News and analysis from day three of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial. Click here to read about day one and here for day two.

That’s All, Folks

Ben Rowen, 7:15 p.m.

Thanks for following along with us today. Today is our final day of live coverage of the trial, but stay tuned for more stories and analysis at as the trial continues tomorrow and into the weeks ahead.

Day Three: A Recap

Christopher Hooks, 7:07 p.m.

If you’re reading this, congratulations: You have survived day three of Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial. You are owed a second round of congratulations, because you probably did not spend a good portion of the past three days in the chairs of the Senate gallery, which seem almost intentionally designed to keep members of the public from taking an interest in the upper chamber.

And few have, this week. It seems like quite a few people are watching from the comfort of home on the live stream, but the gallery is almost empty today, with maybe two dozen members of the public sticking around into late afternoon. There’s no real reason that they should, of course—it’s a Thursday and people are working—but it remains interesting that Paxton’s supporters weren’t able to put ten folks with “Stand With Ken” shirts in view of senators.

If folks did tune in, they caught a pretty dramatic—and often unexpectedly funny—day. Witness for the prosecution Ryan Bangert gave a wonderful account of the day Ken Paxton took senior staffers to Polvos, an Austin Tex-Mex restaurant. Paxton drove them to Paul’s office, Paul drove them to Polvos, and then they listened, as Paxton nodded along, as Paul issued them a list of complaints and requests of the attorney general’s office regarding his many problems. It violated every principle of how the AG’s lawyers were supposed to behave. It was, on top of that, “the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Bangert. It helped explain the whistleblowers’ growing sense of mystification that Paxton was so interested in Paul’s affairs, why they kept asking: What’s going on here?

Bangert’s cross-examination didn’t draw much blood, unlike yesterday’s cross of Jeff Mateer. Strangely, Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee, who examined Mateer effectively yesterday, was in the room all day today but didn’t participate, instead sitting on the floor and scrolling through his phone. (He posted on Instagram earlier, complaining that the media was exaggerating his orange tan.)

The third witness was Ryan Vassar, who teared up as he recounted the difficulties he had faced as a result of taking his concerns to the FBI. He was visibly emotional throughout: he felt betrayed by Paxton, and it cost him. In the cross-examination, the defense attempted to take advantage of that, to rattle him. Things started rough, with Vassar appearing to contradict himself at points. But the day ended on firmer ground.

Earlier today, I posted about Buzbee’s complexion—his anger that in some pictures he looked more tan than in others. (This is not what you want your defense lawyer focused on.) I posited that—though he does indeed look very tan, in person—the terrible colors of the Senate chamber, the bad lighting, and the poor quality of the senate’s live stream made him look worse on video than he did in person. He does look redder online than in person. But earlier, a veteran photographer tapped me on the shoulder to offer a gentle correction, with photographic evidence in hand. No, he really does look very, very tan.

Ryan Vassar Holds His Own Against Mitch Little

Christopher Hooks, 6:21 p.m.

Each witness so far, though they’re telling similar stories, has been very different in temperament and bearing, and they’ve been cross-examined by very different lawyers.

Agitated Jeff Mateer faced off with belligerent Tony Buzbee, who was seeking to provoke Mateer. Ryan Bangert, cool and controlled, faced the equally calm Andrew Osso. Ryan Vassar drew Mitch Little, the Paxton attorney’s first intervention in the case.

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.

Sure enough, Little came to the stand to start the cross with a brick bat. Where most lawyers so far have been pretty lax about letting witnesses answering questions on their own terms, Little immediately started in as the kind of lawyer you’ve seen on TV who starts shouting: “Yes or no?” He was combative and pushy, only reeling it in a little when Patrick warned him.

He charged Little with . . . ingratitude. With betraying a father figure. “Was Ken Paxton kind?” Little asked. “Was Ken Paxton gentle?” Yes, Vassar said, he had been a good boss in some ways. That was part of the reason he became so disillusioned later, he’d said earlier. But he couldn’t say that now. Little kept Vassar off balance. Didn’t you owe Paxton your loyalty? “I don’t think I owed General Paxton anything.”

“Really?” asked Little, in a tone that sounded more like “you little whelp.” You didn’t owe “this very kind and gentle man” even a phone call before you snitched on him to the FBI? Snitches get stitches, may I remind you, and did the attorney general cut you even once?

Vassar stumbled. When Little asked if the whistleblowers brought “evidence” to the FBI, rather than their experiences and suspicions, Vassar answered no and yes, while trying to fall back on the line that they had “good faith” reasons to believe Paxton was engaging in criminal activity. It took a while for him to figure out how to push back.

