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Philandering politicians are a stale cliché, so much so that attorney Tony Buzbee drew wry chuckles in the Senate chamber on Monday after noting, “If we impeached everybody here in Austin that had had an affair, we'd be impeaching for the next 100 years, wouldn’t we?”
For such a common occurrence, though, these affairs inflict an acute form of heartache and humiliation on the spouse of a public figure — which made parts of Day 5 of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial so painful to watch.
There was Sen. Angela Paxton, duty-bound to attend the public proceedings where a witness detailed the attorney general’s desperate, emotional efforts to continue his extramarital affair — fueling the allegations of bribes and misuse of office at the center of this impeachment trial.
Meanwhile, across the Senate chamber, at the defense table, the Man Who Made All of This Necessary was nowhere to be found.
Call it a quirk of the rules. Beyond showing up at the start of the trial, the defendant isn't required to attend the impeachment proceedings, even as every senator (the jurors) must be there. That includes Angela Paxton, the Republican senator from McKinney, although the rules rightly bar her from voting on her husband’s fate.
Ken Paxton attended only the opening hours of Day 1 before taking off, but it’s hard to imagine he has somewhere more important to be. His political survival is at stake. So is public confidence in his office. Plus, he’s been suspended from duty since the House impeached him in late May, so it’s not as if his day job is calling.
Buzbee and Ken Paxton’s other attorneys, bound by a gag order, have not said why the attorney general isn’t there. Then again, this is the man who has stalled his criminal trial on securities fraud for an astonishing eight years and counting and who once fled his home to dodge a process server in an unrelated case.
Are we surprised Ken Paxton isn’t facing the music?
'My heart broke for her'
Angela Paxton doesn’t have that luxury. She sat there Monday as Katherine “Missy” Cary, the attorney general’s former chief of staff, carefully testified as if navigating a minefield — knowing her information could wound another woman in the room.
Cary described overhearing a woman at a café talk in 2018 about having a personal relationship with Ken Paxton and then seeing that woman with the attorney general at a function.
Cary described the cratering morale among the AG staffers she supervised who handled Ken Paxton’s travel and security logistics, as they were getting pulled into accommodating the boss’s affair and lying to the boss’s wife when she called.
Cary described Ken Paxton, appearing with his wife in September 2018, apologizing to a group of staffers about his affair. She described Angela Paxton as crying, sad and embarrassed.
“My heart broke for her,” said Cary, who said she hugged Angela Paxton and told her she was sorry this had happened to her.
Then Cary described how in 2019, the boss’s affair with Laura Olson resumed, restarting the same problems with the travel and security staffers who had to facilitate Ken Paxton’s activities. She described a heated discussion with Ken Paxton that summer in which he wanted Cary and her staff to be even more accommodating.
“He came in and said he was frustrated and that I didn't understand he still loved Ms. Olson,” Cary testified.
“I told General Paxton quite bluntly that it wasn't my business who he was sleeping with, but that when things boiled over into the office and into the state work, that (it) had become my business, and that I was having concerns about how the time and the effort of the travel aides, the security detail and myself was being spent,” she continued.
“He was angry with me,” Cary said. “He raised his voice loud enough that it was heard outside my office even though the door was shut. His hands were waving. He was red in the face. He was upset with me.”
Angela Paxton sat there attentively, taking notes. During a break, Sen. Borris Miles walked across the chamber and gave her a hug. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst patted her colleague’s arm reassuringly.
Is Paxton’s reckoning to come?
Impeachment is about accountability. Not for an affair, but for misconduct in which a public official uses taxpayer-funded resources for personal benefit.
In this case, House impeachment managers allege, Ken Paxton used the powers of the AG’s office to serve the private interests of real estate investor Nate Paul, a campaign donor who, in turn, helped facilitate the affair. Among other things, Paul hired Olson so she could move from San Antonio to Austin — eliminating the travel logistics that caused so much grief with the AG’s staff.
Across days of testimony, other witnesses have described Ken Paxton’s extraordinary efforts to insert the AG’s office into Paul’s legal problems. (Paxton’s attorneys argue that Paul had legitimate concerns that deserved the AG’s attention.)
Over a span of months, Cary said, more than 50% of the executive staff’s time was devoted to Paul’s issues, at Ken Paxton’s insistence. She said she had never seen anything like it.
Maybe it’s fitting that Ken Paxton isn’t attending these proceedings. That leaves the Senate chamber to those who have shouldered the burdens of his actions: Not just a wife who deserved better, but trusted colleagues, taxpayer-funded staffers and the elected officials whom he asked to spend $3.3 million to settle the whistleblower complaints against him, triggering the impeachment inquiry.
With an impeachment vote expected in a matter of days, the Senate will decide whether those burdens will remain with everyone else — or whether, at long last, the payment will be placed on Ken Paxton’s side of the ledger.
Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Grumet: Impeachment is about accountability. Where is Ken Paxton?