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Former Texas Ranger testified he warned Ken Paxton that 'Nate Paul was a criminal'

David Maxwell, one of the four whistleblowers who sued the attorney general, said he believed Paul was "running a Ponzi scheme" and Paxton should stay away from him.

AUSTIN, Texas — As the first week of Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial wraps up today, there's been no shortage of drama.

The week's testimony has included allegations of "immoral, unethical and illegal" behavior by Paxton along with retaliation and an extramarital affair. We've seen tears from one whistleblower and plenty of testy exchanges between the high-powered legal teams. But we haven't seen Paxton himself since the morning of the first day of the trial that could cost him his job.

On day 4, Paxton whistleblower and former Texas Ranger David Maxwell didn't mince words when he talked about warning Paxton about his efforts to help Paul get out of a financial and legal mess. The real estate developer's home was raided by the FBI in 2019 and he was the target of multiple lawsuits. 

"I told him that Nate Paul was a criminal, he was running a Ponzi scheme that would rival Billy Sol Estes, and that if he didn't get away from this individual and stop what he was doing, he was going to get himself indicted," Maxwell said.

Maxwell said he didn't think the attorney general's office should get involved with Paul because it could be considered obstruction of justice or interfering with an investigation. But his concerns and the concerns of other staffers fell on deaf ears. 

Maxwell said Paxton continued to push his staff to investigate an Austin non-profit that was suing Paul. Maxwell said Paul's allegations about the Mitte Foundation were "absolutely ludicrous, without merit, no probable cause, not even a reason to believe that a crime had been committed."

Maxwell said Paul also claimed he was a victim of a federal conspiracy and he wanted the feds investigated too. 

"I know that he was angry with me because I was not buying into the big conspiracy theory that Nate Paul was having him believe," Maxwell testified.

In the end, Paxton sided with Paul and Maxwell was fired at the age of 71 after a 48-year career in public service. He joined three other whistleblowers in a lawsuit against Paxton which was settled earlier this year for $3.3 million.

On cross-examination, Paxton defense attorney Dan Cogdell pressed Maxwell on why he thought opening the requested investigation would have been obstruction of justice despite Paul's lawyer insisting that they weren't seeking to interfere with the FBI probe.

“They obviously did not say they wanted a crime to be committed," Maxwell said. “His actions belied his words."

Day 3 recap 

The second whistleblower who went to the FBI about his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, was back on the stand for day 3 of his impeachment trial.

Ryan Bangert, the former deputy first assistant attorney general under Paxton, testified Thursday that the authority of the attorney general's office was "hijacked" in 2020 to serve the interests of Nate Paul.

"It was unconscionable in my view. you were using criminal process had been harnessed to pursue the business enemies of an individual, Nate Paul, who also was under investigation by law enforcement," Bangert testified. 

Bangert was referring to the outside attorney Brandon Cammack hired by Paxton to investigate the Mitte Foundation, a non-profit that was suing the Austin real estate developer. 

Bangert said he felt pressured to attend a lunch with Paxton and Paul, which he thought was inappropriate because Paul was involved in a lawsuit with the state. Bangert said Paul “laid out grievances” vs. the charity suing Paul’s companies, said the AG did not push back. “That was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.” 

Bangert said when he saw that subpoenas had been issued in the special counsel's investigation that were "outside the normal process of our office" he realized "there was nothing more I could do."

RELATED: Emotions run high as two more whistleblowers testify in the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton

Bangert resigned in November 2020. By that time, he said, his duties in the attorney general's office had been taken away from him.

Bangert denied defense allegations that the whistleblowers were "staging a coup" when they went to the FBI. 

“We were protecting the interest of the state and ultimately, I believe, protecting the interest of the attorney general and signing our professional death warrant at the same time.”

As we saw Wednesday, there was some rising tension between the two high-powered legal teams. As prosecutor Rusty Hardin questioned Bangert, defense attorney Anthony Osso repeatedly objected.  Hardin grew increasingly agitated, at one point glaring at Osso in a moment of apparent frustration. 

Thursday was the first time we heard from Osso, a native Houstonian who works for the Cogdell Law Firm.  Dan Cogdill is also one of Paxton’s defense lawyers.

Tensions ramped up again when Osso cross-examined Bangert. He repeatedly ordered the witness to "answer yes or no" when he questioned him about why he went behind Paxton's back when he "outed him" to the FBI. 

Bangert said it wasn't behind Paxton's back. But Osso pressed on.

