AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The impeachment trial for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is underway at the Texas State Capitol, beginning Tuesday morning despite Paxton’s requests to dismiss all articles of impeachment.

As presiding officer of the trial, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick functioned as a judge by kicking off the trial with procedural moves taking up the majority of the morning. Proceedings began with Supreme Court of Texas Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht administering oaths to Patrick and others involved in the process.

Senators each took an oath to serve as jurors, except for Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, who is barred from voting in the trial.

The Texas House adopted 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton. The Senate will consider 16 of those articles in the trial.

Paxton’s lead lawyer Tony Buzbee spoke on Paxton’s behalf and pleaded not guilty to each article of impeachment.

In May, the Texas House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton on 20 articles of impeachment. These range from making false statements to obstructing justice to accepting bribes from a campaign donor. The Senate will consider 16 of these articles in the trial.

Here’s a closer look at each article of impeachment.

House prosecutors sought to compel Paxton to testify, but Patrick said they will not be allowed to do so.

With bipartisan votes, Texas Senate members voted to deny 16 motions from Paxton’s lawyers to dismiss articles of impeachment. Senators voted down all of Paxton’s motions, with the motion to dismiss all articles failing 24-6. The motions serve as an early test vote to gauge the jury’s willingness to consider conviction.

Paxton needs at least 10 senators to side with him to avoid conviction. Only one of his pretrial motions got 10 votes in favor.

Opening statements in the trial began Tuesday after a morning of swearing-ins and pre-trial motion votes.

House impeachment manager Rep. Andrew Murr spoke for the prosecution. He said they are there today because Paxton came to the legislature, asked for $3.3 million for a whistleblower lawsuit settlement, and did not answer questions.

“He failed to protect the state and instead used the power of his office for his own benefit and this was wrong,” Murr said.

Buzbee said he believes senators will conclude “there is nothing of significance” in the allegations.

“This case is a whole lot of nothing,” Buzbee said.

Former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer testified on the whistleblower allegations he made against Paxton while working under him. Mateer was Paxton’s hand-picked second-in-command at the Office of Attorney General.

Mateer is one of the prosecution’s key sources for detailing Paxton’s relationship with friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, who is central to many of the impeachment articles. Mateer filed an FBI complaint for public corruption, citing concerns he had about the relationship between Paxton and Paul.

Mateer took the stand in front of prosecutor Rusty Hardin Tuesday afternoon before proceedings abruptly adjourned over procedural disagreements between opposing counsel.

During Hardin’s Wednesday questioning, Mateer detailed his numerous conversations with Paxton where he raised concerns about the attorney general’s relationship with Paul. Mateer said things changed after he learned Paxton had an affair with a woman who Paul’s company hired in 2020.

Paxton and state Sen. Angela Paxton had alerted senior staff in 2018 about his infidelity, Mateer said, adding that the attorney general was repentant and had recommitted to his marriage.

“It answered that question — why would he do this against people he trust…why is he engaging in all of these activities on behalf of Mr. Paul?” Mateer testified. “I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical, and I had the good faith belief that it was illegal.”

During cross-examination, Buzbee pushed back on Mateer’s testimony saying he was trying to protect Paxton.

“Is it possible you jumped to conclusions too fast?” Buzbee asked Mateer. Buzbee suggested Mateer was being disloyal to Paxton, saying he should have told Paxton he was planning to go to the FBI with his concerns.

“You could have just put this all to bed if you just talked to your boss,” Buzbee said.

“I did talk to him, sir,” said Mateer after Buzbee pressed the line of questioning.

Day three of the impeachment trial saw two key whistleblowers take the stand, sharing fears and shedding tears as they recounted their experience under Paxton, who they reported to the FBI for bribery and corruption.

The day opened with Hardin, the lead prosecutor for the House’s impeachment team, examining witness Ryan Bangert. Bangert is a former deputy first assistant attorney general who reported Paxton to the FBI.

Bangert’s testimony provided a new eyewitness account of how whistleblowers believed Paxton was pressuring the office to improperly benefit Paul. Bangert said Paxton was adamant the office hire outside counsel to interfere in Paul’s private legal troubles.

