(The Center Square) – The testimony of the first witness in the impeachment trial of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton contradicted claims made by the House in several articles of impeachment, including 1, 6, 7, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20.
Former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer, the first to testify during the trial, served under Paxton as second in command. His testimony was seen by some as one of the most important because of the position he held. He served from 2016 until 2020, when he resigned after he went to the FBI alleging Paxton may have been involved in a crime.
The allegations Mateer and other former staffers gave in unsworn statements to the House General Investigating Committee were used as the basis for the impeachment charges levied against Paxton, ranging from bribery, abuse of public trust, being unfit for office, among others.
Paxton’s lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, who cross examined Mateer, pointed out that it was Mateer who intervened in the case at the heart of the allegation in the first article of impeachment. Mateer testified that the process to intervene began with a memo or letter, which he signed on official Office of Attorney General letterhead. Mateer, and none of the witnesses so far, have identified who removed Paxton’s name from the letterhead while he was still the attorney general in 2020.
Article 1 alleges that Paxton “caused staff to intervene in a lawsuit” brought by the Mitte Foundation “to benefit Nate Paul,” an Austin real estate developer who donated to his campaign in 2018.
“You were in the middle of that weren’t you?” Buzbee asked.
“I approved the executive memorandum,” Mateer replied.
“Isn’t ironic that the first witness called in this case for the House on the first article of impeachment that this witness – you – approved it?” Buzbee asked.
“I don’t know,” Mateer replied.
“Don’t you think that reflects the whole House’s case? They put you up here as the witness to tell us how bad Ken Paxton was and on the very first article you approved it. Isn’t that ironic?”
“The irony is lost on me,” he said.
“You also authorized an investigation of the foundation?” Buzbee asked, to which Mateer replied, “Yes.”
Buzbee also addressed Mateer’s and former staffers’ FBI complaint against Paxton. He said, “when you went to the FBI what crime did you have this so-called faith belief had occurred?”
“I believed that he potentially could have been subject to blackmail and was taking illegal actions on behalf of … a campaign donor … Mr. Paul,” Mateer said.
“You believed he was being blackmailed?” Buzbee asked.
“At one point I believed he was being blackmailed,” Mateer replied.
“You didn’t think he was committing a crime [but] that somebody was committing a crime against him? That’s why you went to the FBI?” Buzbee asked.
“I wanted him to come clean,” Mateer said. “I asked him are you under undue influence, sir.”
“And he said no,” Buzbee said. “He did say no,” Mateer replied.
“He didn’t say I’m being blackmailed. I’m under undue influence,” Buzbee said.
Paxton “was taking unusual actions,” Mateeer said.
“You made assumptions,” Buzbee said.
“Yes, I made reasonable assumptions,” Mateer replied.
“You know that assumptions are wrong,” Buzbee continued and next asked about testimony Mateer gave in March 2021 at a Travis County District Court hearing. “You were asked point blank under oath six months after you had went to the FBI this question, … ‘Did you come to believe that the Office of Attorney General was being engaged in ongoing criminal activity in connection with Nate Paul.’”
Mateer testified at the hearing, “I know it called for yes or no, but it’s a question that it’s hard to give a yes or no, so that makes it difficult for me – as – as the witness. What I would say is it – it could have led to that. Certainly, it’s – did I have concerns? I had potential concerns.”
He told Buzbee that what he testified to was correct.
“When you went to the FBI and you offered a good faith belief that Ken Paxton was engaged in criminal activity, was it beyond a reasonable doubt?” Buzbee asked.
“I didn’t think about it at all,” Mateer replied.
Buzbee called up Article 1 and read it, stating, “You’re on the memo, you approved it.
“So this article is hogwash, isn’t it?”
“I think we need more information,” Mateer said.
In nearly three years since the accusations were brought to the FBI, the FBI has levied no charges against Paxton or released any information about whether or not it conducted an investigation based on their claims. When previously asked whether the FBI was investigating Paxton, The Center Square received a response via email stating, “no comment.”
During Mateer’s entire line of questioning conducted by the House’s lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, neither Hardin nor Mateer produced evidence to support the claim that a crime had occurred.
A 2020 OAG report, which Paxton didn’t write, concluded that no evidence existed that Nate Paul attempted to bribe Paxton. Mateer and former staffers argued Paul’s 2018 $25,000 campaign donation to Paxton’s campaign – two years before their allegations and before the 2019 FBI raid of Paul’s home and businesses – was a bribe.
“By definition, this 2018 donation could not legally constitute a bribe, because neither Paul nor AG Paxton could have known that the FBI would raid Paul’s house in 2019 and did not know the future events that would occur after such raid had taken place,” the OAG report states.
The report, the House alleges, is “a sham investigation” in Article VII. Mateer’s testimony appears to contradict this allegation since he testified that he authorized the investigation in Article 1, which the report points out.