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Paxton impeachment trial: Day 5 recap and highlights

The first week of the trial included key testimony from former top Paxton staffers who raised concerns about Paxton's dealings with Nate Paul.

AUSTIN, Texas — Suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial resumed Monday morning for the second week of action.

The first week of the trial included key testimony from former top Paxton staffers who raised concerns about Paxton's dealings with Nate Paul, the Austin real estate developer at the center of the bribery accusations against Paxton.

Several of those staffers ultimately reported Paxton to the FBI, and they later resigned or were fired.

Here are the highlights from Monday:

Travis County DA says Paul complaint was 'ridiculous' 

Paxton's attorneys have said a special counsel for the attorney general's office was investigating Nate Paul's complaint on a second referral from the Travis County District Attorney's Office, but the former district attorney there testified that Paul's complaint was "ridiculous."

Margaret Moore, the former Travis County District Attorney, was the final witness on the stand in the trial Monday.

She said Paul's complaint about a federal investigation into him was "ridiculous" and "was going nowhere." She said she forwarded the complaint to the attorney general's office as a courtesy to Paxton.

Ex-chief of staff details how Paxton affair impacted AG's office 

Missy Cary, the former chief of staff under Paxton, detailed how she learned of Paxton's alleged affair and how it impacted the morale in the attorney general's office.

Cary said she first became concerned in May 2018, when she was eating lunch at an Austin restaurant and overheard a man and a woman having a conversation that Cary "perceived to be very personal."

While Cary did not say the specifics of the conversation -- Paxton's legal team objected to those details as hearsay -- Cary testified that she took a picture of the woman involved in the conversation and reported what she heard to Paxton.

When asked why she wanted to share her concerns with Paxton, Cary said it was because of the "level of personal details being shared in a public space."

Cary showed Paxton the photo, and he said the woman was his realtor, Cary testified.

Cary said she was later attending an attorneys general association conference in San Antonio and saw the woman again, the same woman she saw in the Austin restaurant earlier that year.

Cary said the woman was wearing a nametag: Laura Olson.

Cary said she then learned from Paxton's security detail and travel aides about the woman's relationship with Paxton.

More so, Cary said, she learned that Paxton's relationship with Olson was causing morale problems in the office.

Paxton's travel and security detail members were complaining about the hours they were working, the places they had to go, and they were "concerned about the general's behavior," Cary said.

Also, Paxton's staff members were fielding calls from Paxton's wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, asking where Paxton was and asking about his schedule, Cary said.

Cary ultimately had a conversation about the issue with Paxton, who confirmed he was having an affair, Cary testified.

Cary said she and Paxton discussed the political, ethical and legal risks of the affair. She also requested that she asked him to tell his wife about the affair.

The meeting ended with Paxton leaving "contemplatively," Cary said, and neither raised their voices at each other.

Later that year, in October 2018, Paxton called a meeting of his top staffers to his campaign headquarters, where he and his wife, Angela, told the group about Paxton's affair.

Cary said Paxton's wife, Angela, cried during the meeting.

"My heart broke for her," Cary said.

Cary testified that she hugged Angela Paxton at the meeting. Then the staffers left and "went back to work," Cary said, thinking Paxton's affair was over.

In 2019, Cary said Paxton met with her and said that he was "frustrated" and that he "still loved Mrs. Olson." Cary testified that Paxton then asked her to be "more accommodating" when it came to his security detail and travel aides.

Paxton's conduct was 'outrageous,' former top staffer says

Mark Penley, the former deputy attorney general for criminal justice under Paxton, described his former boss' conduct as "outrageous" when it came to his alleged dealings with Nate Paul and push to investigate federal authorities on Paul's behalf.

Penley said this when asked by attorney Rusty Hardin, who is prosecuting Paxton for the Texas House, if he would do anything differently in how he handled the situation. Penley had told Paxton that the attorney general's office should not investigate on the behalf of Paul, who was being investigated by federal authorities.

"No sir, I'd do the same thing all over again, because it was the right thing to do, and the only thing we could do," Penley said. "Other than stand by silently and let crimes be committed. The agency was being abused, the laws were being abused, the behavior and the conduct of the attorney general of Texas was outrageous."

Paxton's lawyer then objected to Penley's testimony, and Hardin passed the witness.

Paul acted like the 'boss' in meeting with AG's office, ex-staffer says

Nate Paul, the indicted Austin real estate developer at the center of Paxton's impeachment trial, asserted himself as the "boss" in a meeting with the attorney general's office in 2020, when he wanted them to investigate federal authorities who were investigating him, a former Paxton staffer testified Monday.

Paul was meeting with Mark Penley, the former deputy attorney general for criminal justice under Paxton, and other top staffers, as well as Paxton.

When Penley and David Maxwell, the chief law enforcement officer under Paxton, told Paul and his attorney that they were closing their investigation, Paul became angry, Penley testified Monday.

"Mr. Paul acted like we didn't understand who the real boss was," Penley testified. "It wasn't the attorney general. It was him."

Maxwell also brought up the allegation that Paul had leaked information about the investigation to the media. Paul responded by saying he had a First Amendment right to talk to who he wanted, Penley said.

Penley testified that Paxton sided with Paul on that matter.

Paxton left the meeting toward the end, and then Penley ended it.