“The attorney general was insisting that we move forward with outside counsel,” Bangert said. “It was clear to me that hiring outside counsel to undertake this task could only benefit one person.”

Bangert stated that he went to the FBI as a result of what he saw as an unethical abuse of power.

“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, (but) to serve the interests of one person — Nate Paul,” he said.

Central to Bangert’s testimony was Paxton’s issuance of an informal legal opinion he believed was solely to benefit Paul’s financial interests.

In August 2020, Paxton directed his office to issue an opinion declaring foreclosure sales unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Whistleblowers said that decision was contrary to the office’s work against COVID restrictions and was intended to help Paul avoid foreclosure on some of his properties.

“This opinion had not gone through the formal, rigorous process of review by the opinion committee,” Bangert said. “The name and authority and power of our office had been, in my view, hijacked to serve the interests of an individual against the interests of the broader public.”

Paxton’s defense team accused Bangert and other whistleblowers of trying to stage a “coup” against their former boss.

Defense attorney Anthony Osso repeatedly asked if Bangert told Paxton he was going to the FBI regarding Paxton’s alleged unethical misconduct.

“You did not take the time to hear his side of things out before you went to law enforcement?” Osso asked Bangert.

Bangert initially did not answer the question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. After Osso repeated the inquiry five times, Bangert testified that he did not tell Paxton about his FBI complaint prior to filing it.

Hardin led Bangert to push back on the defense’s characterization of the whistleblowers’ actions as a “mutiny.”

“It was not a mutiny,” Bangert said. “We were protecting the interest of the state. And ultimately, I believe protecting the interest of the attorney general and, in my view, signing our professional death warrant at the same time.”

Paxton’s assertion the whistleblowers were “rogue employees” brought tears to the next witness, former Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar.

“It was hurtful,” Vassar said.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Mitch Little continued the theme accusing Vassar and other whistleblowers of staging a “coup” against Paxton.

One of the arguments Little posed was how there wasn’t enough justification to go to the FBI.

“You went to the FBI on September 30th with your compatriots and reported the elected attorney general of this state for a crime, without any evidence?” asked Little.

“That’s right. We took no evidence,” Vassar responded.

When cross examination resumed Friday morning, Little displayed numerous text messages showing Vassar and other former employees demeaning other colleagues, insulting their intelligence and making light of their difficult experience following the FBI complaint.

One text from Vassar included an image of “Going Rouge: The Sarah Palin Rogue Coloring and Activity Book” — a satirical 2009 book that Vassar used as an “oblique reference” to Paxton’s criticism of the whistleblowers. The lighthearted texts from 2020 contrasted with Vassar’s tears at the term “rogue” — “gallows humor,” Little described it.

“It was a joke. I believe earlier your testimony was that being called a ‘rogue employee’ was very upsetting to you. Right?” Little asked Vassar. “No one was ever supposed to see it. And certainly not the people of Texas who are watching this impeachment proceeding, right? No one was ever supposed to see this.”

“Well, it was a conversation among friends. But I wouldn’t say that any of us are concerned that it’s being discussed here today,” Vassar responded.

Friday afternoon, prosecutors began examining David Maxwell, the former Director of Law Enforcement in the Attorney General’s Office under Paxton.

Maxwell says he warned Paxton that his conduct in Paul’s legal matters was improper.

“I told him that Nate Paul was a criminal. He was running a Ponzi scheme…and if he didn’t get away from what he was doing, he was going to get himself indicted,” Maxwell said he told Paxton.

Defense attorneys have argued throughout the trial that whistleblowers did not alert Paxton before they reported him to the FBI.

Maxwell testified that Paxton, through another deputy, had urged him to investigate Paul’s allegations of wrongdoing by federal officials after the FBI searched Paul’s home.

Paul was charged in June with 8 counts of making false statements and reports to lenders. He is accused of exaggerating his assets, undervaluing his liabilities and providing false records to obtain more than $172 million in loans for his businesses in 2017 and 2018. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. His trial is scheduled for July 2024.