"Mr. Bangert, I'm asking you 'yes' or 'no' questions," Osso told Bangert. "Did you tell Ken Paxton you were going to the FBI? Yes, or no?"

"I can't answer that question with a yes or no," Bangert said, before Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick instructed him to answer the question. 

"We provided him with ample opportunity," Bangert replied.

Osso then pointed to a text message Bangert sent to his colleagues who were making the complaint against Paxton about a memo they had drafted. Bangert told them, "Sounds like we need to beef up the specific allegations."

Bangert explained to Osso that he felt the staffers needed to include additional allegations to "substantiate what had happened."

Third whistleblower gets emotional

The third whistleblower to take the stand was Ryan Vassar. He's one of the four who filed a lawsuit against Paxton that was later settled for $3.3 million. 

Vassar got choked up when Hardin asked him how he felt about being referred to by Paxton as "rogue."

"It was hurtful," he replied. 

"I worked for the state for eight years as a public servant, as one who values the commitment to public service to set an example for my kids, the people that I worked with, the people that I managed," Vassar said as he wiped away tears. "The statement of being 'rogue' is contrary to the years that I dedicated my life to the state."

At one point during Thursday’s testimony, Patrick asked attorneys to lower the temperature of questions.

“These are our good faith beliefs that a crime had occurred,” Vassar testified.

“Respectfully sir, we are not here in this historic events for you good faith beliefs, so if you could just tell these senators who are taking up their time and all of Texas’ time with this impeachment,” defense attorney Mitch Little of Dallas said.

“Excuse me, these sidebar testifying comments are an inappropriate form of cross,” prosecutor Rusty Hardin interrupted.

Paxton continues to be a no-show for his trial. He hasn't been in the Senate Chamber since the first morning of day 1, but his attorney said he doesn't have to be there. 

Buzbee posting to Instagram

The Instagram account for Tony Buzbee has been active with a couple of posts.  One was accusing the media of doctoring his photo to make him look more tan. The other was a photo appearing to show a dictionary entry of the word "bogus" with an example of the word being used in the sentence, "The evidence was completely bogus."

There is a gag order in the case. We are working to determine if either of those posts violated the gag order.

Day 2 recap

The most dramatic moment of Wednesday's proceedings came when witness Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s former first assistant attorney general, talked about finding out about Paxton’s mistress and how that affair was part of an arrangement Paxton had with Paul.

“By that time, I had concluded that by that time Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical and I had good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer said.

Mateer told the jury that the affair was the missing piece that finally explained why Paxton had gotten personally involved in court cases involving Paul, an Austin real estate developer.

RELATED: Key Paxton witness testifies about attorney general's alleged mistress, so-called 'burner phone and secret email'

RELATED: How to watch suspended AG Ken Paxton's impeachment trial

During this testimony, you could see Texas Senator Angela Paxton, Ken Paxton’s wife, paying attention and not changing her expression much, but she was taking diligent notes. She’s been doing that throughout the entire trial so far. While she’s a member of the jury, she will not be able to vote at the end.

Bangert took the stand next to describe how Paxton was going against the opinion of his staff on the issue of foreclosure lawsuits during the pandemic and pressuring them to go with a decision that would benefit Paul.

“He was acting like a man with a gun to his head,” Bangert testified.

“In what way?” prosecutor Hardin asked.

“Anxious. Desperate,” Bangert said. “Urging me to get this out as quickly as humanly possible.”

Paxton’s team is pushing back by trying to discredit how the whistleblowers perceived Paxton’s actions. The witnesses said Paxton was acting desperate or erratic, but defense attorneys say that was speculation. They also claimed Paul’s political donations to Paxton were so small as to not have a major effect on the attorney general. It’s likely this is going to be a common theme throughout the trial.

Significance of alleged affair

While Paxton can’t be charged for having an extramarital affair, some of the articles of impeachment stem from crimes he’s accused of committing related to his alleged mistress.

That includes Article 9, which is constitutional bribery. Paxton is accused of benefitting from Paul’s decision to hire the woman Paxton was allegedly having an affair with.

Next is Article 19, which accuses Paxton of engaging in private and public misconduct, like an affair, indicating he is unfit for office.

Finally, Article 20 is abuse of public trust. It accuses Paxton of undermining the lawful operation of the Texas government by using his official powers and obstructing justice.  It also says he involved the AG’s office in a scandal harming the public’s confidence in the state government.

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