But if Little was trying to get Vassar to break down, he failed. And things got better after Patrick calmed Little down a bit and they moved on. Later, Little made a big show of accusing Vassar of deleting official records, possibly engaging in criminal behavior himself. But Vassar nailed the answer, and Little’s subsequent attacks bounced off.

The Defense’s Stable of Witnesses

Alexandra Samuels, 5:36 p.m.

While Rusty Hardin has remained steadfast as the sole prosecutor questioning witnesses on behalf of the House impeachment managers, Paxton’s team has been a revolving door of lawyers calling “objection,” “hearsay,” and “calls for speculation” as if their lives depended on it.  Buzbee, who previously made waves for his cross-examination of Jeff Mateer, has been rather silent today—other than taking to Instagram to complain that the media was editing photos to make his tan appear redder than it is. In his place Anthony Osso Jr. handled the hours-long cross-examination of Ryan Bangert. Osso wasn’t as flashy as Buzbee, but he tried—again—to downplay the midnight foreclosure opinion at the center of the second article of impeachment. And now up, a third lawyer is sitting at the table and continuing Osso and Buzbee’s practice of calling “objection” and “hearsay” during Hardin’s direct examination of whistleblower Ryan Vassar.

Looks like Buzbee’s been on his computer for the duration of today’s proceedings, though. Maybe he’s reading your comments?

The Senators Are Getting Restless

Christopher Hooks, 5:11 p.m.

It’s been a long day. After a little bit of emotion at the start of Ryan Vassar’s testimony, we’re back to the recitation of facts: the sequence of events that led Vassar to join those contacting the feds about Paxton’s behavior. Those facts may or may not be compelling, but all the witnesses are covering much of the same ground.

Senators are visibly restless. Drew Springer appears to have been working a fidget spinner today. While the definition on the livestream is not high enough to tell, it seems like Roland Gutierrez has been resting his eyes a little. John Whitmire has been holding his position, leaning against the back rail—incidentally, about as far away as he can get from the action at the front without violating his constitutional requirement to be present.

The doldrums have set in. Even during session, the Senate doesn’t usually work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  They usually conduct business for a few hours and get off the floor. For the senators, the chamber is a fishbowl, though they may find consolation in the fact that there are barely a few dozen people in the gallery now. Even the press section is half empty.

Donna Campbell joins Whitmire at the back rail and stretches her legs. Borris Miles joins them both, giving Whitmire a fist bump. Bryan Hughes holds his head in his hands. Only Judith Zaffirini is taking notes. There is some consolation in the fact that if rolling blackouts kick in, the Capitol’s air conditioning will probably keep going.

A little after 5 p.m., the Senate takes a break. Patrick reminds those on the floor that there are snacks in the hall behind the chamber, in case members need to “get energized.” He is a man of many talents: part judge, part den mother.

Evaluating the Why-Not-Go-to-Paxton-First Defense

Christopher Hooks, 4:44 p.m.

In both cross-examinations so far, Paxton’s defense team has returned to a question it’ll probably keep raising. Why didn’t the AG staffers who eventually blew the whistle bring their concerns to Paxton instead? They mean to ask: Why didn’t you let him assure you that nothing improper had happened? Ryan Bangert and Jeff Mateer have both testified that they did try to talk to Paxton over a long period of time. The defense team, meanwhile, maintains that Paxton was ambushed by the whistleblowers’ letter. Each side will try to establish that its version is more supported by the evidence, and this is a question that could materially impact senators’ perception of the credibility of the whistleblowers.

It’s a little strange, though, to suggest that the whistleblowers—basically Paxton’s entire senior staff—had an obligation to give Ken a final shot to clear the air. It’s hypothetically possible, one supposes, that Paxton had an answer for every doubt they had, like at the end of a sitcom episode when the characters work through a long series of comic misunderstandings and realize that they like on another’s cooking after all. But this is not a standard we hold to other criminal behavior. If you suspect a murder happened, it is not generally advised to have a tearful heart-to-heart with the murderer. We ask whistleblowers to blow when they have a “good faith” belief the law might have been violated. We don’t ask them to make the final determination: that’s what we have cops for.

The other thing: the state’s political environment being what it is, the whistleblowers had to know that once Paxton knew they were approaching the FBI, a political machine with significant resources and few scruples would be going to war with them. A certain instinct for self-preservation would have told them that once they decided to go to the feds, it would be important not to tell Paxton about too many of the particulars before the trigger was pulled.

