A former top deputy in the Texas Attorney General’s Office described a “crisis moment” during his testimony Wednesday when staff learned about the extent of Ken Paxton’s relationship with a political donor.
Jeff Mateer, one of the whistleblowers who reported Paxton to the FBI, was the first to testify Tuesday after the start ofPaxton’s impeachment trial in the Texas Senate. Mateer served as as first assistant attorney general under Paxton from March 2016 to October 2020, when he resigned.
The articles pending before the Senate center on claims that Paxton misused his office to benefit a donor and retaliated against whistleblowers. Paxton, who is in his third term, is accused giving donor and Austin real estate developer Nate Paul special legal attention while accepting home renovations and a job for a women with whom he was having an extramarital affair.
House impeachment managers argued that Paxton should be removed from office and barred from holding office again. Paxton acted to help Paul economically and legally to the detriment of Texans, said Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican who is chair of the House impeachment managers.
Paxton’s attorneys argued that the the impeachment proceedings were politically motivated and that evidence is lacking and doesn’t warrant a conviction on the articles. Paxton didn’t engage in bribery with Paul, and Paxton should be acquitted, they said.
On Wednesday, his second day on the witness stand, Mateer recalled concerns he had about Paxton’s involvement with Paul, whom he described as “not a good guy.” Particularly, he was concerned with Paxton’s insistence on hiring an outside attorney, Brandon Cammack, for an investigation to aid Paul.
Mateer said he called a meeting on Sept. 29, 2020, with other officials in the attorney general’s office after learning Cammack was saying he worked for the Office of the Attorney General and was serving grand jury subpoenas to banks that appeared to be related to Paul and his activities.
This was a cause of concern for the top deputy, and he wanted to figure out what was going on.
“We considered it sort of a crisis moment,” Mateer said. “Everything regarding Mr. Paul was kind of coming to a head. ... It’s really the first time that each of the deputies started to share ... bits and pieces about Mr. Paul and his activities with the attorney general.”
Paxton wanted former Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley to sign a outside counsel hiring document, but Penley wasn’t signing it, Mateer said.
The meeting came after Mateer recounted a series of conversations with Paxton, including one in the morning of Sept. 28, 2020, when Mateer said he explained the office’s process for hiring outside counsel. The meeting was amiable, but later that night, Paxton called Mateer very angry. As best as Mateer could tell over the phone, Paxton appeared to have been drinking.
“It was so unlike any conversation I’ve ever had with him,” Mateer said.
Mateer said he believed at that time it was unlawful for him to sign a contract and hire Cammack and that it violated office policies.
Mateer said Paxton kept pressing the hiring of Cammack, asking Mateer to sign the hiring contract. Mateer said he wouldn’t. Paxton also asked about signing the document himself.
“He asked me, what if I signed it already?” Mateer said.
Mateer also recalled learning in 2018 that Paxton had an extramarital affair. Paxton and his wife Sen. Angela Paxton addressed it in a meeting with office and campaign staff, he said. It was an emotional meeting in which Paxton asked for forgiveness, Mateer said. He assumed the affair was over.
“Why did you think, if the affair had resumed, that was relevant to your concern about the attorney general and Mr. Paul?” asked Rusty Hardin, one of the attorneys for the House impeachment managers.
Mateer replied: “Because it answered one of the questions that I kept struggling with is, Why would General Paxton jeopardize all of this great work that we’d been doing in the office of Attorney General. Why would we be engaged in these activities on behalf of one person? All these different things?”
Mateer said at one point he thought Paxton was perhaps being blackmailed.
“When we found out that this woman that he’d had the affair with from years ago, that had moved up from Austin and was now employed by Mr. Paul, and that he was taking these unusual actions, it just didn’t make sense to me, Mr. Buzbee,” Mateer said while being questioned by one of Paxton’s attorneys, Tony Buzbee.
The next day, Sept. 29, 2020, he and the other whistleblowers reported Paxton to federal authorities.
“By that time, I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical and I had a good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer said.
During cross examination, Buzbee questioned why Mateer didn’t go to Paxton after the meeting on Sept. 28 and before going to federal authorities, which he said could have cleared up questions Mateer had about the issued subpoenas.
“So, in order to help your friend, a guy that had given you a really plum of a job, instead of asking him some questions, you instead circled up and decided to go to the FBI,” Buzbee said.
Buzbee was still questioning Mateer Wednesday afternoon, an exchange that was tense at times.