AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Defense attorneys representing suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton rested their case in the historic impeachment trial Thursday evening, after calling a string of their first witnesses, current employees of the AG’s office, who testified they found no wrongdoing in Paxton’s actions.
Closing arguments will start at 9 a.m. Friday.
Senators, who are acting as jurors, could vote as early as Friday on whether to convict Paxton — which would result in removal from office if he is convicted on at least one of the 16 articles they are considering.
Paxton faces 16 articles of impeachment in the Senate that accuse him of abusing his powers as attorney general to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who faced federal investigation and is central to many of the allegations against Paxton. The suspended attorney general pleaded not guilty to all impeachment articles on day one of the trial and has not been present in the Senate since then.
On Thursday, the defense team called four witnesses who were brought to defend Paxton, contrary to most of the House managers’ witnesses; which supported their allegations that the attorney general abused his office. As the trial comes to a close, former President Donald Trump — a Paxton ally — weighed in on social media rallied, calling the trial “shameful” and an effort to disenfranchise voters’ decision to re-elect Paxton in 2022.
Through their witnesses, defense argued the former top deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI were not wrongfully terminated. Witness Henry de la Garza, human resources director at the attorney general’s office, said he agreed with the termination of four of the whistleblowers: Mark Penley, David Maxwell, Blake Brickman and Ryan Vassar.
The HR director argued as “high-level policymakers,” the Texas Whistleblower Act does not apply to them.
House managers rested their case Wednesday evening, but did so accidentally before the defense could cross-examine another whistleblower.
After wrapping up questioning of Blake Brickman on Wednesday — another whistleblower — attorney Rusty Hardin said, “The House rests.” He then apologized and added, “Here’s the problem: I messed up and shouldn’t have rested until [Tony Buzbee] finished his cross.” Buzbee then interjected by saying, “And yet you did.”
His move promoted Paxton’s attorneys to make a swift motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment on the ground that prosecutors didn’t prove enough evidence. However, defense ultimately withdrew their motion after senators met in private to consider their request for a directed verdict.
It is unclear how much time both parties have left in the trial, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — presider of the trial — did not give a time update at the end of Wednesday. Since prosecution rested its case, it cannot bring in new witnesses but may have some time left for cross-examination of defense’s witnesses.