Maxwell said he was reluctant to take a meeting with Paul in the summer of 2020, but Paxton was putting pressure on top deputies to meet with him.

In cross-examination with Maxwell, defense attorney Dan Cogdell aimed to diminish Maxwell’s credibility through his various lines of questioning.

“What words do they use to describe to you the desire for a crime to be committed?” asked Cogdell.

Maxwell responded, “They did not say they wanted a crime to be committed. They wanted an investigation.”

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.”

Paxton was not present on the Senate floor for any of the testimony from his former employees. He attended his trial Tuesday morning, but did not return for the afternoon session. His attorneys made it clear that Paxton is not required to attend the trial.

Border buoys allowed to remain in Rio Grande after Texas appeals ruling

A buoy barrier along the Texas-Mexico border near Eagle Pass will remain in place as an appeal by the state moves forward in court. A federal appeals court issued a temporary stay of a judge’s ruling to remove the barrier by Sept. 15.

The stay comes one day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the state would appeal the removal order. The case stems from a lawsuit the Biden administration filed against Abbott in late July over the state’s floating barrier, arguing it violated international and federal law.

The stay allows the barriers to remain in place while the state’s appeal of the federal judge’s removal order proceeds in court. Abbott has previously vowed to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Abbott ordered the buoys to be placed in the river near Eagle Pass earlier this summer. The Governor says Texas is under “invasion” from people crossing the Rio Grande, and that threat gives the state authority to protect its border.

Polling shows Texans have mixed views over the buoys and other border barriers.

In August, the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas asked voters about their opinions about barriers along the Rio Grande. Slightly more than half, 52%, supported placing buoys and barbed wire at the river to deter migration. Forty percent opposed the barriers.

The poll shows a significant partisan divide, with 88% of Republicans supporting the border barriers, compared with 18% of Democrats in support.

As Texas’ dead suspect loophole closes, bill author predicts future fight

Texas police no longer have discretion to withhold records when someone dies in their custody. A new law took effect Friday, closing the state’s dead suspect loophole – an “unintended consequence” of an exception to the Public Information Act initially meant to protect the privacy of suspects who never go through the court process.

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, filed legislation each session since 2017 to end the loophole, which KXAN investigators revealed has been used widely by police across the state for years to keep certain details about deaths – including audio and video – secret.

In the most recent regular session, the measure received renewed, bipartisan support following the deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde.

While it faced a late-stage battle between the two chambers and their leaders, the bill ultimately passed and made it to Abbott’s desk. The governor chose not to sign the bill but instead allowed it to become law without his signature. Some say that move signaled continued controversy that promises to spill into future sessions and possibly even court.

Abbott’s office has not responded to KXAN’s requests for comment about the bill.

Moody spoke with State of Texas host Josh Hinkle about the new law going into effect following the station’s continued coverage and why he believes he and other advocates still have work to do surrounding police transparency.

Moody: Once people found an avenue to keep information secret, they utilized it, and I don’t put it past anybody to continue to try to find wiggle room in the law that was passed. And we’ll just have to see how that unfolds.

Hinkle: What do you do with those law enforcement agencies that refuse to follow this law, or who’s even checking to make sure that the law is being followed properly?

Moody: I think there’ll be a number of requests that go forward after September 1 to test it, to see who’s going to follow the law and who’s not. And to those who want to continue to shield this information from the public and not follow the law, then my message is very clear: we will see you in court.

Hinkle: Perhaps the largest opponent of this legislation over the years has been the police unions throughout Texas. Do you have any indication of how they feel with how things turned out?

Moody: It would not surprise me that they would be in the middle of challenging this going forward…I think they’ll probably fight it. You know, it’s something they don’t agree with, and so my guess is we’ll probably see more litigation around it. But the message is clear that people deserve to have this information, and sunlight on these bad situations is a good thing.

Hinkle: Is there anything you would like to do to continue to strengthen this law in a future session?

