The defense team for suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton rested its case late Thursday afternoon after witnesses refuted allegations that the three-term elected official abused his office and committed bribery to benefit a real estate developer and campaign donor.
Both sides still have a few hours left to provide closing arguments.
Paxton has been suspended from office since May when the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach the three-term Republican. Paxton is charged with bribery and abuse of office, among other infractions, and remains suspended pending the trial's outcome.
Texas state senators — minus Paxton's wife, Republican Angela Paxton — are serving as jury in the impeachment trial. A two-thirds majority, or 21, would need to vote against Paxton for him to be removed from office.
The trial, which began Sept. 5, has included testimony from several former Paxton loyalists who reported their boss to federal law enforcement officials for allegedly abusing his office to aid Nate Paul, a confidant and campaign donor who was being investigated for charges separate from what Paxton is accused of.
The witnesses for the prosecutors included Jeff Mateer, Paxton's former No. 2 in command who testified that he became disillusioned with his boss due to what he described as Paxton's insistence that the office use its resources to aid Paul, an Austin real estate investor.
In testimony that followed Mateer's, former deputy first assistant Ryan Bangert said Paxton's insistence that his staff craft an opinion about foreclosure sales during the pandemic raised alarm bells for a group of eventual whistleblowers. The opinion recommended halting the sales, which would have benefited Paul.
Bangert said his discussion with Paxton on the matter was concerning.
"It was bizarre," he said. "He was acting like a man with a gun to his head."
But Paxton's defense team charged back, attempting to poke holes in the prosecutors' claim that Paxton was acting outside his official duties. That included testimony Thursday from Justin Gordon, the open records division chief in the Texas Attorney General's Office, who disputed the charges that Paxton acted improperly when he pressed for records related to Paul's affairs be released by the records division.
The defense also presented strong evidence during testimony from Henry De La Garza, chief employment counsel and ethics adviser to the Office of the Attorney General, who disputed claims made by the group of whistleblowers that they were fired from Paxton's office as retaliation for reporting the attorney general to federal officials in 2020.
The trial will be considered a historic moment in the annals of Texas political history regardless of the outcome. Only a handful of elected officials have been removed from office in Texas through the impeachment process: a state district judge in the 1970s and former Governor James "Pa" Ferguson in 1917.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Friday at 9 a.m. in the Texas Senate chamber. It is unclear how quickly a verdict would be announced.