell responded.
Maxwell also said that he never had “any intention” of investigating Paul’s claims, one of which was that a search warrant for his businesses was fraudulent. After a testy exchange with Cogdell, Maxwell testified that he decided Paul’s claims weren’t serious after looking at the search warrant and deeming that it was indeed, “lawful.”
“There was no investigation to be done,” he said.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s former top cop testified Friday that Paxton repeatedly pressured him to investigate Nate Paul’s “conspiracy theories,” even after law enforcement experts found them to be “ludicrous” and debunked them through forensics and other means.
David Maxwell, a veteran law enforcement officer who served as the attorney general’s director of law enforcement, said he repeatedly told Paxton that Paul was a criminal — potentially of historic proportions.
“I told him Nate Paul was a criminal,” Maxwell said. “That he was running a Ponzi scheme that would rival Billie Sol Estes,” the infamous Texas conman who was convicted of stealing millions of dollars in federal crop subsidies in the 1960s.
Rather than heed the warnings by Maxwell — who served more than three decades as a Texas Ranger — Paxton threatened to fire him after he said that he would not investigate Paul’s bizarre claims. The threat, Maxwell said, came during a meeting with a “heated” Paul that Paxton attended but requested not be recorded.
“I knew then what his commitment was to Nate Paul and that he was not going to be deterred,” Maxwell said. “He was angry with me because I was not buying into the big conspiracy theory.”
Maxwell was one of the whistleblowers who sued after they were fired by Paxton after reporting him to law enforcement, and said Paxton “ended my career in a very unjust manner.”
“I did nothing wrong by standing up for right,” he added.
A whistleblower’s comment that he and his associates “took no evidence” when they reported Ken Paxton to the FBI in 2020 has become an early flashpoint in the suspended attorney general’s impeachment trial.
While the comment Thursday from Ryan Vassar, the former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, set off jubilation among Paxton supporters, it also prompted a House lawyer, Rusty Hardin, to coach Vassar through a clarification Friday. Vassar testified he meant physical evidence, and Hardin asserted that Vassar going to the FBI was inherently a form of evidence because he was a witness to a potential crime.
Vassar was among the top Paxton aides who went to the FBI three years ago to share concerns that Paxton was abusing his office to help Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and Paxton campaign donor. The articles of impeachment accuse Paxton of going to extraordinary lengths to help Paul investigate his perceived enemies as his businesses were floundering. Read more here.
Whistleblower Ryan Vassar revealed during testimony Friday morning that the attorney general’s office kept a “blacklist” of reporters whom they “handled differently than other reporters.” Vassar testified that Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy, who has covered the attorney general’s office for a decade, was on that list.
The revelation came during the cross examination of Vassar, the former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, continued into a second day on Friday. Paxton defense attorney Mitch Little directed the witness to specific group text messages where they discussed McGaughy’s coverage of the office as they reported Paxton’s activity to the FBI. The group text also included messages that criticized new lawyers in the office who were hired as the whistleblowers were fired or resigned after they reported Paxton’s allegedly illegal activity to the FBI.
Day 4 of Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial resumed Friday with Paxton’s attorney again trying to paint whistleblowers as “rogue employees” who went behind Paxton’s back and deserved to be fired.
During cross examination, Paxton lawyer Mitch Little grilled Ryan Vassar, the former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, about text messages he sent that disparaged the intelligence of new lawyers in the office by suggesting legal briefs needed to use smaller words or buying a coloring book to keep them entertained.
Vassar downplayed the texts as jokes among friends who worked at the agency and said he did not have any “professional experience” with the new lawyers. He also sought to contrast his private texts with the public statement in which Paxton called him and other whistleblowers “rogue employees.”
“It was lighthearted,” he said. “It was among friends. It was not a public [statement] to millions of people. … It was a conversation among friends. But I wouldn’t say that any of us are concerned that it’s being discussed here today.”
In another text message, one of the whistleblowers also feared that the attorney general’s office “is going to fall apart and that’s one person’s fault, and one person only: [Ken Paxton].”
A half-hour into Vassar’s testimony, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, approached Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who is presiding over the trial — and whispered in his ear before exiting the Senate floor. Patrick announced the proceedings would pause for 30 minutes.
A spokesperson for Miles’ office said the senator had to leave to take care of a personal matter but that “everything is fine and he is back at the Capitol.” All senators are required to be present for the trial.
– Robert Downen and Kate McGee
On day 4 of Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, Ryan Vassar, former Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel, is expected to resume testimony.
Vassar, one of the whistleblowers who reported Paxton to the FBI, choked up on the stand on Wednesday when he was questioned about his loyalty to his boss.
“It was hurtful,” Vassar said, when asked about his response to Paxton’s public criticism that the whistleblowers were “rogue” employees. “The statement of being rogue is contrary to the years that I dedicated my life to the state.”
During cross examination, Paxton’s attorney Mitch Little grilled Vassar on whether he had physical evidence he presented to the FBI when he and others reported Paxton.
“We had no evidence that we could point to but we had reasonable conclusions that we could draw,” Vassar said. Vassar added that it was law enforcement’s responsibility to investigate and collect evidence.
The Senate is expected to begin at 9 a.m. as the cross examination continues.
— Rebekah Allen
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/08/ken-paxton-impeachment-trial-live-updates/.
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