Moody: There was a second lesser portion that the Senate excluded and refused to put back into it, that had to do with internal records or notations. Now, I don’t think that applies to the information that we’re really after. But could a law enforcement agency turn around and stamp everything as an internal record and try to create a new loophole because that provision didn’t end up in the bill? Probably. I think they could probably try to go that path…And so we’ll see how law enforcement entities deal with that in the next two years…if it’s still being exploited – and is able to be exploited in the way that we saw in the past – then we are in no unnecessary terms have to come back and close that last provision.

Hinkle: As this law goes into effect, is there anything else you’d like to say?

Moody: I really do want to thank the families who had to continue to relive the horrors of losing their loved ones. And coming and telling those stories and essentially re-traumatizing themselves over and over again. But they were doing it because they knew it was the best thing going forward so that other people wouldn’t have to go through that. And I want to thank those who are, you know, in the media who talk about how important this is for public information to shine a light on very tragic circumstances…yourself and others that have been dogged in their approach to this and saying, ‘This is information that belongs to the public’ – and making sure that it was in the forefront of people’s minds…This is a benefit for the public to understand what the government is doing in the most tragic of circumstances…this is a good example of how keeping the faith and working on it session after session, year after year – you can get to the result that is best for all Texas.”

Texas’ new patient safety law takes effect, sort of

Five months after KXAN took the findings of our investigation into the Texas Medical Board straight to lawmakers, a major new law is now in effect aimed at protecting patients and saving lives. However, patients wanting to research their doctors ahead of time still have to wait another two years to see greater transparency, our ongoing investigation found.

“The serious issues that were uncovered in your original investigative reporting made it very, very, very clear that patients were at risk,” said Dallas medical malpractice attorney Kay Van Wey. “Texas patients will suffer while the Texas Medical Board is taking its sweet time implementing the new law.”

The new law, which reforms the Texas Medical Board, or TMB, took effect Sept. 1.

House Bill 1998 passed the legislature this past session with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was a direct result of KXAN’s “Still Practicing” series, which began in early 2022. Our investigation found dozens of doctors treating patients despite having their medical licenses revoked or suspended in other states. We also found other state medical board websites had more transparency about Texas doctors than our state’s. There was no record at the time on their TMB website physician profile.

KXAN brought the findings of our investigation to State Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch, last year. At the time, she said the lack of transparency we uncovered at the TMB was “not going to fly” and she intended to “do something about it.” This past legislative session, Johnson introduced HB 1998. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who said the statutes governing the TMB were “riddled with loopholes” that allowed physicians moving to Texas, or transfer between hospitals, “to avoid disclosing disciplinary actions.”

In April, KXAN testified in front of lawmakers about what we uncovered.

“The Texas Medical Board’s goal is to ‘protect and enhance the public’s health, safety and welfare,’” KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “But, we’ve discovered, in case after case, the board has instead prioritized protecting physicians over patients.”

The bill was signed into law by Abbott in June.

Under the new law:

  • Doctors who’ve had their medical licenses suspended or revoked in other states are now ineligible to practice in Texas.
  • It’s now a Class A misdemeanor to lie on license applications.
  • All physicians must now undergo criminal background checks and fingerprinting with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
  • All physicians must undergo 24/7 monitoring with National Practitioner Data Bank.

Consumers often check the internet for everything — from finding the cheapest gas to looking up the best burgers or tastiest tacos in town. But, when it comes to looking up your doctor or surgeon, transparency is often not on the menu.

“We have to get the secrecy out of healthcare,” said Wey, who represented victims of the infamous Dallas spinal surgeon dubbed “Dr. Death,” who is serving a life sentence in prison after surgeries left patients maimed or dead.

“The sad fact about it is in Texas, and elsewhere, you can find out more about the safety history of a vehicle or a washing machine than you can a doctor,” she added.

Wey calls the new law a “step forward” but said she’s upset that a key component — increased physician scrutiny — won’t fully kick in, according to the TMB, until the “fall of 2025.”

Under the new law, Texas physicians will now be subject to constant nationwide monitoring by the National Practitioner Data Bank, or NPDB, which is a confidential database Congress established in 1986 containing doctor discipline and malpractice records from across the country. The NPDB alerts state medical boards, like the TMB, if a doctor is disciplined while practicing medicine in another state or is criminally convicted.

