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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s alleged extramarital affair came up for the first time at length Monday in his impeachment trial.
Katherine “Missy” Cary, the former chief of staff in the attorney general’s office, testified how she came to learn about the affair and how Paxton ultimately confessed to it. But perhaps most relevant to the case, Cary testified how she warned Paxton it could make him vulnerable to bribery, an allegation central to his impeachment.
The dramatic testimony came as Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, listened on from the Senate floor.
“My heart broke for her,” Cary said of Angela Paxton, who is disqualified from voting in the trial but has to attend.
The alleged affair is referenced in one of the articles of impeachment that is being tried. The article accuses Paxton of bribery because he “benefited from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.”
House impeachment managers allege that Paxton, driven by his desire to continue his affair and hide it from his wife and religious voters, went to impeachable and criminal lengths to help Paul. In exchange, they allege, Paul hired Olson at his company so that she could move from San Antonio to Austin.
While Paxton's alleged affair has increasingly taken center stage since the House impeached him in June, Cary marked the first time a witness provided firsthand knowledge of it — and in painful detail. Upon cross-examination, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee sought to stir doubt about the veracity of some of Cary's early observations of the alleged affair and downplayed its relevance to the case.
"Imagine if we impeached everybody here in Austin that had had an affair," Buzbee said. "We’d be impeaching for the next 100 years, wouldn’t we?"
Cary testified that her knowledge of the alleged affair all began in the spring of 2018 when she was eating lunch alone at Galaxy Cafe in Austin. She overheard a woman next to her having a conversation that troubled her, suggesting the woman was conveying “very personal” information about Ken Paxton. Cary said she took her concerns to the attorney general, who said the woman was the real estate agent selling his condo in Austin.
But later that spring, Cary said she saw the same woman at an official event in San Antonio and saw her name tag: Laura Olson.
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Paxton faces several allegations
Suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is accused of bribery, disregarding his official duty, making false statements and abusing the public trust. Paxton allegedly misused the powers of the attorney general’s office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor. Impeachment managers submitted nearly 4,000 pages of evidence ahead of Paxton’s trial in the Senate. Paxton pleaded not guilty.
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Cary said she then learned about the relationship from other people in the office and felt “surprised” Paxton had lied to her about who Olson was. The relationship was impacting staff morale, Cary added, with Angela Paxton calling the office to try to track down her husband and staffers feeling “uncomfortable answering those questions.”
Cary eventually had a meeting with Paxton where they discussed the legal and “ethical implications of a secret affair,” she said. Cary said they discussed that such conduct could “open one up to bribery and misuse of office” — allegations at the center of his impeachment.
In that meeting, Cary said Paxton confirmed he was having an affair but did not say whether it was with Olson. He was “contrite and he listened to what I had to say very carefully,” Cary recalled.
In September 2018, Paxton and his wife convened a meeting with top aides where he confessed to the affair, Cary said. She described it as an awkward and emotional meeting. Angela Paxton was “sad and embarrassed” and cried, Cary said. Cary said she hugged Angela Paxton and told her she was sorry this had happened to her.
After that meeting, Cary said, she believed such behavior was “out of [Paxton’s] life for good.”
But months later in 2019, Cary said, Paxton told her the affair was continuing. Cary said Paxton expressed that he "still loved Mrs. Olson" and wanted Cary, as the chief of staff, to "be more accommodating" of it when it came to things like his security detail.
Cary said she told Paxton "quite bluntly it wasn't my business who he was sleeping with, but that when things boiled over in to the office," it became a concern to her. In Cary's telling, that comment enraged Paxton, who turned "red in the face," raised his voice and stormed out of her office.
Buzbee took an aggressive tack in cross-examining Cary. After initially trying to put her at ease, he launched into an interrogation of her account of how she first came to learn about Olson. Buzbee accused Cary of getting wrong the kind of car Olson had at Galaxy Cafe, saying Olson has "never owned a red car." Cary said she never claimed the car she saw belonged to Olson.
"I guess I'm trying to figure out how good is your memory," Buzbee said.
Buzbee did not explicitly mention Paxton's alleged adultery. But he cast such misbehavior in religious terms, first asking Cary if she attended church. She initially resisted answering, questioning whether it was an appropriate question. But Buzbee insisted it was relevant and asked her, in an allusion to God, if there was "only one person who was ever perfect." She agreed that is the case in her belief system.
"All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God, right?" Buzbee asked, to which Cary agreed. "Sometimes people make stupid mistakes, right?"
That is when Buzbee raised the possibility of impeaching anybody in Austin who has had an affair. Cary declined to respond to the hypothetical, saying, "I don't think I should answer this question in this chamber, particularly."
"Just because somebody has an affair doesn't mean that they're a quote criminal, does it?" Buzbee asked, to which Cary said she "would not associate that directly."
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