Two former top officials from the Texas attorney general’s office testified Sept. 6-7 they were disturbed by Ken Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and campaign donor. Paul is connected to many of the 16 impeachment charges against the suspended attorney general, who is accused of bribery, conspiracy, misuse of public funds, retaliation against former employees and more.

During the second and third days of the trial, lawyers spent hours questioning former First Assistant Jeff Mateer and former Deputy First Assistant Ryan Bangert, the first two witnesses called by the House impeachment managers. The trial began Sept. 5 in the Texas Senate and is expected to last multiple weeks.

The two men and five other former employees brought their concerns to federal law enforcement in 2020, essentially “signing our professional death warrants,” Bangert said.

The details

“I went to the FBI because I believed, based on my experience over the previous nine months, that the attorney general had abandoned his obligation to work on behalf of the interests of the people of Texas to serve the interests of one person: Nate Paul,” Bangert testified.

The whistleblowers said the attorney general’s office was using “substantial resources” to help Paul with multiple cases—including pressuring employees to release confidential police documents, releasing a “midnight opinion” related to foreclosure sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring an outside attorney to issue grand jury subpoenas in a criminal investigation and more.

“The problem is the office is being used for the benefit of one person,” Mateer told the jury. “It's not exercising its own independent judgment.”

Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton’s re-election campaign in 2018. Mateer said this made him and other officials “super sensitive” to the attorney general’s direct involvement in Paul’s affairs.

Mateer said he repeatedly went to Paxton with his concerns. Paxton said he would step aside, Mateer testified, but remained intertwined with Paul for months.

Tony Buzbee, Paxton’s lead defense attorney, accused Mateer of playing “a game of telephone” with the connections between Paxton and Paul.

“Is it possible that you jumped to a lot of conclusions too fast, and you could have put all this to bed if you had just talked to your boss?” Buzbee asked during a fiery exchange.

Mateer said he made “reasonable assumptions” based on Paxton’s actions throughout 2020 before reporting him to the FBI that September.

“I knew by that time that my tenure as first assistant was coming to an end,” Mateer said.

He resigned in October 2020, while Bangert resigned following the November 2020 election.

Bangert said top staffers felt “disbelief, shock and extreme concern” about the attorney general’s actions. However, Bangert testified he was still a staunch supporter of his boss and was “trying to protect the attorney general as much as [I] could.”

Bangert spoke of an office “hijacked” to serve Paul using public resources. He said there was nothing he could do to stop Paxton.

“The criminal process had been harnessed to pursue the business entities of an individual,” Bangert said.

What’s next?

Rusty Hardin, a prosecutor for the House impeachment team, began questioning a third witness, Ryan Vassar, on the afternoon of Sept. 7. Vassar was Paxton’s deputy attorney general for legal counsel. He and three other staffers filed suit against Paxton, arguing they were fired after reporting him to federal authorities.

Each party has 27 hours of speaking time, including one hour for opening statements, one hour for rebuttals, one hour for closing statements and 24 hours for the presentation of evidence.

After hearing from witnesses and lawyers, 30 state senators will vote on each article of impeachment. Support from at least two-thirds of the senators—or 21 votes—will be required to convict Paxton on any charges.

If he is convicted, Paxton will be removed from office. Senators can also choose to bar him from holding a future statewide role.

Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, must be present for the trial but is not allowed to participate or vote.