For all the buildup and national interest, the Texas Senate trial of impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton got off to a pretty slow start Tuesday. Here are some observations from day one:
PAXTON LEGAL TEAM SIGNALS AN AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE
It makes sense, given that his political life is at stake, that Paxton’s defense would try to go on offense, so to speak. But it was even more aggressive than expected.
Paxton defense attorney Tony Buzbee used almost every minute of his allotted hour to make an opening statement. He suggested that the defense would go well beyond establishing reasonable doubt. Buzbee indicated that his team could prove, flatly, that several of the allegations against Paxton are based on things that did not occur, especially around Paxton’s relationship with developer Nate Paul. He cited specific documents and facts that the defense could prove.
The strong stance started earlier, though, when Paxton’s team answered for each of the impeachment charges. Most of us would simply reply “not guilty.” But one of Paxton’s attorneys took pains to say that the allegations read aloud by Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw were untrue, didn’t happen or had no basis in fact, before entering the actual plea.
When testimony finally began, the defense tried to halt just about every document that prosecution attorney Rusty Hardin tried to introduce, arguing that they should be confidential under attorney-client privilege. It finally got to the point that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick halted the proceedings, coming back minutes later to declare an end to the day so, in part, he and the attorneys could sort through the overall issue of privileged communications.
The spirited defense might be a sign that, if pretrial motions are any indicator, the defense has a tough road ahead. Most of Paxton’s motions to dismiss charges, collectively and individually, were shot down by more than 21 senators, the threshold to convict him.
That’s not to say that senators couldn’t vote to consider the charges and then vote to convict. But it may indicate that few jurors, even Paxton’s fellow Republicans, start off convinced that the charges are bogus.
PAXTON’S TWEET ABOUT HOUSE SPEAKER’S SUPPOSED DRUNKENNESS
Buzbee laid out a pretty implausible theory of how the impeachment came to be. In his opening statement, Buzbee accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of being drunk while presiding over the House one day in May. Paxton tweeted about it later, saying Phelan should resign.
Buzbee suggested that the impeachment inquiry was thrown together shortly after as revenge, citing as evidence a public hearing on the whistleblower settlement that followed within days. There’s just one problem: Committee staffers laid out so many interviews and so much evidence-gathering that it would have been impossible to put it all together in a matter of days. A Phelan spokeswoman eventually said that the investigation had been going since March.
So, the much more likely case is that Paxton, knowing that the explosive charges and a possible impeachment vote were coming soon, pounced on Phelan’s admittedly odd slurring of words from the rostrum to discredit the House proceedings in advance.
Honestly, doesn’t that sound much more like the Ken Paxton we’ve come to know over the last decade?
A SLOW-MOVING PROCESS
Anyone tuning in as the trial began Tuesday morning could be excused for quickly finding something better on YouTube. The Senate, with all appropriate deliberation, creaked along. Each senator was sworn in individually by Patrick, making for a mind-numbing, time-consuming 31 recitations of the oath. (Well, 62 if you count Patrick providing the words to each senator, but let’s not even think about that.)
Individual votes on pre-trial motions were cast by paper ballots, which were randomly read aloud. Then, Patrick went to each senator individually to confirm the votes. Why not just call the roll to begin with?
For those who’ve heard only that the trial includes salacious details about Paxton’s extramarital affairs and who paid for granite countertops, it had to be disappointing.
YAY, NAY — WHO CAN SAY?
For some reason, senators are voting “yes” or “no” by saying “yay” or “nay.” When you factor in bad acoustics in the Senate and the limits of online audio, it’s hard to make out. Do us a favor, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, and switch it to “aye.”