What Do Politicians Not Under the Gag Order Have to Say About the Trial?

Alexandra Samuels, 4:15 p.m.

For what I believe is the first time since the Senate trial began on Tuesday, a Texas elected official has weighed in on the allegations levied against Paxton. Earlier today, U.S. senator John Cornyn, who is not up for reelection until 2026 and of course is not subject to Dan Patrick’s gag order, said that the charges are “very deeply disturbing” and called the allegations “painful to watch.” And painful it is, indeed! So much so that we’ve spotted a number of senators—either on the livestream or in person—doodling, fidget-spinning, or even dozing off at their desks.

“I don’t think the public had full knowledge of all the facts and circumstances that have been now charged and which are now being the subject of the trial,” Cornyn said in a regularly scheduled call with Texas media. “They will have that information, along with the members of the [Texas] Senate, by the time this trial is over.”

Cornyn’s remarks stand out from those of other elected Republican officials who weighed in when the House took up impeachment. In May, U.S. senator Ted Cruz defended Paxton and called the proceedings a “travesty.” That same month, former president Donald Trump blasted the impeachment as “ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”

Other MAGA-aligned Republicans even threatened to fund primary challengers against senators who vote in favor of Paxton’s ousting. On the first day of the trial, Donald Trump Jr. lent support to Paxton. He wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Paxton would survive the impeachment process and continue to “combat the Swamp.”

Notably, Trump and Cruz have been silent since the impeachment trial began in the Senate (in mid-August, however, Cruz told told NBC News that he would trust the Senate’s eventual decision). So does this mean that Republican voters are souring on Paxton? Maybe not. According to a recent poll by the pro-Paxton Defend Texas Liberty PAC of one state Senate district (currently held by Republican Drew Springer), 47 percent of the likely Texas Republican 2024 primary voters said they would back Paxton over Cornyn, who netted 33 percent support, if the attorney general decided to challenge him when he’s on the ballot again. But less partisan polls, such as one by UT’s James Henson, find Paxton’s popularity plummeting.

Correction: An earlier version of this entry quoted Senator John Cornyn calling the Paxton impeachment trial “painful to watch.” Cornyn was referring to the allegations made against Paxton, not the trial. An earlier version of the entry also reported that the Defend Texas Liberty PAC poll was statewide, but it was just a poll of one state Senate district. These have been corrected.

Ken Paxton’s Tour of Austin

Dan Solomon, 3:34 p.m.

Ken Paxton is from the tiny North Dakota town of Minot (it rhymes with “why not?”) and, after decades in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, is a North Texas guy through and through. But in a pattern familiar to many a Texan who comes to the state capital from the suburbs (albeit usually for college), there’s apparently also an Austin Ken who comes out to play, too. 

Collin County Ken lives in McKinney, likes to spend time at his church in Plano, and enjoys minor luxuries such as, say, another lawyer’s very nice pen. Austin Ken, meanwhile, allegedly knows how to keep it weird. The hot spots we’ve learned about as a result of the impeachment documents and testimony? Let’s start with Polvos, the local Tex-Mex chain more famous for its margaritas than its tacos. On Wednesday, Ryan Bangert said that at one point Paxton insisted that his staff attorneys join him at the bar and restaurant for a lunch meeting with Nate Paul. Polvos has three locations—one downtown, one on South First Street, and one at Barton Creek Mall, near Paxton’s home—and while it’s not immediately clear which location it was that Austin Ken and the boys hung out with Nate Paul, the vibe is similar at all three. 

Another Austin hot spot where Paxton reportedly spent time as something of a regular? Rio, a nightclub on West Sixth Street owned by (you guessed it) Nate Paul. Rio is not the sort of place you’d expect to see Collin County Ken—it’s famous for its drag shows—but Austin Ken was often there in the wee hours when Saturday night turns into Sunday morning. What did he do during his visits to the club? Thus far, no one has testified to that—but it’s an easy place to have a good time, if that’s your scene. 

Paxton’s Austin also reportedly includes some brushes with luxury. According to Texas Scorecard Confessions, a website launched as an explicit counterweight to the right-wing Texas Scorecard, Austin Ken was spotted at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa on Tuesday afternoon, after the suspended attorney general left the Senate chamber where his fate will be decided. The West Austin resort features scenic views of the Texas Hill Country, four golf courses, and offers CBD-infused pedicures and massages—just the thing to take the edge off while a jury of the state’s senators holds your political fate in its hands. 

