AUSTIN — As the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton enters its second week, the defense has suggested that someone with a familiar family name in politics was involved in a coordinated effort to remove the AG from office.
The defense team for Paxton has suggested that George P. Bush, who challenged Paxton for his office as attorney general, potentially plotted with either the whistleblowers or their legal counsel to undermine the elected AG.
During the cross-examination of Jeff Mateer, the former first assistant attorney general, it was revealed that Bush, one of Paxton’s political rivals, renewed his law license at the same time the whistleblower employees were reporting the AG to the FBI.
Bush, who was the Texas land commissioner at the time, went on to run for the position of attorney general against the incumbent Paxton in the Republican primary in the 2022 election. Paxton beat Bush in the ensuing runoff by a large margin.
“His law license was inactive for 10 years, see that? Look at when he requested to reactivate his license. Can you tell us all that date?” Buzbee asked.
Mateer did not volunteer the date on the record, so Buzbee read it for him: “10/1/2020, do you see that?”
“I see the document says that, sir,” Mateer responded.
“Let me get this right in my mind. On October 1, 2020, you sent the general a text that we saw, right?” Buzbee pressed, referring to a message the whistleblowers sent to Paxton announcing their decision to go to the FBI.
“I did, yes sir,” Mateer replied.
“On the same day you signed a letter, seven of you?” the lawyer continued. “And coincidentally, on that same day, George P. Bush, who ran against General Paxton, … applies to reactivate his law license.”
“You ever hear the old saying, ‘There are no coincidences in Austin?'” Buzbee asked.
Furthermore, Mateer retained a Bush-connected lawyer named Johnny Sutton as his personal counsel to assist with reporting Paxton to the FBI. Many of the other whistleblowers also retained Sutton.
Sutton was the criminal justice policy director for George P. Bush’s uncle, George W. Bush, while he was the governor of Texas. Sutton also led the Department of Justice transition team for George W. Bush after he was elected president.
Bush then named Sutton associate deputy attorney general before appointing him as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, a position he held from November 2001 to April 2009.
In addition to engaging Sutton as his personal attorney, Mateer further admitted under Buzbee’s questioning that he had started the process to allocate up to $50,000 in taxpayer funds to hire Sutton as outside counsel for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). When pressed by Buzbee on this issue, Mateer argued that there was no issue with that because Sutton ultimately was not hired by the OAG.
The connection between Sutton and the whistleblowers raised additional concerns about the legality of the former employees’ actions.
Following the criminal complaint to the FBI, the OAG conducted an internal investigation that concluded Paxton had done nothing wrong and the whistleblowers were actually in the wrong.
“… [I]t was in fact [Ryan] Vassar and [Mark] Penley who violated Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 20.02(h),” the report claimed. “Furthermore, Penley misled Don Clemmer to obtain copies of secret grand jury subpoenas for the unlawful purpose of providing those subpoenas to a third party, namely Johnny Sutton.”
On the stand, Vassar admitted to sending copies of the sealed grand jury subpoenas to Sutton and then deleting the text messages. When defense attorney Mitch Little asked Vassar if he wished to consult with Sutton, who was in the room during his client’s testimony, he declined.
The OAG report said, “Vassar’s illegal communication criminally violated Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 20.02, which requires secrecy regarding grand jury proceedings; the subpoenas themselves likewise contained warnings that the subpoenas were to be kept secret.”
During cross-examination, Vassar said he did not think it was a violation because he sent it to his personal attorney.
Vassar also revealed under cross-examination that Sutton had not charged him for legal services in nearly three years.
“He has agreed to bill us at a future date,” Vassar said.
“What future date?” Little asked.
“You’d have to ask him,” Vassar responded.
“Have you ever heard the expression, there are no coincidences in Austin?” Little asked.
“I may have,” Vassar said.
As reported by The Dallas Express, the defense team has endeavored to undermine key elements of the impeachment articles advanced by the House Board of Managers.