Texas’ Republican-led House of Representatives impeached state attorney general Ken Paxton on Saturday on articles including bribery and abuse of public trust, a historic rebuke of a GOP official who rose to be a star of the conservative legal movement despite years of scandal and alleged crimes.
Impeachment triggers Paxton’s immediate suspension from office pending the outcome of a trial in the state Senate and empowers Republican governor Greg Abbott to appoint someone else as Texas’ top lawyer in the interim.
The 121-23 vote constitutes an abrupt downfall for one of the Republican party’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the US supreme court to overturn president Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of Donald Trump. It makes Paxton only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to have been impeached.
Paxton, 60, decried the move moments after many members of his own party voted to impeach, and his office pointed to internal reports that found no wrongdoing.
“The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just,” Paxton said. “It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning,”
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial. His fellow Republicans had long taken a muted stance on the allegations, but that changed this week.
“No one person should be above the law, least not the top law enforcement officer of the state of Texas,” David Spiller, a Republican member of the committee that investigated Paxton, said in opening statements. Another Republican committee member Charlie Geren said without elaborating that Paxton had called some lawmakers before the vote and threatened them with political “consequences”.
Lawmakers allied with Paxton tried to discredit the investigation by noting that hired investigators, not panel members, interviewed witnesses. They also said several of the investigators had voted in Democratic primaries, tainting the impeachment, and that they had too little time to review evidence.
“I perceive it could be political weaponization,” Tony Tinderholt, one of the House’s most conservative members, said before the vote.
Paxton is automatically suspended from office pending the Senate trial. Final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
Representatives of the governor, who lauded Paxton while swearing him in for a third term in January, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on a temporary replacement.
Before the vote on Saturday, Trump and senator Ted Cruz came to Paxton’s defense, with Cruz calling the impeachment process “a travesty” and saying the attorney general’s legal troubles should be left to the courts.
“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, warning that if House Republicans proceeded with impeachment, “I will fight you.”
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