TEXAS AG IMPEACHMENT DAY 3: OAG RESOURCES ‘Highjacked’ to Benefit Donor; AG Wanted to Investigate Law Enforcement, Staff Meets with FBI, ‘Mutiny’ Denied

Day 3 of Ken Paxton Impeachment Trial. (AP Photos/Eric Gay)
AP Photos/Eric Gay

Day three of the impeachment trial of suspended Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton began with the recall of House impeachment witness Ryan Bangert, a former top deputy. Bangert testified that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had been highjacked to benefit a private person over the public interest.

“It was unconscionable in my view,” Bangert testified. He believed that criminal processes were being used to go after the enemies of a private donor, Natin “Nate” Paul.

The day centered around testimony that Paxton used state resources, including staff at the OAG, for Nate Paul’s benefit and to the public’s detriment.

Ken Paxton did not attend the proceedings, and Rusty Hardin, attorney for House Impeachment Managers, asked that the record reflect that the AG has not “graced us with his appearance” for the last two days of testimony.

Paul, an Austin real estate developer, is named in the articles of impeachment. He is specifically mentioned in six of the articles and is implicated in most of the others.

FBI agents arrested Paul in June. The 23-page indictment includes eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions.

Article I of the Articles of Impeachment charges Paxton with “violation of the duties of his office by failing to act as public protector of charitable organizations” because he “caused employees of his office to intervene in a lawsuit brought by the [Mitte Foundation] against several corporate entities controlled by Nate Paul. Paul harmed the Mitte Foundation in an effort to benefit Paul.”

Bangert testified today, “The AG was determined to use the power of his office” to benefit Paul.

Bangert said he met with Paxton, Nate Paul, Nate Paul’s sister, and Drew Wicker, who was personal assistant to Ken Paxton. He believed Paul’s sister, an attorney, was there to represent Nate’s company and was helping him battle the Mitte Foundation charity.

Bangert told Wicker after the meeting, “That was one of the craziest things I have seen.” Bangert quoted Latin and interpreted the saying: “I had never seen anything like it. It was one of a kind.”

The AG wanted the OAG to intervene in the lawsuit for the benefit of Nate Paul.

House Impeachment Manager attorney Rusty Hardin asked Bangert to estimate how much time and resources were being spent on issues related to Nate Paul. Bangert testified that a foreclosure opinion took three days of his time and stated the Mitte Foundation took much more time. Once he discovered the use of outside counsel to go after enemies of Nate Paul, he estimated that “hundreds of man hours” were involved.

Impeachment Article II charges: “Paxton caused employees of his office to prepare an opinion in an attempt to avoid the impending foreclosure sales of properties belonging to Nate Paul or business entities controlled by Paul.” It continues, “Paxton directed employees of his office to reverse their legal conclusion for the benefit of Paul.” Bangert testified in detail about how he said this happened.

As it related to Article II of the Articles of Impeachment, Bangert testified about various types of AG Opinions and the request by Paxton to stop outdoor foreclosure sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bangert went into lengthy detail about the process of issuing an AG Opinion and the rigorous vetting process involved. He also took substantial time to discuss what upper management at the OAG went through in response to the AG’s and Paul’s prodding to release what has been referred to as the “Midnight Opinion.”

Bangert testified he had to deal “with an unusual influx of requests for advice.” The AG also requested that he spend the weekend to get the opinion done. The AG wanted an opinion that would shut down foreclosures, although doing so would be in direct contravention of the State’s “Open for Business” policy during the pandemic.

Impeachment Article III charges that Ken Paxton abused the Open Records Process, disregarding his official duty. Specifically, “Paxton directed employees of his office to act contrary to law by refusing to render a proper decision relating to a public information request for records held by the Department of Public Safety and by issuing a decision involving another public information request that was contrary to law and applicable legal precedent.”

Paxton said he wanted to hire an outside lawyer to investigate law enforcement who were investigating Nate Paul and his properties. Paxton told Bangert he did not trust DPS or the FBI and said he believed law enforcement was “oppressing” Paul. Bangert said, “There was no evidence I had seen that would substantiate that.” There was “no basis or justification for it,” and doing so “would not serve the public interest.”