Of course, as anyone who spends more than a few days in Austin knows, the city isn’t all margs and massages—real life gets in the way, too, and sometimes you just need a snack. Records from the Uber account that Paxton is alleged to have shared with Paul indicate, among the visits to an apartment complex where the woman he had an affair with reportedly lived, is one visit to a Burger King just off Ben White Boulevard, the most relatable Austin Ken moment of all. Sometimes, when the party’s over, you just want some French toast sticks.

Enter Witness Number Three: Ryan Vassar

Alexandra Samuels, 3:08 p.m.

Now taking the stand: Ryan Vassar, who was the office of the attorney general’s chief legal officer before he was fired in November 2020.

You know the drill by now: prosecutor Rusty Hardin is up first, and, as he’s done with previous witnesses, he’s wasting no time letting the jury of senators know that Vassar is an ultraconservative who would never dare betray Paxton. Hardin also tried to garner some sympathy for Vassar, prompting the witness to point out that he was out of a job—and relying on savings to sustain himself, his wife, and his four kids (who range in age from three to seven)—for six months after he was fired from Paxton’s office.

Vassar said that he hadn’t heard of Nate Paul until the spring of 2020, when there was a pending open-records request at the AG’s office bearing the real estate developer’s name. He testified, too, that he wasn’t unusually close to witness number one (Jeff Mateer) at this time, but that he looked to him as a “role model” (to bring home the point that the group of eight whistleblowers weren’t besties conspiring from the get-go to take Paxton down).

We’re seeing some emotion—beyond anger—from the witnesses. Asked by Hardin how he reacted to Paxton calling him a “rogue” employee, Vassar choked back tears. One of Paxton’s attorneys, Anthony Osso, offered him a tissue. “I worked for the state for eight years as a public servant, as one who values the commitment to public service,” Vassar said. “The statement of being ‘rogue’ is contrary to the years that I dedicated to serving the state.”

Thank You, Eric

Mimi Swartz, 2:48 p.m.

“Eric, could you put up Exhibit X?”

“Eric, could you check the screens, please?”

This trial has its own game of Where’s Waldo?, except this could be called Where’s Eric? Or is it Erik? He seems to be the ultimate invisible man, slavishly attending to the technology demands of the assembled, putting up exhibit after exhibit after exhibit without asking for anything, least of all praise.

Who is Eric/k? We want to know, so we can thank him for his toil. Let him come before us fully formed, as a human, a dad, an uncle, an Eagle Scout. What are his dreams, his hopes? No reason to hide your light . . . behind a computer screen.

Outside the Chamber vs. Inside the Chamber

Mimi Swartz, 2:24 p.m.

I don’t spend too much time at the Capitol, being a committed Houstonian, but over the last two mornings, I’ve been struck by how welcoming its employees are. Whether I’m going through security or looking for the elevator or buying one of those homey ham sandwiches in the Capitol Grill—and catching a closeup glimpse of Tony Buzbee’s tan—everyone is friendly in the way of, well, real Texans. That is, they epitomize the way we like to see the best in ourselves: open, friendly, happy to help. Sunny. I’ve been “yes ma’am”-ed and “honey”-ed more in the last two days than the last two years in Houston.

But I’m also spending time working inside the Senate chamber, where an alternate reality reigns. Of course, there’s conflict in any legal proceeding, but here, there’s so much political tension charging the air, on top of the usual, expected arguments. Who is Christian enough? Who is conservative enough? Who is moral enough? Who is, essentially, Texan enough?

Inside the chamber, the pressure to prove yourself—and your right to be here—feels like a fight to the death over identity. Outside, everyone is welcome, whoever they are. It pretty much sums up the conflict in Texas overall these days.

More Explanations for Ken Paxton’s Absence

Mimi Swartz, 1:43 p.m.

Okay, now for more reasons for the Paxton absence. Take your pick.

One legal observer told me it’s better for the defense to keep the focus on Ken’s wife, Angela, who is present in the chamber as a senator, because she is more sympathetic than her spouse and is a reminder to her assembled colleagues that he has repented and she has forgiven him.

Then there is this from Philip Hilder, co-counsel with impeachment defense lawyer Dan Cogdell on Paxton’s upcoming fraud trial: “The press will fixate on [Paxton’s] expressions and mannerisms to give their coverage more color as opposed to covering just the facts that come out in testimony. Yes, in a criminal trial, a defendant is present. This is not a criminal trial. It’s an impeachment, and only the third in Texas history. The rules are different. This is one hundred percent political and should not be equated with a criminal trial.”

