AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A woman who was expected to testify about an extramarital affair with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made a sudden appearance Wednesday at his impeachment trial, but never took the stand as the prosecutors rested their case against the Republican.
The affair is central to the historic proceedings and accusations that Paxton misused his power to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was under FBI investigation and employed the woman, Laura Olson. One of the 16 articles of impeachment against Paxton alleges that Paul's hiring of Olson amounted to a bribe.
Olson was called to take the stand Wednesday morning in the Texas Senate and waited outside the chamber. But her testimony was delayed for hours before Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is acting as the trial’s judge, said toward the end of the day that Olson would not take the witness stand after all. He provided no further explanation but said both sides had agreed to it.
“She is present but has been deemed unavailable to testify,” Patrick said.
Shortly after the announcement, Rusty Hardin, a lawyer for the bipartisan group of lawmakers prosecuting Paxton's impeachment said he was resting their case. He acknowledged moments later that he had “messed up” by doing so and defense attorney Tony Buzbee then said he had filed a motion seeking to end the trial.
Patrick said the motion would require a simple majority of the chamber, 16 of the senators who are eligible to vote. But after a short break, Patrick announced that Paxton's defense attorneys had withdrawn it. They then began calling witnesses.
Paxton, who was suspended from office pending the outcome of the trial, is not required to attend the proceedings. He has not appeared in the Senate since testimony began last week. As the scene played out in the Senate on Wednesday evening, the attorney general posted on social media that he was headed to Maine next week to talk with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson about “the last two weeks in Texas politics.”
“It should be interesting!” Paxton said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Olson had been set to take the stand across from Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, who is required to attend the trial but is not allowed to vote on whether her husband should be removed from office. On Monday, she listened from her desk in the Senate as one of her husband's former employees testified that the secret relationship took a toll on the attorney general's office.
Olson also previously worked for Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, who will have a vote in the trial. That underscores the many entanglements Ken Paxton has in the building as he fights for his political life after years of alleged scandal and criminal charges.
Former staff have testified that Paxton admitted to them that he had an affair. The three-term incumbent, who was reelected last November, has not discussed it publicly.
Olson has not spoken publicly about her relationship with Texas’ top law enforcement officer and his dealings with Paul, who was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. Paul has pleaded not guilty.
Paxton’s former executive aide, Drew Wicker, testified Wednesday, describing Paxton as a friend and saying he met Paul three times, including once to deliver him a manila envelope and another to pick up Paxton's phone that he had left at Paul's house.
When Paxton began staying in an Austin hotel in 2020 while his home was being renovated, Wicker said, Paxton would call off his protective detail and have Wicker pick him up and drop him off instead. He said Paxton frequently did things and went places that were not on his schedule, including meetings with Paul, and that he saw Paxton and Olson together at the hotel.
Wicker said the cost for new countertops and cabinetry in Paxton's kitchen came to about $20,000. He said he grew concerned after the contractor said three times that he would have to “check with Nate."
Wicker said he told Paxton that he was left with the impression that Paul was involved in the renovations of Paxton’s home.
“It felt like there might be an inappropriate relationship there,” Wicker recalled telling Paxton. He said Paxton said that was not the case.
On cross-examination, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee showed Wicker bank statements that Wicker affirmed appeared to show Paxton paying for the renovations to his home. At a June news conference, Buzbee displayed bank records that showed Paxton making that payment to a company run by an associate of Paul one day after the attorney general's deputies reported him to the FBI.
The FBI investigation of Paxton and Paul's dealings also scrutinized the renovations, with at least one Austin contractor receiving a grand jury subpoena in 2021 for records related to the work.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton
Paul J. Weber And Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press