AUSTIN -- Lawyers for impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton began calling witnesses Thursday and Donald Trump came to his defense on social media as a verdict in the historic trial draws closer.
The timing of the former president's reaffirmed support for Paxton, who tried to baselessly help Trump overturn the election in 2020, comes as a jury of mostly Republican senators are on the cusp of deciding whether to remove Paxton from office over charges of corruption and bribery.
Blasting the impeachment as "shameful," Trump sought to make his presence felt in the waning moments of a trial that has showcased fractures in the party. Paxton was impeached by the Republican-led Texas House in May, but activists on the far right have mounted a pressure campaign aimed at several GOP senators who could tilt the verdict.
"Democrats are feeling very good right now as they watch, as usual, the Republicans fight & eat away at each other. It's a SAD day in the Great State of Texas!" Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Closing arguments are expected in the coming days.
It was not until Thursday -- eight days into the trial -- that Paxton's defense attorneys began calling their own witnesses to rebut the allegations that Paxton abused his power and broke the law to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. They opened with Paxton's current employees.
"I assured myself and I assured my wife that if there were ever anything that I saw that were illegal or unethical that I would step away," said Austin Kinghorn, a senior lawyer in the attorney general's office. "And I'm still here. I'm proud of the work we do. I'm proud to serve General Paxton."
Attorneys for the bipartisan group of lawmakers prosecuting Paxton's impeachment rested their case Wednesday after a woman who was expected to testify about an extramarital affair with the attorney general made a sudden appearance at the trial, but never took the stand.
The affair is central to the historic proceedings in the Texas Senate and accusations that Paxton misused his power to help 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 the stand Wednesday morning 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 was "deemed unavailable to testify," providing no further explanation but saying both sides had agreed to it.
After the prosecution rested Wednesday, Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee moved to end the trial on the grounds of insufficient evidence, only to withdraw the request without a vote.
Paxton, who was suspended from office pending the trial's outcome, is not required to attend the proceedings and has not appeared since testimony began last week. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, is required to attend but is not allowed to vote.
Paxton has said he'll travel to Maine next week to talk with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. On Thursday, he touted Trump's support in an online appeal for donations that included photos of him with the former president.
"I need your help today to finish this week strong," Paxton wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.
Like Trump, Paxton is facing an array of legal troubles and the accompanying lawyers' fees. He remains under federal investigation for the same allegations that gave rise to his impeachment and faces a bar disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 election. Also, he has yet to stand trial on state securities fraud charges dating to 2015. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case, but his lawyers have said removal from office might open the door to him making a plea agreement.
Paxton's impeachment trial has focused on the testimony of his former staff, including a group of senior deputies who reported the attorney general to the FBI in 2020, accusing him of breaking the law to help Paul. The prosecutors spent considerable time establishing the group's conservative credentials.
"I witnessed Attorney General Ken Paxton do brazen things on behalf of Nate Paul," James Blake Brickman testified Wednesday, after explaining he came to work for Texas' top lawyer after years serving a Republican governor and a U.S. senator from Kentucky.
The people Paxton needs to ultimately convince are Republican senators serving as the jury. A two-thirds majority -- or 21 senators -- is required for conviction, meaning that if all 12 Democrats vote against Paxton, at least nine Republicans would have to join them.
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