The Defense’s Muddled Theory of Who Wants Paxton Gone

Christopher Hooks, 1:18 p.m.

There’s a funny line emerging from the defense in the Paxton trial, one that’s left as a suggestion in the room but is getting a lot more traction online among the right-wingers keeping tabs on the proceedings. At various times, Paxton’s defense team has named other Republicans who have dubious reputations with the right wing and implied that they were connected with or somehow causing the revolt against the attorney general.

One name that keeps coming up is Chip Roy, the very right-wing Republican representative who was Ted Cruz’s chief of staff before he was Ken Paxton’s first deputy AG. Paxton fired Roy, reportedly because he was jealous of the good press Roy was getting. In the defense team’s telling, however, Roy seems to have been fired for incompetence, and then he somehow urged his successor Jeff Mateer, the prosecution’s first witness, to avenge him.

A more amusing theory is that the ur-mastermind of Paxton’s downfall is in fact former land commissioner George P. Bush, who ran against Paxton in 2022 in a four-way primary, eventually getting to the GOP runoff but never getting very close to the office. Yesterday Buzbee noted that Bush reactivated his law license in 2020—in hindsight, a move in the direction of launching a primary challenge against Paxton, though the AG doesn’t need to be a member of the bar—on the same day that Paxton’s whistleblowers went to the FBI.

The implication, left unstated, because Buzbee presumably has no evidence, is that the whistleblowers either tipped off Bush or Bush somehow pushed the whistleblowers to come forward. But the senators know what Buzbee is implying, and so do Paxton’s defenders outside the chamber, and they were keen to publicize it. A clip of the exchange went viral. “You ever hear that old saying, ‘There are no coincidences in Austin’?” Buzbee asked.

Couple issues here. First, I don’t think what Buzbee is quoting is even a saying, but if it is, it’s not especially true. I ran into a guy I went to college with last week, for one. But even at the Capitol, there are an almost lethal number of consequential but coincidental events. Big stuff happens for no real underlying reason here all the time. One example: Dan Patrick holds his current office because his predecessor David Dewhurst picked a bad night to eat chicken at a steakhouse.

Second—I’m sorry to George P. Bush, but I have to say it—going by his career in public office, Bush could not successfully organize a conspiracy against a paper bag. There’s a reason he’s no longer in office. You’re talking about a guy who became land commissioner in Texas and decided to remodel the Alamo. The man had the political instincts of a piano teacher.

Third, the constituency of the anti-Paxton faction is getting muddled here. It makes perfect sense that Paxton’s team wants to play up the conspiracy angle, but the main antagonist Buzbee has blamed for the impeachment is Texans for Lawsuit Reform, or TLR, a long-lived major Republican political action committee identified as somewhat closer to the middle than Paxton is. It has been an occasional antagonist of the faction of the party Paxton represents, but also a regular antagonist of Buzbee, a trial lawyer with a keen interest in opposing tort reform.

If Buzbee is right that TLR is the instigator of all this drama, we should note that TLR wanted nothing to do with Bush. In the 2022 primary, it indeed backed a challenger to Paxton, but it was former state Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman. When Guzman failed and Bush made it to the runoff, TLR sat out the race.

It also seems very implausible that the guys who blew the whistle on Paxton—strong right-wing Christians who were players in right-wing activist legal circles—would have done this to help Bush. Bush belongs to a different quadrant of the party. He’s not even a neighbor. It strains credulity that someone like Mateer and someone like Bush could make common cause even in extraordinary circumstances.

Senators probably know this, but viewers watching at home may not know enough to keep track of the distinctions. So it’s a good bet for Paxton’s team to keep highlighting shadowy figures lurking on the margins in the hope that folks at home draw their own conclusions and start calling senators every day to lobby to stop the steal. The comments under the viral video of Buzbee’s remarks give some indication that it’s working.

The Defense Is Having a Tougher Time Cross-Examining Today’s Witness

Christopher Hooks, 12:28 p.m.

The cross-examination of the first witness, Jeff Mateer, conducted by Tony Buzbee, went poorly for the prosecution. Whether or not Buzbee was making compelling arguments, he marshaled the great lawyerly arts to convey forceful doubt of Mateer. Mateer could have said he’d had a blueberry muffin for breakfast, and there would be Buzbee, leaning against the dais, offering a brief, dismissive hmm.

