AUSTIN, Texas — A former aide to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fought back tears Thursday in the state Senate as he testified about his ex-boss in an impeachment trial that took an emotional turn on its third day.
Ryan Vassar is the third former colleague to testify in Paxton’s impeachment proceedings, which began Tuesday morning and have so far centered on the testimony of whistleblower ex-staffers. In 2020, Vassar joined with his colleagues to report Paxton to the FBI for suspected corruption after they became convinced that Paxton was abusing his office to benefit a political donor, Nate Paul.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeached Paxton in May, overwhelmingly voting to approve 20 articles of impeachment alleging bribery, abuse of public trust and more. He now faces a trial in the Senate over whether to remove him and bar him from office.
The tearful testimony came when Vassar, 39, was asked about how Paxton had called the staffers who had reported him “rogue employees.”
“It was hurtful,” Vassar said, just before tears began to stream down his face. “I worked for the state for eight years as a public servant, as one who values the commitment to public service. To set an example for my kids. It’s contrary — the statement of being rogue — it’s contrary to the years that I dedicated my life to the state.”
Vassar testified at length that Paxton “wanted us to find a way to help Nate Paul” by breaking with a routine policy to withhold law enforcement records from being released through an open records request. Vassar said he told Paxton that such a reversal was problematic and that it could damage law enforcement efforts.
He also testified about being asked to reverse a legal opinion about foreclosures for Paxton, which surprised him so much that he laughed when he was initially directed to change his legal conclusion.
Ryan Bangert, another former senior aide in Paxton’s office, testified at length Wednesday about Paxton's determination to reverse that opinion, which reportedly helped stop foreclosures on one of Paul's properties.
Bangert testified that he chose to sign his name to the opinion — instead of letting Vassar sign it — for fear there could be fallout.
“I went to the FBI because I believed, based on my experience of the previous nine months, that the attorney general had abandoned his obligation to work on behalf of the interests of the people of Texas to serve the interest of one person, Nate Paul,” Bangert said.
He said the month following the report was “unsettling” as he waited to be fired.
“I had believed in Ken Paxton and what he had been doing for years. I had moved my family here to Austin specifically to go to work for him, and I watched all of these things that we had done as a leadership team slowly begin to unravel,” Bangert said. “And it was absolutely heartbreaking to see that happen to an office that had been, in my view, a beacon for the conservative legal movement for years.”