The AG personally signed a contract with 5-year lawyer Brandon Cammack. Cammack immediately began issuing subpoenas to individuals and financial institutions. AG brass would not sign off on the contract.

Bangert testified that he went to the FBI with other upper staff members because “We were protecting the interests of the State and ultimately, I believe protecting the interest of the Attorney General and, in my view, signing our professional death warrant at the same time.” He believed the Attorney General had abandoned his oath and centered on protecting a private individual. The former Deputy First Assistant denied wanting to be part of a “mutiny.”

When asked about this situation’s impact on him, he said he was stripped of his duties and was waiting to be terminated. He watched colleagues put on administrative leave and endured having others “treat him in a belligerent manner.” He added, “It was incredibly heartbreaking.” He believed in Ken Paxton and had to watch everything he and his staff had done “slowly unravel.”

Bangert has not sued the attorney general or sought damages or compensation.

When asked whether he has seen receipts that show Nate Paul paid for renovations at the Paxton home, Bangert answered, “I have seen documents that are strongly suggestive of that.”

Rusty Hardin called Ryan Vassar, former Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel, as the next witness for House Impeachment Managers. The father of four and former Supreme Court of Texas clerk became tearful when asked about his reaction to Paxton’s calling his fellow whistleblowers “rogue employees.” “The statement of being rogue is contrary to the years I dedicated my life to the State.” He wanted to set an example for his children and the people he managed. Vassar is one of the whistleblowers. He was unemployed for six months before taking a job with an Austin non-profit.

Vassar testified about the Open Records Request that the AG “asked us to find a way to release the information.” If they had done so, Vassar said, “It would reverse decades of the law enforcement privilege.” Paxton said he thought Nate Paul was being “railroaded” and expressed distrust in law enforcement. This testimony relates to Impeachment Article III.

Vassar also testified that Paxton read through the federal file investigating Nate Paul, highlighted it, and circled information. The file contained emails, staging locations for a raid in 2014, a probable cause affidavit that said it was filed under seal and the seal had not been lifted, background, witnesses, and personal data on individuals and on FBI investigators. Vassar testified that the AG sought to reveal the federal government’s evidence against a private individual under seal. He said law enforcement, government officials, and investigators would be at risk if this information were disclosed.

On cross-examination by Paxton’s lawyer, Mitch Little, Vassar testified he did not know who paid for the renovation at the Paxton’s home.

We went to the FBI with our belief that criminal activity had occurred. “That’s right, we took no evidence.” “We weren’t collecting any evidence.” “We formed a good faith belief that the Attorney General was involved in criminal activity.” Bangert and Vassar testified that key deputies at the OAG went to the FBI and made statements.

Paxton’s defense counsel accused Vassar and other top deputies of trying to take over the office when Paxton was out of town on a business or political trip to Ohio. Vassar responded that he has seen letterhead without Paxton’s name “all the time.”

Article XVIII of the impeachment articles is a “catchall” that charges “While holding office as attorney general, Warren Kenneth Paxton violated the Texas Constitution, his oaths of office, statutes, and public policy against public officials acting contrary to the public interest by engaging in acts described in one or more articles.” Article XVII charges “Paxton misused his official powers by causing employees of his office to perform services for his benefit and the benefit of others.”

Houston lawyer and legal analyst Chris Tritico told Breitbart Texas, “The Texas Constitution bars and the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime for our government and our elected officials to use the public’s money and resources for the private gain of single citizens as opposed to the public good.” He added, “Violating these provisions can result in criminal sanctions and/or ethics charges up to removal from office.”

Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman and Houston defense lawyer Gary Polland told Breitbart, “The resources of the State of Texas are not to be used to support a private interest lawsuit. This isn’t a hard concept to understand.”

Video archives of the impeachment proceedings can be found on the Texas Senate Impeachment website. The articles of Impeachment, the Rules of Procedure for the Court of Impeachment, the witness list, all motions filed by the House Board of Managers and Paxton’s defense team, exhibits, and other potential evidence are posted on the Texas Senate Court of Impeachment website.

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She is a trial lawyer who practices criminal defense and family law in East Texas. She was a Texas prosecutor and family court associate judge in Harris County, Texas.


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