AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas’ Court of Impeachment reconvened Tuesday morning for the second week of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial, leading off with testimony from Brandon Cammack — the outside counsel Paxton hired to help investigate campaign donor Nate Paul’s claims that are central to the articles of impeachment.
The session began about an hour late, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said both defense and prosecution were settling some issues before the day could begin. Patrick reminded parties of how much time is left, with House managers starting day six with about nine hours left and Paxton’s team starting with about 12 hours left.
Catch up on highlights from Monday’s session, day five of the trial, below:
Former chief of staff says Paxton’s alleged fair hurt office morale
House prosecutors’ sixth witness, Katherine “Missy” Cary — the former chief of staff in the attorney general’s office — was the first to testify at length about Paxton’s alleged affair. She shared with the jury how she became aware of the affair and testified that the attorney general first identified the woman, Laura Olson, as his realtor.
Paxton’s alleged affair is mentioned in one of the articles of impeachment, accusing Paxton of accepting bribes because he “benefited from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.”
Cary said “my heart broke for her,” referring to Paxton’s wife — state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney — who listened intently from the floor as a member of the impeachment court, although she is barred from voting in the trial.
Cary said before Paxton confessed the affair to his wife and other staff, it had become a topic of contention in the attorney general’s office. Cary testified that staff were “uncomfortable” heeding questions from Angela Paxton about her husband’s whereabouts. Ultimately, she said Paxton admitted the affair in a September 2018 meeting after Cary told Paxton about her ethical and legal concerns about a secret affair.
“There’s political risks. There’s legal risks…these things can open one up to bribery, misuse of office, misuse of state time. Things like that,” Cary said.
In an aggressive cross examination of Cary, lead defense attorney Tony Buzbee pressed her on her memory of how she first became aware of the affair. He went on to discuss religious themes without directly naming Paxton’s alleged affair, making the case that “sometimes people make stupid mistakes.”
“Just because somebody has an affair doesn’t mean that they’re a quote ‘criminal,’ does it?” Buzbee asked, to which Cary said she “would not associate that directly.”
Whistleblower thought Nate Paul’s requests were “suspicious”
House prosecutors called Mark Penley to the witness stand as their fifth witness of trial. Penley was the deputy attorney general for criminal justice in Paxton’s office before Paxton fired him. Penley filed the wrongful termination lawsuit that led directly to Paxton’s impeachment, after whistleblowers claimed they were fired for reporting Paxton to the FBI for criminal conduct including bribery and abuse of power.
Penley described a concerning relationship Paxton had with Nate Paul, the real estate investor and Paxton campaign donor at the core of the prosecutors’ case. Penley testified Paxton pressured him to intervene in a federal investigation facing Paul.
“I thought it was very suspicious that someone who was the target of a federal investigation was reaching out to the attorney general for legal help,” Penley said. “My initial reaction was ‘this is crazy…’ we hoped to slow-walk it and see if the attorney general would drop it.”
The court could return a verdict as soon as Thursday or Friday. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick advised the court Monday morning that each side has about 14.5 hours left to present their case. They intend to deliberate through at least 6:30 each evening until time has expired. The court will not take a day off until a verdict is reached.
If Paxton is found guilty by two-thirds of the Senate on any of the 16 impeachment charges, he will be removed from office. Senators would then determine whether to prohibit him from running for office in the future.