No disrespect to lawyer Anthony Osso, who is handling Ryan Bangert’s cross, but he doesn’t have the same skills. He’s performing capably, and his precise, controlled style matches Bangert’s. The two men are dueling, albeit very coolly. Osso is attempting to cut with a scalpel, and Bangert is parrying. If it gets any frostier, they’ll get lunch at Dorsia soon and compare business cards.

But the arguments Osso is offering—with the caveat it only matters what the senators think—seems a little thin. In one extended exchange, he posited that Paxton sought to halt foreclosures because of COVID restrictions not to help his troubled real estate buddy Nate Paul, but because of the compassion he had in his heart for struggling homeowners. Maybe Paxton is a compassionate conservative—just a very quiet one, afraid of showing the depth of his true feelings. But yesterday Buzbee was arguing that the opinion didn’t actually postpone any foreclosure sales and thus hadn’t helped anyone—let alone Paul—at all.

In another question, Osso noted that President Trump also offered an order that inhibited foreclosures. But so what?

Why Isn’t Ken Paxton Here?

Mimi Swartz, 11:58 a.m.

At the end of his direct examination of Ryan Bangert, Rusty Hardin pointed to the elephant (not) in the room. After Bangert, who was a loyalist to the AG, described how heartbreaking his experience inside the office had been, Hardin noted for the record that the AG remains MIA from the chamber. With Paxton’s wife, Angela, in the room, in her nice navy suit, stuck listening to his alleged misdeeds, Ken’s absence is notable. After all, he doesn’t have a job these days.

The question is: Why? One lawyer friend joked that Paxton might be working on the home renovations (as his attorney Tony Buzbee made clear he has studiously done in the past). Another suggested, more seriously, that the defense may prefer the focus to be on Angela to engender sympathy.

Even so, the longer Ken’s gone, the more annoyed the senators are bound to get. As the latter lawyer friend put it: “There is a certain arrogance in staying away that will not wear well. He could have resigned and avoided all of this. Everyone is suffering for his sins, including his wife. It plays into the notion that he believes he is above the law and accountability.”

I give Hardin till Monday before he starts saying Paxton’s too scared to face his accusers.

Bangert on Why the Whistleblowers Went to the FBI Before Warning Paxton

Alexandra Samuels, 11:22 a.m.

One of the main arguments levied by Paxton’s team of lawyers is that the eight whistleblowers were insufficient colleagues—and friends!—to the AG because they didn’t go to him with their complaints before making them known to federal law enforcement. But Ryan Bangert just testified that he and the whistleblowers—including the trial’s first witness, Jeff Mateer—sent a text to Paxton detailing their actions on October 1, 2020.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the full transcript of the text, but I did hear this snippet. From Mateer and company to Paxton: “General Paxton: Yesterday each of the individuals on this text chain made a good faith report of violations of law by you to an appropriate law enforcement authority,” the text read. Bangert testified that the group also requested that the AG “meet with us today to discuss this matter.”

But Paxton wasn’t interested, Bangert said. About three hours later, at 3:08 p.m., Bangert said that the AG texted back. “Jeff, I am out of the office and received this text on very short notice.” He also asked the whistleblowers to email him with their concerns “so they can be fully addressed.”

Bangert said the whistleblowers didn’t take Paxton up on his offer because they wanted to meet with him personally. In fact, Bangert testified that he interpreted the text as Paxton not wanting to engage with them on the matter.

Indeed, Paxton is not engaging with the courtroom proceedings, either. This is the second day he’s been absent from Senate proceedings.

Defense attorney Tony Buzbee, front, objects to a line of questioning during the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate Chamber.
Defense attorney Tony Buzbee, front, objects to a line of questioning during the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate Chamber.Eric Gay/AP

On Tony Buzbee’s (Alleged) Tan

Christopher Hooks, 10:37 a.m.

On Instagram this morning, top Ken Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee offered an unusual complaint. He posted two pictures of himself on the Senate floor. In the first, he looks tan; in the second, he looks like a mandarin orange. “Here are two pics from two different reputable news organizations, taken on the same day, within minutes of the other. I am out in the sun a lot, but I don’t think my skin has ever been that ‘tan.’ Why would they doctor my pic? I’m sure you could take a guess. So you think the news isn’t bias? Think again.”

There has been a fair amount of discussion in the cheap seats about Buzbee’s substantial and impressive tan. But if this is what Buzbee is focused on, I would be a little unnerved to be Paxton. Tony’s Instagram followers, however, are suitably outraged. “Omg. So sick of these liberal freaks,” wrote one.