Former Paxton staffer says request to investigate on behalf of Nate Paul was "crazy" 

Mark Penley, the former deputy attorney general for criminal justice under Paxton, described the "absolute craziness" of the notion that the attorney general's office would investigate a complaint Nate Paul made against federal authorities.

Penley, another former top staffer of Paxton's who ultimately became a whistleblower in the case, was the first witness to take the stand Monday, when Paxton's impeachment trial resumed in Austin.

Penley testified that Paxton first notified him of Paul's complaint about a federal investigation in December 2019, when Paxton and Penley talked to Paul in a phone meeting at Highland Park Village. 

Paul explained his complaint about federal authorities investigating, Penley said, but Penley viewed Paul's story, and Paxton's involvement with it, as "very suspicious."

"I thought it was very suspicious that someone who was the target of a federal investigation was reaching out to the attorney general for help," Penley said.

Penley said Paxton brought up the Paul matter again in June 2020 at a staff meeting. Paxton wanted his office to investigate the situation, but Penley and fellow top staffer David Maxwell decided to "slow walk it and hope the attorney general would drop it," Penley testified.

"My initial reaction [to Paxton's investigation request] was 'This is crazy,'" Penley said.

Paxton approached Penley about two weeks later, asking why there was no movement on the investigation, Penley said.

"David Maxwell and I saw no merit to the complaint," Penley said. "We saw no state interest. We saw no evidence of a state crime violation. I told him we'd set up a meeting with Nate Paul and his attorney."

"Speaking for myself, I thought it was crazy, and I was hoping the attorney general would drop it," Penley said.

How long will the trial last?

We got a bit more clarity on how much longer Paxton's impeachment trial will last. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial, opened Monday's proceeding by saying he plans to hold the trial every day until a decision is made, meaning it could go into Saturday and Sunday, if needed.

Patrick said he expects the allotted time for questioning witnesses will be done by Wednesday or Thursday, and then state senators will begin deliberating Paxton's fate.

Does that mean we'll see a vote this week? Possibly. Ultimately, it will come down to how long senators want to deliberate their decision.

Day 4 recap

Former top law enforcement officer for AG: Paul allegations were "ludicrous" 

David Maxwell, the former top law enforcement officer in the attorney general's office under Paxton, testified Friday that allegations made by Nate Paul -- ones that Paxton pushed to investigate -- were "ludicrous" and "without merit."

Furthermore, Maxwell said his assessment of Paul was that he was a "criminal and we should not be associated with him."

Paul, an Austin real estate developer, is at the center of the bribery accusations against Paxton.

Paxton's former top staffers have testified that Paxton pushed them to help Paul and investigate allegations he had against authorities who were investigating him.

When Paxton and his staff, including Maxwell, met with Paul, the real estate developer described a "conspiracy" he had against law enforcement officials behind the FBI search of his home, Maxwell said.

Staffer explains what he went to FBI with 

A key focus for Paxton's attorneys Thursday was honing in on what his former top staffers did - or did not have - when they went to the FBI about Paxton in 2020.

Mitch Little, a Paxton lawyer, harped on the comments of Ryan Vassar, Paxton's deputy attorney general of legal counsel, in which Vassar said the top staffers had a "good faith belief" that Paxton was engaging in criminal activity in his dealings with Nate Paul. Little questioned whether that "good faith belief" equated to evidence.

"That was the point of the good faith belief," Vassar said Thursday. "We had no evidence that we could point to, but we had reasonable conclusions that we could draw."

On Friday, Rusty Hardin, the attorney prosecuting Paxton, attempted to have Vassar clarify why he and others went to the FBI.

"My opinion was that our experiences were evidence, but we didn't conduct our own investigation to provide documentary evidence," Vassar told Hardin.

Vassar said he and the other staffers went to the FBI with what they knew in the hopes the FBI would conduct an investigation.

"We were witnesses," Vassar said. "I believe that I was a witness to criminal activity that had occurred."

AG office had reporter 'blacklist,' witness says 

Ryan Vassar, the former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, testified about a media "blacklist" the Office of Attorney General had under Paxton.

"It's my understanding at the office that there was a list of certain reporters that were handled differently than other reporters," Vassar testified.

The purported "blacklist" was brought up when Paxton attorney Mitch Little was reviewing text messages sent between Vassar and other top staffers in 2020, when the staffers began to resign or get fired after raising concerns about Paxton.

Lauren McGaughy, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, was referenced in the texts when someone in the group suggested she was on the "blacklist." McGaughy has reported extensively on the turmoil and turnover within the Office of Attorney General.

Texts between Paxton staffers under scrutiny 

Mitch Little, the Paxton attorney handling the questioning of witness Ryan Vassar, began his cross-examination Friday morning by scrutinizing the text messages sent between Vassar and his fellow colleagues who raised concerns about Paxton in 2020.

Little pressed Vassar, Paxton's former deputy attorney general for legal counsel, about the joking nature of the texts between him and other whistleblowers.

Vassar on Thursday had testified that it was hurtful to hear Paxton call him and others "rogue employees." Little on Friday countered Vassar's feelings with the joking texts Vassar and others sent about junior employees in the attorney general's office.

Vassar said he wasn't proud of the texts, but he said they were made among friends in a joking manner. Among the texts was an Amazon link to a children's coloring book; Vassar had joked that newer lawyers in the attorney general's office might need them.



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