By Robert Downen, Texas Tribune
Defense stops impeaching Ken Paxton after calling 4 witnesses – Gilmer Mirror
The article “Ken Paxton Impeachment Defense After Calling 4 Witnesses” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs — and engages with — Texas citizens about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.
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Ken Paxton’s defense team wrapped up its case Thursday evening after a full day of testimony in which they attacked many of the 16 articles of impeachment and downplayed the suspended prosecutor’s conduct as merely part of his duties.
The prosecution and defense will present closing arguments starting at 9 a.m. Friday, after which the rules call for senators to deliberate privately before going out to cast votes on each of the 16 articles of impeachment.
The support of 21 senators — two-thirds of those eligible — is needed to permanently remove Paxton from office on any article. If the article is upheld, a separate vote will be held on whether to bar Paxton from ever again serving in state elected office.
Each side was given 24 hours to present its cases, and Paxton’s lawyers started Thursday with more than eight and a half hours to spare — compared to just over two and a half hours for the House impeachment managers. Over the course of the nearly two-week trial, Paxton was accused of making significant and illegal efforts to help his friend and donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, despite repeated warnings from senior deputies in his office who later reported him to the FBI for fraud. bribe. Meanwhile, Paxton’s lawyers focused most of their time and energy on cross-examining prosecution witnesses.
On Thursday, they used their remaining time to call out four current agency executives who defended Paxton against allegations that he abused his office to the detriment of the state and Texans.
Paxton’s lawyers responded Thursday by saying that Paxton’s behavior was not only legal, but justified — and that the former top lawmakers-turned-whistleblowers were insubordinate, ineffective, and, ultimately, deserved to be fired in late 2020.
The defense’s first witness was Justin Gordon, head of the Attorney General’s Office’s Open Records Division, who testified that there was little basis for the House’s allegations that Paxton pressured the office to improperly release sensitive information about the 2019 FBI raid on Paul & Pitt’s businesses. .
Among other things, the FBI missed deadlines and heavily redacted one of its responses to requests for records, which Gordon said would have made it difficult for Paul’s lawyers to dispute the rationale for withholding documents, Gordon said.
Gordon said siding with the FBI in the dispute “could have been seen as condoning” his conduct and disqualifying Paul from the ongoing lawsuit.
Also called to the stand was Henry De La Garza, the director of human resources at the attorney general’s office, who testified that the agency was justified in firing the whistleblower who reported Paxton to the FBI for bribery in late September 2020. Impeachment managers filmed The former representatives described themselves as hard-line conservatives, driven by conscience to report Paxton’s repeated deceit and abuse of power to help Paul.
In one impeachment article, House managers accused Paxton of firing a whistleblower in violation of Texas’ whistleblower law. Another article said Paxton sought to conceal the “wrongful acts” reported by the whistleblower by settling the lawsuit for $3.3 million.
De la Garza painted a different picture, saying the whistleblower violated an agency rule prohibiting the use of an unruly or unprofessional tone toward the administration. Additionally, he said Texas is an at-will employment state, meaning employees can be fired without cause.
“You can be fired for any reason,” he added.
De la Garza also said that Paxton was not the one who fired them. He said it was Brent Webster whom Paxton appointed to be his second-in-command after the firing of Webster’s predecessor-turned-whistleblower, Jeff Mateer.
On cross-examination, House counsel Daniel Dutko said De La Garza’s claims were untrustworthy because they relied on what Webster, a close Paxton ally, said.
De la Garza responded, saying: “I have to rely on the facts presented to me,” before saying, “It may affect my analysis.”
Paxton’s lawyers also attacked an article alleging that Paxton directed his agency to conduct a “sham” investigation that cleared him of any wrongdoing in the whistleblower matter. For this, they contacted Austin Kinghorn, the current Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel.
Kinghorn testified that he played a direct role in drafting the report and insisted there was nothing inappropriate in it. Kinghorn also said Paxton has broad authority to act however he wants as attorney general, including broad access to documents in the agency’s possession.
“His name is on the wall. It’s his agency, and he’s the duly elected district attorney,” Kinghorn said. “So it’s his law firm. He can see the file if he wants to see it.
During questioning, House counsel Erin Epley seized on those comments, asking Kinghorn whether he viewed the attorney general — not the state of Texas — as his client.
“The Attorney General,” Kinghorn answered.
Epley then asked Kinghorn which interest he would prioritize if there was a conflict: the state’s interest or Paxton’s interest?
He replied: “I don’t see them in conflict.”
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This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/14/ken-paxton-impeachment-trial-defense-rests/.
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