It’s not immediately clear which publications published which photo, but . . . the second photo contains a partial chyron and seems like it may be from the Senate’s official livestream, where most people are watching this trial. If so, some sympathy for Buzbee is warranted here. The Senate chamber is filled with garish and moderately unpleasant greens and reddish browns. In the gallery yesterday, I overheard two photographers talking shop about the importance of color correcting pictures in the Senate, because everything looks so . . . weird.

Buzbee does look less tan in person, although he still has a pronounced glow. But if the picture he hates is from the livestream, and someone is out to get him by making him look like a certain former president, that person is Dan Patrick.

Whistleblower witness Ryan Bangert testifies during day three of the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate Chamber.
Whistleblower witness Ryan Bangert testifies during day three of the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate Chamber.Eric Gay/AP

Ants Marching . . . To Polvos

Christopher Hooks, 10:08 a.m.

The testimony of Ryan Bangert, one of the eight Paxton whistle-blowers, continues to be highly edifying. We started this morning with a comic episode that, as far as I know, hasn’t been talked about much, and highlights how strange it must have been to be Paxton’s deputy during this period. Bangert testified that he came to work one day and faced his top boss, who told him that he had a kind of fun idea to break up the drudgery of work: Paxton and Bangert and some other lawyers should go get lunch with Nate Paul. You know, kick back some margs, just let loose and be bros.

By that time Paul was a known figure at the office of the attorney general (OAG). His real estate empire was in trouble, getting attention from law enforcement agencies, and he had some things he urgently wanted—particularly, for the State of Texas to intervene to help protect him from a nonprofit, the Mitte Foundation, which had invested with him. He was also a Paxton campaign donor and some kind of personal crony of Paxton’s, although the details were not yet clear.

Bangert thought he shouldn’t be getting face time with that guy, for good reason.

But it seemed like the kind of directive from his boss that he couldn’t turn down. He testified that he tried to head it off by saying he needed a waiver from the OAG to make sure it was appropriate. But then Paxton made sure he got the waiver. This had never happened before. Paxton really wanted this meeting to happen.

That’s when the sitcom episode starts. On the day of the meeting, Bangert says, Paxton rounded up lawyers at the OAG and drove them to Paul’s office—where they all got in Paul’s car. Paul then drove them to Polvos, an Austin restaurant that Google describes as “Tex-Mex [. . .] with a funky flair.” The group sat down—presumably over some guac and stale tortilla chips. Paxton introduced the group and shut up. “Nate Paul did almost all of the talking,” Bangert testified. Paraphrasing, he said Paxton told him “Ryan, this is Nate Paul, and there are some things he’d like you to hear.”

Paul launched into a long list of the ways he’d been wronged and attacked and the things he needed the OAG to do for him. It felt like he was treating the entire state agency as his personal law firm. Eventually, “Mr. Paul completed his exposition and that was the signal for the lunch to end.”

The caravan happened in reverse. Nobody said what music was playing, but I like to imagine it was Dave Matthews Band playing to a mostly quiet SUV. Bangert was asked what he said to his colleagues when they finally got back to the office. (Here a lawyer for the offense tried to offer an objection of “hearsay,” which seems odd, because Bangert was being asked about something he had said.) Bangert said he turned to another OAG employee. “Drew, that was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.”

The Great Objector

Mimi Swartz, 9:40 a.m.

Who, you may wonder, is that young whippersnapper who keeps objecting to everything prosecutor Rusty Hardin tries to accomplish? That’s Anthony Osso, an associate in Paxton defense lawyer Dan Cogdell’s firm. Before that, he worked for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg as an assistant district attorney. Osso successfully prosecuted a number of domestic violence cases, and overall, his record of wins there reads like ideal fodder for the “If it Bleeds, It Leads” local news: murder, sexual assault, etc.

The son of a prominent criminal defense lawyer by the same name, he brings a dash of youth to the proceedings, as well as some glamour with his wavy, dark brown hair, winning smile, and eagerness to object every time Hardin opens his mouth to ask a question. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick finally caught on to his trick—trying to break Hardin’s flow—and started overruling his objections. Down, boy, down!

