By Brad Brooks and Maria Caspani
LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) – The Texas House voted on Saturday to remove Attorney General Ken Paxton, a conservative firebrand and ally of former President Donald Trump who has been accused by fellow Republicans of abuse of power.
In historic proceedings, the 149-member House voted 121 to 23 to impeach Paxton after hours of debate in which the chamber heard speeches from impeachment supporters and opponents. Two members were present but did not vote while three were absent.
Paxton will now be temporarily removed from office pending a trial in the Senate, where his wife, Angela Paxton, is a senator. The Texas Senate is in recess until 1:00 p.m. CDT (6:00 p.m. GMT) on Sunday, according to its website.
Paxton denied the charges and denounced the proceedings as “illegal, unethical and deeply unjust” in a statement on Twitter after Saturday’s vote.
“I look forward to a speedy resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence that the process will be fair and just,” he said.
In a post on his Truth Social social media channel ahead of the vote, Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2024, vowed to “fight” Texas House Republicans if Paxton were to be impeached.
The 20 articles of impeachment introduced by a Republican-led House committee accuse Paxton of improperly aiding a wealthy political donor, conducting a bogus investigation of whistleblowers in his office he fired and covering up his wrongdoing in a separate federal securities fraud case against him. , among other offences.
Paxton’s impeachment proceedings have laid bare the divide between Republicans in Texas. Some have spoken out passionately in favor of the removal of the state’s top law enforcement official.
“Attorney General Paxton has continuously and egregiously violated laws, rules, policies and procedures,” Rep. David Spiller said ahead of the vote.
Others vehemently opposed it. John Smithee, a longtime Conservative member of the chamber, said he was not speaking in Paxton’s defense but criticized the process and said there was not enough evidence.
“There is not a word, not a single sentence in the testimony before you that would be admissible in any court in Texas,” Smithee said. “It’s hearsay within hearsay within hearsay.”
Paxton has taken a far-right stance on divisive cultural issues. He has sued the Biden administration nearly 50 times in an attempt to end what he called “unlawful tyrannical policies” on issues including immigration, gun rights and business regulation.
The five-member Texas House General Investigative Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that Paxton be impeached and removed from office.
Paxton was easily re-elected last year after fending off a Republican primary challenge from George P. Bush, a descendant of two former presidents.
The committee heard testimony from its investigators about several years of alleged abuse of power by Paxton, including that he provided his friend and donor Nate Paul, a Texas real estate developer, with FBI records related to the office’s investigation of Paul.
The articles of indictment also allege that Paxton engaged in bribes when Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Tom Hogue, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)