Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton again stayed away from his impeachment trial Wednesday as one of his former aides who reported him to the FBI in 2020 testified that he confronted the Republican about why he appeared to keep going out of his way to help one of his donors.
“The problem is the office is being used for the benefit of one person,” said Jeff Mateer, who was Paxton’s second-in-command at the Texas attorney generals’ office.
Mateer is the first key witness in a trial that could last weeks in the Texas Senate and centers on allegations that Paxton, who has been shadowed for years by a criminal indictment and a separate ongoing FBI investigation, abused his office to help an Austin real estate developer named Nate Paul. Their relationship is central to the case led by Republican impeachment managers that Paxton should be removed from office.
Mateer is one of more than 100 people who have been identified as potential witnesses for the trial, according to a list obtained by The Associated Press. They include other former close Paxton aides and a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having an extramarital affair and who worked for Paul.
But how much Paxton himself will take part in the historic trial is up in the air. Facing the gravest threat yet to his political future, Paxton left the start of the proceedings early and cannot be compelled to testify over accusations of corruption that have dogged one of Texas’ most powerful figures for years.
Paxton, who is not required to attend all of the trial, pleaded not guilty before his attorneys began their defense Tuesday by sharply criticizing the impeachment and urging Republican senators to acquit.
“I have one simple ask: Do the right things,” attorney Dan Cogdell said Tuesday. “And the right thing is to vote not guilty.”
The testimony of Jeff Mateer, an evangelical Christian lawyer who describes himself as far to the political right, underscores how Paxton’s impeachment is a rare instance of a party seeking to hold one of its own accountable in a bitterly partisan age.
If convicted, Paxton could be barred from elected office in Texas. Senators on Tuesday rejected numerous motions to dismiss the charges against Paxton, who is not required to attend all the proceedings.
Mateer took the stand with few onlookers in the Senate gallery for what is Texas’ first impeachment trial in nearly a half century. On Tuesday, a few dozen Paxton supporters came to watch the start of the proceedings, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles. But on Wednesday, fewer than 40 members of the public looked on as the trial resumed.
For years, many Texas Republicans have resisted criticizing or facing head-on the litany of legal troubles surrounding Paxton, who has remained popular among the hard right by aligning himself closely to Trump and rushing his office into lawsuits that have halted priorities of the Biden administration.
Paul was indicted this summer on charges of making false statements to a bank to secure more than $170 million in loans. Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee said Paxton “gave nothing of significance” to Paul and framed the proceedings as an attempt to overturn the will of voters.
The Republican-led House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton in May, with the 20 articles of impeachment including abuse of public trust, unfitness for office and bribery. The vote immediately suspended Paxton and made him only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached.
His future is now in the hands of a Senate stacked with ideological allies and a presiding judge, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who loaned $125,000 to Paxton’s last reelection campaign. One member of the Republican majority in the chamber is his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, but while she can attend the trial, she is barred from voting on whether to convict or acquit.
A two-thirds majority — or 21 senators — is required for conviction, meaning that if all 12 Democrats vote against Paxton, at least nine Republicans would have to join them.
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