Editor’s Note: This story is a recap of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial from Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. Click here for the latest livestream and coverage of the trial.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The historic impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is underway as senators weigh 16 articles of impeachment that accuse Paxton of abuse of office, bribery and corruption.
Day four of the trial started at 9 a.m. on Friday, starting back up with cross-examination of the prosecution’s third key witness — Ryan Vassar, a former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, who joined other whistleblowers reporting Paxton to the FBI.
Mitchell Little, a defense attorney for Paxton, aimed to make the case that Little was a disgruntled employee during his often aggressive questioning of Vassar.
On Friday morning, Little focused on text messages between Vassar and a group of whistleblowers in which Vassar mocked new lawyers in the office, after they had all made their report about Paxton to federal authorities. Vassar defended the texts as “lighthearted” and private jokes about the new office attorneys they saw as inexperienced.
“It was a conversation among friends. But I wouldn’t say that any of us were concerned that it’s being discussed here today,” Vassar said. Little responded asking if he was “proud” of the text messages, to which Vassar responded “no.”
About 30 minutes into Friday’s session, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, went up to the dais to approach Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who presides over the trial — before quickly exiting the chamber. Patrick then called for a half-hour break in the trial.
A spokesperson for Miles said he had to “leave to take care of a personal matter, but everything is fine.” Miles returned to the chamber after the 30-minute break.
Key highlights from day three of the trial
At the beginning of Vassar’s Thursday afternoon testimony, he broke down in tears when prosecutors asked him about how he felt when Paxton called him a “rogue” employee after his termination.
“It was hurtful,” Vassar said.
Ryan Vassar, a former top official in AG Paxton’s office, tears up on the witness stand.— Ryan Chandler (@RyanChandlerTV) September 7, 2023
“I worked for the state for 8 years… as one who values the commitment to public service… the statement of being ‘rogue’ is contrary to the years I dedicated my life to the state.” pic.twitter.com/Vq4da0NXwa
Before Vassar took the stand later Thursday afternoon, the trial’s third day began with the prosecution’s second key witness — Ryan Bangert, a former deputy first assistant attorney general who also reported Paxton to federal law enforcement.
During the beginning of his testimony Wednesday, Bangert testified how Paxton repeatedly came to him asking to intervene in Nate Paul’s legal issues. Paul, an Austin real estate developer, is central to most of Paxton’s impeachment articles — as Paxton is accused of misusing his office to help Paul.
On Wednesday, Bangert — who testified that he oversaw the part of the Office of Attorney General (OAG) that issues legal opinions — described Paxton’s conduct as “bizarre,” when he said the attorney general continued to pressure him to write a legal opinion that would benefit Paul.
“He was acting like a man with a gun to his head,” Bangert stated. “Anxious, desperate, urging me to get this [opinion] out as quickly as humanly possible.”
Bangert said the opinion was related to prohibiting home foreclosure sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was contrary to the OAG’s stance on pandemic mandates, as the state of Texas was making policy decisions to reopen the state.
Jeff Mateer, a key witness who preceded Bangert’s testimony, also discussed this legal opinion on Wednesday, testifying that it was “as if Anthony Fauci wrote the opinion” that Paxton wanted to help Paul avoid foreclosures on several properties he owned. Mateer is Paxton’s former first assistant attorney general, second-in-command.
Rusty Hardin, one of the lead lawyers for the House impeachment managers, continued questioning Bangert about his increasing alarm about Paul and Paxton’s relationship during Thursday’s hearing.
Bangert testified about a June 2020 meeting in which he and the attorney general met with Paul at an Austin restaurant downtown. Bangert recalled Paul shared countless complaints related to his belief that he was the target of “unfair” investigations from state and federal law enforcement, as well as grievances about the Mitte Foundation — a charity that sued Paul.
“I was concerned that I was being asked to meet with the principal of a party in a lawsuit to which we had intervened,” he said. “The strong impression that I had developed was I had been summoned to that lunch by Nate Paul to hear out his grievances and to convince me to get on board with the Mitte Foundation intervention program.”
Paxton did not appear in the Senate chamber for the second or third day of his trial, and left by the afternoon break on Tuesday.