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Paxton trial updates: Senate deliberating defense motion to dismiss articles of impeachment

By Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune

Paxton trial updates: Senate deliberating defense motion to dismiss articles of impeachment” 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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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.

Senate deliberating Paxton motion to dismiss articles of impeachment

After seven days of long, grueling testimony in the impeachment trial of suspended attorney general Ken Paxton, House lawyer Rusty Hardin rested his case.

But he did it accidentally, setting off a bizarre and unexpected chain of events that could potentially end the impeachment trial earlier than anticipated.

Hardin admitted that he accidentally rested too early before Paxton’s lawyers could cross-examine the last witness, Blake Brickman, one of the whistleblowers.

Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee declined to press to cross-examine Brickman and instead quickly moved for a directed verdict, arguing that House managers had not sufficiently proved the articles of impeachment. The written motions challenged every article singly or in groups, he said.

Eligible senators then left the chamber to deliberate on a directed verdict, which needs majority approval, or 16 senators.

Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, is sitting for the trial but is ineligible to vote or deliberate.

— Kate McGee

Laura Olson, Paxton’s paramour, deemed “unavailable” to testify

Lt. Gov Dan Patrick told the jury Wednesday afternoon that Laura Olson, the woman with whom suspended attorney general Ken Paxton is alleged to have had an extramarital affair, was present but deemed unavailable to testify.

Upon questioning from Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, in the chamber, Patrick said that lawyers from both sides have agreed that Olson is “deemed unavailable.”

Olson had been called by the prosecution to testify early Wednesday, but Patrick said she was not eligible to testify until after 3 p.m. because she had not been notified a full 24 hours in advance, as trial rules required.

Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, is married to Paxton. She must be present for the trial but cannot vote on the articles of impeachment.

Olson’s relationship with Paxton was central to the House managers’ impeachment case. Her testimony has been highly anticipated as she has never spoken publicly.

House managers allege that Paxton misused his office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul investigate his business rivals. In exchange, Paul hired Olson to work at his business so she could be closer to Paxton, the impeachment managers allege. They also allege that Paul and Paxton shared a secret Uber account that Paxton used to visit Olson’s house.

Earlier in the trial, the former chief of staff testified that Paxton had admitted to having an affair with Olson and told staffers it had ended. But months later he told the staffer that the affair had resumed and he wanted the office “to be more accommodating of it” when it came to things like his security detail.

Olson was seen by reporters leaving the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s unlikely the prosecution will call her back to testify as they started the day with only five hours and 17 minutes left to present and cross-examine.

— Kate McGee

Paxton slow-walked settlement until after reelection, whistleblower said

Another Ken Paxton whistleblower took the witness stand Wednesday afternoon, shedding light on the whistleblower lawsuit that Paxton waited to try to settle until after his reelection last year.

The whistleblower, Blake Brickman, said Paxton “tied up our case for two years, making the absurd argument that the whistleblower law doesn’t apply to him.” Brickman served as Paxton’s deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives.

Brickman’s comments are relevant because one of the articles of impeachment accuses Paxton of disregarding his official duty by stalling the whistleblower lawsuit until after the 2022 election. That deprived the “electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general,” according to the article.

Brickman testified that after two years of delays, Paxton’s lawyers reached out in January 2023 about a possible settlement. House lawyer Rusty Hardin asked Brickman what he thought had changed.

“Ken Paxton was reelected,” Brickman said, adding that it was “even worse than that.” “I think Ken Paxton lied to the public for two years about our case.”

— Patrick Svitek

Buzbee disputes House’s granite countertop theory

Ken Paxton’s lawyer Tony Buzbee took aim at impeachment Article 10, which alleges Nate Paul paid to renovate the Paxtons’ Austin home, during a cross-examination of Drew Wicker.

Wicker, Paxton’s personal assistant, had testified that he overheard Paxton telling a contractor renovating the home that he wanted granite countertops in the kitchen, to which the contractor replied “I’ll have to check with Nate,” which he understood to be Paul.

But Buzbee produced two photographs of the Tarrytown home’s kitchen, taken before the renovation in 2020 and last month, that Wicker confirmed showed no changes to the counters, cabinets or stove.

