By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) -The Texas Senate on Saturday acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton of all 16 articles of impeachment he faced before that body, allowing the conservative firebrand to keep his state office.
Paxton, a Republican, has been dogged by corruption allegations since taking office in 2014. He still faces a state lawsuit for securities fraud and is being investigated by the FBI.
But Paxton was proven right on Saturday by easily winning an acquittal on the various corruption charges contained in the articles of impeachment, which the Texas House approved by a wide margin in May.
Paxton, an ally of former US President Donald Trump, repeatedly insisted that he was innocent and that the impeachment trial is a political witch hunt.
“Today the truth triumphed. The truth could not be buried by mud-slinging politicians or their powerful benefactors,” Paxton said in a statement.
Paxton strengthened his position in right-wing circles when he asked the Supreme Court in December 2020 to throw out the results of four states that voted for Joe Biden in the November election. The court dismissed the case.
In a statement, Trump offered “congratulations to Attorney General Ken Paxton on a major and historic VICTORY of Texas proportions.”
After the conclusion of the impeachment proceedings, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who presided over the trial as chairman of the Senate, criticized the entire process as a rush job without transparency.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said.
“Our founders expected better. It should never have happened this year, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a written statement that “the jury has spoken” and that Paxton “has done an excellent job representing Texas, especially in pushing back against the Biden administration.”
Senator Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who voted to convict Paxton, said that “a broken and corrupt system allowed Ken Paxton to abuse the powers of his office” and that “Texas Republicans decided that the corruption and lies of people like Ken Paxton … they’re doing well.”
Paxton faced sixteen articles of impeachment. Two-thirds of Texas’ 31 senators – or 21 senators – had to vote to convict him on a single article. In no single article of impeachment did more than fourteen senators vote to find Paxton guilty.
Paxton was accused of corruption and abuse of power by several former top aides, mostly in connection with official actions allegedly taken to protect a wealthy political donor who was under federal investigation and to cover up an extramarital affair.
The trial exposed divisions within the Republican Party of Texas between social conservatives, who have held sway and supported Paxton for the past decade, and traditional conservatives, who say his actions have brought shame on the party and the state . Paxton was overwhelmingly impeached by the Republican-dominated Texas House in May.
The trial began on September 5 and saw a series of former top aides testify at length about what they called his corrupt practices, including making legal maneuvers and using the power of his office to protect Nate Paul, a wealthy political donor and real estate developer . , as he faced federal investigations.
In return, Paul allegedly helped facilitate an extramarital affair for Paxton and paid for the renovation of his home.
Tony Buzbee, Paxton’s lead attorney, tried to portray the whistleblowers who testified as centrists with a political ax to grind.
The Texas Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a Republican senator but was not allowed to vote during the trial. The last impeachment trial of a statewide officeholder in Texas took place in 1917.
Paxton’s impeachment was prompted by his request that House lawmakers approve a $3.3 million settlement he made with former staffers who accused him of abuse of office and were subsequently fired. State lawmakers did not fund the settlement.
In May, the Texas House, also dominated by Republicans, voted 121 to 23 to impeach Paxton on twenty articles.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colo. and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Donna Bryson, Mark Porter, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)