AUSTIN, Texas — The impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton -- one of the biggest political stories in Texas history -- began Tuesday at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
Paxton is accused of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction in 20 articles of impeachment, sixteen of which are being considered in the trial.
Before opening statements, the Senate rejected all of Paxton’s efforts to dismiss the articles of impeachment in votes of 24-6 and 22-8. Paxton, who has called the impeachment a "politically motivated sham," then pleaded not guilty to all 16 articles.
The trial in the Senate Chambers will be handled like a criminal case with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acting as presiding officer, equivalent to a judge.
The jury is made up of 30 state senators, 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats, who will decide Paxton's fate. They need a two-thirds majority or 21 votes to convict Paxton.
The attorney general's wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton, is required to attend but won't be allowed to vote. She was originally listed as a witness but is no longer expected to testify.
If found guilty, Paxton would be removed from office. Another vote requiring a two-thirds majority would then be taken to determine if he would be permanently banned from holding office in Texas.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Paxton impeachment trial
WATCH LIVE: KHOU 11 is streaming the entire trial
Texans can watch the political drama play out with live coverage. At times, it could resemble a telenovela with Paxton's associate Nate Paul, who's also in trouble with the feds, and his alleged mistress at the center of the allegations against him. She's on the list of more than 100 witnesses who were ordered to attend the first day of the trial.
The trial is shaping up to be the Texas politics version of the WWE with hotshot Houston attorneys representing both sides.
“For seven years his conduct in all kinds of ways, it’s not a single incident or two or three as I’ve said, it’s a whole pattern of conduct that is just a cancer on the justice system in Texas,” Hardin said about the case.
“The evidence is as strong as horseradish. Rusty is right about that. It’s worse than the public knows,” DeGuerin added.
Hardin and DeGuerin will go toe-to-toe against the flashy and brashy Tony Buzbee who is representing Paxton. He called the case "bologna."
“Ken Paxton will never be convicted by the Senate,” Buzbee said. “Not on this evidence. Not with this record. The fact is, these allegations are completely untrue.”
Prominent criminal defense attorney Dan Cogdell, another larger-than-life personality, and former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Osso are also on Paxton's team. Osso is the son of veteran defense attorney Anthony Osso Sr. He joined Cogdell's law firm after leaving the DA's office.
The House managers
The House impeachment managers are led by Republican Andrew Murr, a West Texas rancher and lawyer, and Democratic Ann Johnson, a former Harris County prosecutor. Other members include Republicans Briscoe Cain, Charlie Geren, Cody Thane Vasut, David Spiller, Jeff Leach and Morgan Meyer and Democrats Erin Elizabeth Gámez, Joe Moody, Oscar Longoria and Terry Canales.
They submitted nearly 4,000 pages of documents and 150 exhibits to make their case for impeachment.
Who is Nate Paul?
The impeachment managers allege Paxton hired attorney Brandon Cammack to help his buddy harass business rivals and other perceived enemies before he was arrested by the FBI. Records show Paul called his plan "Operation Deep Sea."
In return, Paul helped Paxton hide an affair with his mistress using burner phones, secret emails and a fake Uber account, impeach prosecutors say. They allege Paul gave the woman a job in Austin so she could be closer to Paxton.
According to prosecutors, Paul also paid for costly renovations to Paxton's million-dollar Austin home.
Paxton's alleged mistress
Impeachment articles allege that Paxton, under the alias "Dave P," used the fake Uber account for more than a dozen visits to the Pearl Lantana Apartments to see his girlfriend. They said he'd get picked up a block from his home to avoid detection.
The woman, identified as Laura Olson by Paxton's former chief of staff, initially lived in San Antonio but records show Paul hired her as a special projects director at his World Class Property Company for $65,000 a year. so she could move to Austin.
Paul, Cammack and the mistress could be called to testify but the witness.
It was concerns over their boss's behavior regarding his buddy and alleged girlfriend that prompted eight deputy AGs to talk to the FBI in 2020.
Three stepped down but five were fired after after going to the feds.
Blake Brickman, David Maxwell Jr., Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar then filed a whistleblower's lawsuit against Paxton and reached a $3.3M settlement. The bipartisan group of lawmakers who led Paxton's impeachment in the House said it was him asking for approval of taxpayer funds to settle with the group that led to their investigation.
Maxwell Jr. is a former Texas Ranger who didn't like the way the state's top law enforcement officer ran the AG's office. “If you give him money . . . he’s going to do whatever you ask him to do, whether it’s legal or not. He’s—he’s selling influence is what he’s doing," Maxwell Jr. said in pretrial testimony.
Penley served as a federal prosecutor for sixteen years who called Paxton's conduct "outrageous."
Other whistleblowers, including Paxton's top assistant Jeff Mateer and Ryan Bangert are also on the witness list.
Paxton's 'second son'
Drew Wicker could be the prosecution's star witness. He is a former executive aide and personal assistant to Paxton who became a close family friend. Wicker said it was Angela Paxton who referred to him as their "second son."
In his deposition, Wicker said he was frustrated with how much energy Paxton was focusing on his relationship with Paul. House investigators said they discovered at least 20 meetings between the pair that spring and summer, despite the burgeoning pandemic.
“We had a number of issues that were top of mind … in terms of policy and initiatives,” Wicker said. “And we were spending an increasingly large share of our calendar time focused on Nate Paul.”
He resigned shortly after Paxton’s top deputies accused the AG of corruption in September 2020.
He described the last three years as a “nightmare,” adding that he had also been subpoenaed by the FBI.