By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – The Republican-dominated Texas Senate sitting as an impeachment jury acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on corruption charges on Saturday, allowing the conservative firebrand to keep his state office.
Paxton, a Republican, has been dogged by corruption allegations since first taking office in 2014. A two-thirds vote was required to convict and expel him as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Paxton, a Republican and ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump, has been dogged by corruption allegations since first taking office in 2014. He’s said he is innocent and that the impeachment trial is a political witchhunt.
Paxton faced 16 articles of impeachment in the Senate trial. Two-thirds of Texas’ 31 senators – or, 21 senators – had to vote to convict him on any single article.
Paxton was accused by several former top aides of corruption and abuse of power, mostly in relation to official actions allegedly carried out to protect a wealthy political donor who was under a federal investigation and to cover up an extramarital affair.
The trial exposed rifts in the Texas Republican Party between the social conservatives, who have held sway for the past decade and back Paxton, and the 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.
Paxton, who faces a separate state securities fraud trial and is also under investigation by the FBI, has been dogged by corruption allegations since his first election in 2014. Still, he easily defeated traditional conservative candidate George P. Bush in a primary then Democrat Rochelle Garza in his re-election bid in November.
Paxton’s impeachment trial opened on Sept. 5 and saw a string 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 home renovations.
Tony Buzbee, the main defense lawyer for Paxton, sought to paint 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 barred from voting in the trial. The last impeachment trial of a statewide officeholder in Texas was in 1917.
Paxton’s impeachment was triggered by his request that House lawmakers approve a $3.3 million settlement he reached with former staff members 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 121-23 to impeach Paxton on 20 articles including the allegations around Paul, conducting a sham investigation against the whistleblowers in his office and covering up wrongdoing in a separate federal securities fraud case, among other offenses.
The Senate’s rules committee set aside four charges involving Paxton’s private business dealings that House charges called obstruction of justice and false statements in official records.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Edited by Donna Bryson, Mark Porter and Diane Craft)
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