House lawyers called a second witness in the impeachment proceedings Wednesday: Ryan Bangert, the former deputy first assistant attorney general and one of the senior staffers who reported Ken Paxton to the FBI for potentially illegal behavior.
House lawyer Rusty Hardin took the jury through Bangert’s GOP bonafides, including his membership in conservative groups like the Federalist Society and the Philadelphia Society.
“I believed in what [Paxton] was doing, I believed his policies,” said Bangert, who was a Paxton donor and now works as a senior vice president for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that has pushed back against abortion and LGBTQ rights.
But a year or so into Bangert’s time in the attorney general’s office, he said he grew concerned with Paxton’s increasing focus on matters involving one person: Nate Paul, a political donor and personal friend.
In painstaking detail, he shared how as 2020 unfolded, Paxton repeatedly asked him to review multiple matters involving Paul and his legal issues. In two instances, Paxton asked Bangert to evaluate if it was possible to overrule a previous decision to withhold law enforcement documents from Paul regarding an FBI raid on his house and business, a decision that would go against long-standing precedent.
“That immediately sends up red flags to disclose law enforcement materials to someone who is under an active and very far reaching investigation,” Bangert said.
Bangert said Paxton’s requests then “metastasized to a new section within the attorney general’s office” when Paxton asked Bangert to find a way to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity called the Mitte Foundation. The foundation had invested in Paul’s businesses, but filed a lawsuit against Paul after he allegedly refused to provide them with financials about their investment.
Bangert testified that he believed that intervention from the attorney general’s office would directly benefit Paul and his company, World Class Holdings. Initially, he tried to unsuccessfully mediate between the two sides. Bangert then said that Paxton ordered him to file a motion to halt the legal proceedings. Bangert said he was uncomfortable doing that and was ultimately removed from the situation altogether.
Paxton approached Bangert again a few months later with another order: evaluate whether foreclosure sales could be allowed to continue given the current state of the governor’s COVID orders. Bangert testified that Paxton rejected his initial advice that foreclosure sales should be allowed to continue.
Procedurally, the attorney general’s office needed to find someone authorized to submit a formal request for an opinion from the attorney general’s office. Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, ultimately stepped in. But Bangert testified that there was no evidence Hughes knew this request was made to benefit a specific individual.
Bangert and another whistleblower, Ryan Vassar, worked through the weekend on the opinion that foreclosures be allowed to continue, which was consistent with positions the office had taken throughout the pandemic that erred on the side of returning to normal. But when Bangert emailed it to Paxton early Sunday morning, Paxton rejected it. Bangert stated it needed to be reworked so foreclosure sales wouldn’t go forward.
“It was bizarre,” Bangert said. “He was acting like a man with a gun to his head. Anxious, desperate, urging me to get this out as quickly as humanly possible.”
Ultimately, Bangert realized that issuing an opinion to stop foreclosure sales would benefit Paul, who had dozens of properties facing foreclosure.
He signed the order anyway, making sure his name was on the order instead of his younger colleague, Vassar.
“If something broke bad with this I didn’t want it to tarnish his career,” Bangert said.
Bangert is scheduled to take the stand again to continue providing testimony. The trial will resume at 9 am Thursday.
- Kate McGee