House impeachment managers have cast the renovation as part of a quid pro quo, as Paxton directed his office to help Paul investigate his business rivals.

Then Buzbee, a seasoned litigator, walked the jury through a series of documents that purported to show a construction firm billing the Paxtons, an insurance company paying out a claim to the Paxtons, and then the attorney general directing the trustee of the family’s blind trust to pay that sum of $121,617 to the construction firm.

The House’s evidence for this item was largely circumstantial. Their exhibits had previously pointed out that the construction firm, Cupertino Builders, was run by a man with close ties to Paul.

House lawyer Erin Epley suggested that perhaps Paxton and Paul considered, and then abandoned, a plan to install granite countertops. And she noted that the date Paxton made the payment, Sept. 30, 2020, was the same day that the whistleblowers reported Paxton to the FBI and issued a cease-and-desist letter to outside lawyer Brandon Cammack.

Borrowing a line from Buzbee, she suggested there are no coincidences in Austin.

— Zach Despart

House seeks to change trial rules

The House managers have made a motion to change the trial rules so that if senators convict suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton on a single article of impeachment, he would not only be permanently removed from his post but prevented from running for state-level offices in the future.

The current rules, which senators approved in June, state that conviction on an article would merely remove Paxton from office. Senators would vote separately to decide whether Paxton should be barred from future office.

The earliest the Senate can consider the motion, which requires 24-hour notice, is around 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Based on the time left for each side to argue its case, senators could begin deliberation as soon as Thursday evening.

— Zach Despart

Former executive aide describes increasing “unease” with Paxton’s behavior

Ken Paxton’s former executive aide, Drew Wicker, testified Wednesday during day seven of the suspended attorney general’s impeachment trial that throughout 2020 he grew increasingly uneasy with Paxton’s behavior and close relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and political donor.

Wicker’s position meant he had a close relationship with both Paxton and his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney. He described Ken Paxton as a friend and said Angela Paxton was “nothing but loving and caring.” But the loyal aide said he became increasingly concerned with Ken Paxton’s relationship with Paul, which included frequent lunches and meetings, including some that were not on the attorney general’s official schedule or include his security detail.

He testified that he made several deliveries to Paul’s office, including in one instance a manila envelope. Wicker said he didn’t know what the contents of the envelope were.

During the summer of 2020, Wicker was staying with his family at the Omni Barton Creek Hotel when he and his father ran into Ken Paxton and a woman coming out of the elevator. Wicker testified that he heard them having a “lively” conversation through the elevator doors. When they opened, the woman quickly exited while Paxton, wearing gym shorts, shook hands with Wicker and his father and said he was headed to the gym.

Wicker identified the woman as Laura Olson. Olson had been previously named during the trial as the woman with whom the attorney general was having an extramarital affair.

The elevator encounter “did spur some questions,” Wicker said.

Throughout 2020, Wicker said, Ken Paxton asked him to meet with an insurance adjuster regarding water damage to the bedroom of Paxton’s Austin home. He recalled one conversation between Paxton and contractor Kevin Wood about the cost of additional work on cabinets and countertops in the kitchen. Wood told Paxton the changes would cost $20,000 and said he needed to “check with Nate,” Wicker testified.

“I walked away with the impression that Nate Paul was involved in the renovations of General Paxton’s home,” Wicker said. When he confronted Paxton about his concerns, Paxton told him that was not the case. But Wicker said that did not allay his concerns.

Wicker also testified that Paxton had four cell phones, including two “extra phones.” On a few occasions, Paxton asked to use Wicker’s phone. Wicker said he did not know who Paxton called because every time Paxton returned the phone the call log was “wiped.”

In fall 2020, Wicker said Paxton offered him a promotion to expand his duties to include more policy-related work. It was around that time that the FBI contacted Wicker amid a report from senior staff alleging that Paxton had misused his office to benefit Paul.

Wicker said he turned down the promotion to protect Paxton — and himself.

“I didn’t want General Paxton to have the appearance to offer me anything in light of the FBI reaching out,” he testified, adding that he also wanted to avoid the appearance of receiving a benefit.

Wicker said he also rejected Paxton’s first assistant Brent Webster’s offer to use the office of attorney general’s lawyers to represent him with the FBI. Wicker said he preferred to hire his own counsel.

