AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Day three of the impeachment trial saw two key whistleblowers take the stand, sharing fears and shedding tears as they recounted their experience under suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, who they reported to the FBI for bribery and corruption.
The day opened with Rusty Hardin, the lead prosecutor for the House’s impeachment team, examining witness Ryan Bangert. Bangert is a former deputy first assistant attorney general who reported Paxton to the FBI.
Bangert’s testimony provided a new eyewitness account of how whistleblowers believed Paxton was pressuring the office to improperly benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and Paxton campaign donor. Bangert said Paxton was adamant the office hire outside counsel to interfere in Nate Paul’s private legal troubles.
“The attorney general was insisting that we move forward with outside counsel,” Bangert said. “It was clear to me that hiring outside counsel to undertake this task could only benefit one person.”
Bangert stated that he went to the FBI as a result of what he saw as an unethical abuse of power.
“I went to the FBI, because I believed, based on my experience over the previous nine months, that the attorney general had abandoned his obligation to work on behalf of the interests of the people of Texas, (but) to serve the interests of one person-Nate Paul,” he said.
Central to Bangert’s testimony was Paxton’s issuance of an informal legal opinion he believed was solely to benefit Paul’s financial interests.
In August 2020, Paxton directed his office to issue an opinion declaring foreclosure sales unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Whistleblowers said that decision was contrary to the office’s work against COVID restrictions and was intended to help Paul avoid foreclosure on some of his properties.
“This opinion had not gone through the formal, rigorous process of review by the opinion committee,” Bangert said. “The name and authority and power of our office had been, in my view, hijacked to serve the interests of an individual against the interests of the broader public.”
Paxton’s defense team accused Bangert and other whistleblowers of trying to stage a “coup” against their former boss.
Defense attorney Anthony Osso repeatedly asked if Bangert told Paxton he is going to the FBI regarding Paxton’s alleged unethical misconduct.
“You did not take the time to hear his side of things out before you went to law enforcement?,” Osso asked Bangert.
Bangert initially did not answer the question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. After Osso repeated the inquiry five times, Bangert testified that he did not tell Ken Paxton about his FBI complaint prior to filing it.
Hardin led Bangert to push back on the defense’s characterization of the whistleblowers’ actions as a “mutiny.”
“It was not a mutiny,” Bangert said. “We were protecting the interest of the state. And ultimately, I believe protecting the interest of the attorney general and, in my view, signing our professional death warrant at the same time.”
Paxton’s assertion the whistleblowers were “rogue employees” brought tears to the next witness, former Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar.
Ryan Vassar, a former top official in AG Paxton’s office, tears up on the witness stand.— Ryan Chandler (@RyanChandlerTV) September 7, 2023
“I worked for the state for 8 years… as one who values the commitment to public service… the statement of being ‘rogue’ is contrary to the years I dedicated my life to the state.” pic.twitter.com/Vq4da0NXwa
“It was hurtful,” Vassar said.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Mitch Little continued the theme accusing Vassar and other whistleblowers of staging a “coup” against Paxton.
One of the arguments Little posed was how there wasn’t enough justification to go to the FBI.
“You went to the FBI on September 30th with your compatriots and reported the elected attorney general of this state for a crime, without any evidence?” asked Little.
“That’s right. We took no evidence,” Vassar responded.
Day three of the trial finished shortly before 7 p.m. Day four of the trial will resume Friday morning at 9 a.m.