“Everything’s bigger in Texas” is one of those clichés that happens to be entirely true. With the diminution of the importance of impeachment as a political issue on the federal level, the Lone Star State seems obliged to take up the slack — and the impeachment of controversial Attorney General Ken Paxton is turning into a process that pits the highest-paid power lawyers in Texas against each other in a duel to the death.
There’s been plenty of color in the proceedings, and not just from Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee, whose heavily tanned appearance led him to take to Instagram to accuse “reputable media organizations” of editing his skin tone in photographs (watchers had started passing around memes of Buzbee as an Oompa Loompa). “So you think the news isn’t bias [sic]? Think again.”
When Paxton’s impeachment was announced, the fiery AG promised that buses of people would show up to protest on his behalf, defending his virtue against the malevolent national forces of leftism unfairly targeting him just as they do Donald J. Trump. This has not occurred. The Senate gallery, where the public is free to attend, is virtually empty. The “Stand With Ken” horde has not descended. Instead, the impeachment process has turned into a particularly Austin kind of weird.
The proceedings have repeatedly name-dropped Polvos, a Mexican restaurant in Austin with some of the best fajitas in town, where Paxton held a meeting with Paul and his staffers that violated every norm of the AG’s office. Lawyers devoted time to arguing about whether the time-stamp on an email was in Universal Time. And all the while, each senator is drinking out of a commemorative Yeti thermos cup that some unnamed lobbyist provided to each of the “jurors.” They are not, dear reader, drinking water.
To this point, the process has focused on infighting amongst Paxton’s staff, including what, if any, evidence a group of staffers provided to the FBI in 2020 out of concerns about his dealings with real estate developer (and huge Paxton donor) Nate Paul. There have been allegations of an organized mutiny, an internal coup where Paxton would be displaced by those who had formerly been his closest loyalists — even going so far as to remove the AG’s name from the office letterhead.
As Texas Monthly’s Christopher Hooks described the scene with one former employee, Ryan Vassar:
Vassar seems deeply wounded by his experiences with Paxton. He testified that he was out of work for six months, unable to support his family except with savings. He teared up earlier when reminded that he had been labeled a “rogue employee,” saying that it was “contrary to the years that I dedicated my life to the state.” In a remarkably theatrical show of empathy, Little, on the defense bench, asked Patrick if he could approach the witness. He gave him some tissues. It was a display for the benefit of the room, but you could feel him thinking: this guy’s a pushover.
The really juicy stuff hasn’t come up yet, except in small ways. The Paxton team was the first to name his reported mistress, Laura Olson, a former employee of another state senator who was hired by Paul in what prosecutors are expected to argue was an obvious favor or bribe. When Paxton and his wife gathered his staffers together to tell them of the affair, they read it as an explanation for why they were being asked to devote so much time to Nate Paul’s priorities. “It answered that question: why is he engaging in all of these activities to help Paul?” testified the former assistant attorney general, Jeff Mateer. “This was so unlike what I experienced with him for four years.”
In case you missed it, Paxton’s wife Angela was in the room for this testimony, as she has to be throughout — because she is a state senator and sitting effectively as a member of the jury that will decide her husband’s fate. The rules do not require her recusal, and the quorum requirements mean she has to be in the room, otherwise the threshold for finding her husband guilty would be lowered.
Yet while she has to sit through this recounting of her husband’s peccadillos both physical and financial, he is nowhere to be seen. While the presiding officer, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, could have required Paxton to remain in the chamber, he ruled that the AG does not have to sit through the proceedings, nor does he have to testify. This has allowed Paxton to avoid the awkward televised nature of the proceedings, leaving his sympathetic wife instead to grab the cameras.
As an aside, in July, the pro-Paxton group Defend Texas Liberty donated $1 million and loaned $2 million to Patrick’s campaign. He’s not up for re-election until 2026, but it’s good to keep your friends close. And Paxton will need a lot of friends to survive this.