— Kate McGee

Ken Paxton’s ex-girlfriend expected to take the stand this afternoon

Laura Olson, the woman with whom suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton allegedly had an affair, is expected to take the witness stand Wednesday after 3 p.m. The prosecution attempted to call Olson as their first witness on Wednesday, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said she was not eligible to testify yet because she had not been notified a full 24 hours in advance, as required by trial rules.

Paxton is married to Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, who must be present for the trial but is not allowed to vote.

Olson’s relationship with Paxton has been a central focus of the House’s impeachment case against the attorney general. House impeachment managers allege Paxton misused his office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul investigate his business rivals. In exchange, managers allege, Paul gave Olson a job in Austin so he could be closer to her, among other favors. On Monday, the former chief of staff for the attorney general’s office also testified that she warned Paxton that the affair could open him up to blackmail.

The prosecution, however, is running out of time. At the beginning of the day, Patrick announced the prosecution has five hours and 17 minutes left, while the defense has almost 10 hours left. Both sides were given a total of 24 hours to present evidence and cross-examine.

In lieu of Olson, the prosecution’s first witness was Ray Chester, the attorney for the Mitte Foundation. He testified about feeling pressure from the attorney general’s office to settle the group’s lawsuit with Paul on terms that were generous to the investor.

That litigation is poised to wrap up soon, with Mitte expected to receive about $23 million — “about $17 million more than we were offered” when the attorney general’s office was involved, Chester testified.

— Rebekah Allen

Defense legal team has large time advantage over prosecutors

Lawyers for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton have a distinct time advantage heading into the seventh day of the impeachment trial before the Texas Senate.

Paxton’s legal team has nine hours and 57 minutes to present evidence and question witnesses, according to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial.

Lawyers for the House impeachment managers have five hours and 17 minutes remaining, Patrick said.

Both sides began the trial last week with 24 hours each to present evidence, question and cross-examine witnesses.

— Chuck Lindell

Credit union CEO alleges Nate Paul benefited from “surprising” attorney general opinion prohibiting foreclosures during pandemic

House managers called their 11th witness in the impeachment trial: Kendall Garrison, chief executive officer of Amplify Credit Union. His testimony focused on three properties owned by Nate Paul that faced foreclosure because Paul had stopped repaying his loans. Garrison testified the outstanding loans totaled around $11.5 million.

Amplify had posted to sell the properties at auction on Aug. 4.

On Aug. 3, Paul sent Amplify employees an email with a link to an attorney general opinion prohibiting foreclosure during the pandemic, which Garrison said his office dubbed the “midnight” opinion. The opinion, which was published in record time, stated that foreclosure sales could not continue due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was surprising to see a ruling issued on a Sunday morning that essentially prohibited foreclosures in the state of Texas,” Garrison said. The bank withdrew the foreclosure sales, but eventually sold them in September.

“Who benefitted from the foreclosure letter?” asked Erin Epley, a lawyer for the House.

“Nate Paul and the World Class Entities,” Garrison said.

During cross examination, Paxton’s lawyers pushed back against that claim and tried to cast doubt on Garrison’s testimony by pointing out Amplify did not lose any money in the eventual foreclosure sales.

Kate McGee

Houston attorney says Paxton misled and then stiffed him

Brandon Cammack, the Houston attorney that Ken Paxton hired to investigate Nate Paul’s adversaries, testified that Paul’s lawyer provided him with a list of people to subpoena and that, after he received two cease and desist letters, he was told by the Attorney General’s Office that he’d have to “eat” a $14,000 invoice for his work.

Cammack said he became increasingly concerned that he was being misled about why he had been hired after he was visited by U.S. marshals, and felt like he’d “gotten the rug pulled out from me.”

He was asked to drive at the last minute from Houston to Austin for a meeting at Paul’s home. Paxton was there wearing running shorts, but spent most of the time talking on the phone outside. Cammack said he received little new information about what was expected of him, why U.S. marshals had contacted him or why he hadn’t been paid yet.

Cammack also lamented Paxton’s decision to involve him in the Paul matter, saying his name was dragged through the mud, that it hurt him professionally and that the only thing he received in return were two cease and desist letters.

“I had a whole entire life before all of this,” he said.

– Robert Downen

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