Ken Paxton’s Trial Became a Contest Over Republican Politics


The case against Ken Paxton, a nationally prominent conservative politician, was overseen by a board of managers from the state’s House, led by Republicans, and it played out at times as a contest over how much Republican politics should matter in the proceedings.

The House lawmakers approached the case like a criminal trial, appointing a prominent Houston lawyer, Rusty Hardin, who methodically elicited testimony over seven days from 15 witnesses who were mostly senior aides to Mr. Paxton.

In a nod to the politics looming in the background, the prosecutors also frequently sought to highlight the staunchly conservative backgrounds of the witnesses against Mr. Paxton.

Part of the reason for doing so is the nature of the jury pool: The voting senators included 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. But it also reflected efforts by the conservative wing of the party to attack the impeachment as a political plot put forward by lobbyists, RINOs — Republicans in name only — and Democrats in Austin.

“Are you a RINO?” Mr. Hardin asked the first witness in the case, a recurring question.

“No” was the universal answer.

“Have you ever voted for a Democrat in your life?” Mr. Hardin asked another witness, Mark Penley, a former deputy attorney general for criminal justice.

“No,” Mr. Penley replied.

Mr. Paxton’s lawyers tried to create the impression that politicians like him, a supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, were under attack by moderate Republicans. They named well-known lobbyists, donors and consultants as well as Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a conservative policy organization that has been powerful in Austin, as instigators.

They separately suggested that the former top aides who became whistle-blowers against Mr. Paxton were attempting to take over the attorney general’s office. As evidence, the lawyers pointed to an agency letterhead without Mr. Paxton’s name used by the aides to report their concerns.

“You were staging a coup, weren’t you?” said one of the defense lawyers, Tony Buzbee, in cross-examining Mr. Paxton’s former top aide, Jeff Mateer.

“Absolutely not,” Mr. Mateer said.

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