Those actions, under the new law, are supposed to be made public on the physician’s online profile on the TMB website within 10 business days.

But even though the law is now in effect, it will take two years to enroll all Texas doctors.

A close-up of HB 1998, now law, held by its author, Rep. Julie Johnson, in late May. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Now that the law is in effect, the TMB said it can legally begin a hiring process that could last a “few months.” The board was approved to hire and train five new full-time employees at a combined salary of $258,216 a year. They’ll be tasked with enrolling physicians in a monitoring program with the NPDB called a “continuous query,” reviewing those reports and ensuring the physicians’ online profiles are up-to-date and any disciplinary actions are made public within 10 business days.

“We believe this is adequate staff to implement the program,” said TMB spokesman Jarrett Schneider, who said the staffers will be brought on “as more and more licensees apply or renew their license.”

This heightened 24/7 round-the-clock physician monitoring with the NPDB, called a “continuous query,” costs $2.50 per physician.

It will cost the TMB $610,895 a year to subscribe to the NPDB. The salary for the five new staffers, the NPDB subscription, and the TMB’s administrative costs will total $869,111 annually, Schneider said.

To help pay for it all, physicians will begin paying an $11 fee that will be collected on a “rolling basis,” Schneider said, when physicians when first apply for a medical license and when they renew their existing one every two years.

“Board staff will reassess the fees annually for each new fiscal year to ensure adequate resources for administration of the program,” said Schneider.

It will take two years — the fall of 2025 — to enroll approximately 122,179 physicians, he said.

The TMB said it’s “not concerned” by the two-year delay to fully implement.

“Based on the statute and funding mechanism, the Board is not concerned it will take two years to have physician and physician assistant licensees enrolled in NPDB CQ,” said Schneider, referring to a National Practitioner Data Bank Continuous Query. “The timeline is what is feasible under the method to fund the program using licensing fees. The board is eager to have the new NPDB CQ up and running as we believe it will be of great benefit to our licensure and enforcement programs.”

The final version of HB 1998 specified the TMB could collect funds from physicians to pay the continuous query during the “issuance of a first registration permit” and “renewal of a registration permit.”

“This was the funding provision approved by the Legislature to pay for NPDB CQ subscriptions,” Schneider said in an email.

A section of HB 1998 (Courtesy Texas Legislature Online)

“This legislation has been a long time coming,” Wey said. “And, my hope as a patient myself, is that this is the beginning of a meaningful and significant change.”

It’s unclear how patients will know if a physician profile is up-to-date. The board said it “proactively” started updating them last year when KXAN first launched our “Still Practicing” series.

Existing staff will “temporarily” help until new hires are made, Schneider said. That typically takes “a month or two.” In the meantime, the board will continue to rely on update reports about doctors from the Federation of State Medical Boards, or FSMB, a national non-profit. The FSMB is a resource that states, like Texas, rely on to receive notifications about actions in other states. The non-profit provides physician disciplinary records to all states where that person has ever held a license.

“Once relevant information is entered by staff, the information is available on the profile the following business day,” Schneider said. “However, these reports capture a moment in time instead of the ongoing updates that will be provided by NPDB CQ. The Board will continue to utilize the existing reporting in concert with future NPDB CQ reporting.”

If the board is investigating a doctor who isn’t yet enrolled in continuous query, “snapshot reports” can be ordered from the NPDB to further dig into that person’s background, Schneider said.

Still, Wey wishes job postings would have started sooner so the TMB could have been ready to hire on “day one.” She believes more also needs to be done on a federal level to protect patients. Wey pointed out the NPDB only collects discipline records from hospitals when privileges are suspended or restricted for more than 30 days.

Texas’ new law originally tried to make it so suspensions falling below that could be sent to the Data Bank. However, federal health officials told KXAN in February that it wouldn’t accept those reports even if they were sent.

“According to the law that governs the NPDB, Clinical privileges actions lasting 30 days or fewer are not reportable to the NPDB,” an official told us.