Ken Paxton impeachment trial live updates: attorney general's defense team rests case

House attorney Erin Epley prepares to cross examine Austin Klinghorn, Associate Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel, at the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Capitol on Thursday September 14, 2023.
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Closing arguments in Ken Paxton's impeachment trial expected Friday

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial, adjourned the proceeding's eighth day around 6:15 p.m. Thursday but not before getting assurances from House prosecutors and Paxton's defense team that they will present closing arguments Friday.

Tony Buzbee, the lead attorney in Paxton's defense team, announced around 5:30 p.m. that he would not call any more witnesses to the stand and was resting the case. Rusty Hardin, the lead prosecutor, rested the Texas House impeachment managers' case on Wednesday.

The trial's ninth day is expected to start at 9 a.m. Friday.

Paxton impeachment trial live updates: Closing arguments expected Friday; verdict to follow.

Paxton, who is facing possible removal from office on 16 charges, including bribery and abuse of office, has been suspended without pay since the House on May 27 voted overwhelmingly to impeach him. Two-thirds support from the Senate, or 21 of 30 eligible members, will be required to find Paxton guilty of any charge. If Paxton is found guilty of even one charge, he will be removed from office. Senators could then take up a second vote to permanently bar Paxton from holding elected office in Texas.

Paxton's defense attorneys rest their case

About 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Tony Buzbee, who is representing suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial, announced the defense wasn't calling any more witnesses and was resting its case.

The announcement came toward the end of the trial's eighth day, and the first and only day the defense called witnesses. Buzbee's team called four witnesses Thursday.

Buzbee's announcement also came after defense lawyers questioned Grant Dorfman, deputy first assistant at the attorney general's office.

Dorfman in great detail discussed the $3.3 million settlement the attorney general's office hammered out with some of the whistleblowers, which led to the impeachment probe in the first place.

Members of the Texas House overwhelmingly voted on May 27 to impeach Paxton after the House's General Investigating Committee scrutinized Paxton's request that the Texas Legislature fund the settlement.

HR director denies connection between whistleblowers' complaints, firings

During the afternoon session of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial Thursday, lawyers grilled Henry De La Garza, the attorney general's human resources director, on the termination of several office employees who complained about Paxton's possible misconduct to the FBI.

De La Garza testified that the attorney general's office didn't improperly fire several whistleblower employees after they reported to federal officials that they believed Paxton misused the attorney general's office's resources to help Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor. Instead, the employees were fired because they couldn't work well with their direct supervisor, Brent Webster, Paxton's newly named first assistant, he said.

"In many ways it was a situation of an employee with a new boss having an insubordinate or unprofessional tone toward a new boss and not following directives of the new boss," De La Garza said.

In his cross examination, House prosecutor Daniel Dutko laid out the dates the whistleblowers reported Paxton to the FBI and the dates they were fired, all of which were within days or weeks.

"Are you familiar with the phrase, 'There are no coincidences in Austin?'" Dutko asked, throwing back at the defense a phrase they'd used earlier in the trial.

Attorney general aide denies Paxton acted improperly in accessing information

In testimony Thursday morning, Austin Kinghorn, the Texas attorney general's associate deputy for legal counsel, defended his boss, saying Ken Paxton did not improperly access information to benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor at the center of several impeachment charges against Paxton.

"There's an old saying in the legal profession that his names' on the wall," Kinghorn said. "It's his agency."

Kinghorn's assertion came under questioning by Paxton's defense attorney Chris Hilton, who took a leave from his job at the attorney general's office to defend his boss at the impeachment trial.

Hilton pressed Kinghorn about an impeachment charge that accuses Paxton of "improperly (obtaining) access to information held by his office."

Kinghorn contended that because Paxton was the top official in the office, it wasn't possible for him to improperly access a file.

Kinghorn also testified that he wasn't aware of any criminal conspiracies involving misuse of the office's materials.

"I'm still here," Kinghorn said. "I'm proud of the work we do. I’m proud to serve General Paxton."

House prosecutor Erin Epley, however, questioned Kinghorn on his loyalty to the state and citizens of Texas compared with his allegiance to Paxton.

Epley asked Kinghorn who he would pick if he had to choose between Paxton and the state of Texas.

"I do not see them in conflict," Kinghorn said.

Paxton's lawyers discuss FBI brief on Nate Paul

Attorneys for suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned Justin Gordon, the open records division chief at the attorney general's office, over the office's review of a request in 2020 from lawyers for Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor.

Paul in 2020 submitted a request to the Texas Department of Public Safety for an FBI brief related to a 2019 federal raid of his home and business in connection to an investigation into suspicions of bank, wire and securities fraud. In line with regular processes, the DPS, which participated in the raid, asked Paxton's office to weigh in on whether it should release the confidential information.

Paxton did discuss the request with his staff, but Gordon testified that didn't feel "pressured" to release the information.

Trump weighs in on Paxton's impeachment trial

As lawyers prepared for day eight of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial, former President Donald Trump called the proceedings "shameful."

In a post on Trump's Truth Social platform, he said Paxton "was easily re-elected last November, but now establishment RINOS are trying to undo that Election [sic] with a shameful impeachment," referring to Republicans in name only, which some party members deem not conservative enough.

Trump called Paxton one of the "toughest" and "best" attorney generals and said "Democrats are feeling very good right now as they watch, as usual, the Republicans fight" each other.

The trial began Thursday with Paxton's legal team questioning Justin Gordon, the open records division chief at the attorney general's office.

Time is running out for both sides. Both teams began with 24 hours of questioning. The House now has about 2.5 hours left. Paxton's team has less than nine hours left, Patrick announced Thursday morning.

Day eight of Paxton impeachment trial begins with defense witnesses

Texas House prosecutors have rested their case against suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his legal team's time to call witnesses is running out as Thursday begins the eighth day of Paxton's impeachment trial.

Paxton's defense team is expected Thursday to begin interrogating Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. Lawyers representing Paxton called Gerhardt at the end of the day Wednesday, after the Texas House prosecution team rested its case, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the impeachment trial, ended the day's session before Gerhardt took the stand.

Wednesday's session ended in dramatic fashion. After House prosecutors rested their case, Paxton's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss all 16 charged against Paxton, but later withdrew it.

Wednesday opened with the expectation that Laura Olson, a woman with whom Paxton reportedly had an extramarital affair, would testify. However, Wednesday afternoon, Patrick announced that Olson was present but "unavailable to testify."

Instead, House prosecutors questioned Ray Chester, an attorney who represented the Mitte Foundation in the lawsuit accusing Nate Paul, a former Austin real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor, of fraud. Attorneys also quested Paxton's former executive assistant Drew Wicker, who said Wednesday that Paxton didn't want Wicker to meet with federal agents in relation to a 2020 whistleblower complaint stemming from Paxton's conduct in office.

Paxton's lawyers spent much of Wednesday combatting accusations that Paul paid for new granite countertops in Paxton's home by walking through a series of financial documents that showed Paxton transferred $121,000 to Cupertino Builders, indicating that Paxton paid for the renovations himself.

House prosecutors argued Cupertino Builders, which is registered in Delaware, hadn't set up a Texas affiliate until after the dates of the renovations and wire transfers.

Follow along here for live updates from the American-Statesman's Keri Heath and Tony Plohetski:

Past coverage:

Takeaways from Day 5: Paxton impeachment opens with 9/11 remembrance, testimony on alleged affair

What happened yesterday?: Updates from Day 5 of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton's

Good to know: Who are the key players in Paxton's impeachment trial?

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Ken Paxton impeachment trial live: defense team rests case