Highlights From Day Two

Alexandra Samuels, 9:14 a.m.
  1. Ken Paxton Is Still MIA. There’s nothing requiring the attorney general to show up—even as his defense team and all state senators, including his wife, Angela, who is not voting in this trial, have to listen to hours of salacious testimony about him. Paxton is taking that rule to heart. (He sent a fund-raising email from wherever he is to supporters yesterday evening.) Many have questioned why Paxton isn’t showing up, whether he eventually will, and, more importantly, if his absence will ultimately hurt him. Only time will tell, but it doesn’t seem like Paxton’s allies mind that he’s not there. Senators might.
  2. An Understanding of the Rules. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick adjourned the trial early on day one because the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on what evidence was admissible. That argument was driven, in part, by Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee, who tried to cite the AG’s attorney-client privilege as the reason why internal office emails shouldn’t be entered into the record. It was an objection that probably wouldn’t have held water, since none of the documents were sent to or by Paxton’s clients—they were all to employees. But, ultimately, we don’t know for sure how Patrick would’ve ruled: before he could issue a verdict, Buzbee withdrew his motion regarding the aforementioned evidence (citing the interest of time, of course) and said his client has “nothing to hide.” Buzbee and team have moved on to levying myriad objections of hearsay (some successful, some not) to whistleblower testimony.
  3. The Courtroom Gets Testy. In a meandering, hours-long cross-examination, Buzbee often butted heads with the prosecution’s first witness, Jeff Mateer, a former first assistant attorney general of Texas and one of the eight whistleblowers who accused Paxton of accepting a bribe from Nate Paul. At one point, Buzbee told Mateer, who responded sharply to a question, to “take it easy.” In another instance, Rusty Hardin, a lawyer for the prosecution, told Patrick that Buzbee was “harassing the witness” (referring to Mateer). One of the more explosive moments from the back-and-forth, however, came after Buzbee accused Mateer of “staging a coup.” In short, Buzbee tried to suggest that the former aides—who, at one point, apparently called themselves “cool kids,” per the attorney—were in cahoots with some centrist Republicans, including failed AG candidate George P. Push and the political action committee Texans for Lawsuit Reform, to oust Paxton from office. Mateer vociferously denied that he was involved in a coup, as Buzbee alleged. 
  4. More Details on the Affair. We finally got more details about Paxton’s alleged affair with Laura Olson, who is a former staffer of state senator Donna Campbell. Mateer testified that he first became aware of Paxton’s extramarital affair in the fall of 2018—prior to Paxton’s second reelection. He and other senior staff were warned, he said, after the Paxtons—both Ken and his wife, Angela—gathered them to ask for their forgiveness. In Mateer’s words, Paxton “repented” at that gathering.  But Mateer testified that the affair didn’t stop after the supposed apology. He said that gave Mateer more insight into why Paxton seemed hell-bent on helping Austin developer Nate Paul, who had hired Olson. “It answered that question: Why is he engaging in all of these activities to help Paul?” Mateer said. “This was so unlike what I experienced with him for four years.”
  5. The Second Witness. Hardin called as his second witness Ryan Bangert, the second of the eight whistleblowers. As he did with Mateer, the attorney wasted no time establishing his witness’s ultraconservative bona fides, despite Paxton’s legal team trying to discredit the whistleblower as a Republican in Name Only. What role has religion played in Bangert’s life? “It’s the basis for everything that I do.” And his political philosophy? “My politics are very much conservative and my party affiliation has been, and always will be, Republican.” As part of his testimony, Bangert revealed that Paxton wanted to help Paul obtain sealed investigative records. “The attorney general shared with me his view that he had been wronged by law enforcement and was uninterested in other Texas citizens being wronged,” he said. Bangert also said that—despite his objections—Paxton directed him to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and the Mitte Foundation and later to evaluate whether foreclosure sales could be allowed to continue amidst ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. At one point, Bangert said that Paxton was “acting like a man with a gun to his head.”
  6. An Empty Courtroom. Despite Patrick’s Senate issuing rules ahead of the trial that attendees needed to procure tickets in order to see the trial in person, it doesn’t appear that many of Paxton’s supporters are making an effort to view the spectacle in person (then again, neither is Paxton). Our reporters in the courtroom said that the gallery was at most half full at peak times yesterday. Senators too looked nonplussed to be there, fidgeting, slumping, and, in one case, doodling.

Good Morning and Welcome Back!

Ben Rowen, 8:52 a.m.

Hi, folks. We’re not sure if Ken Paxton is watching the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton—he was absent from the chamber Tuesday afternoon and all Wednesday—but we will be. Follow along for our live coverage.

Today’s proceedings will start shortly with prosecuting attorney Rusty Hardin’s examination of Ryan Bangert, a former staffer in the AG’s office. In the meantime, catch up on our analysis of days one and two of the trial.