Texas Senate acquits Ken Paxton in historic impeachment trial

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The Texas Senate has acquitted the state’s Republican attorney general of bribery and corruption charges at a historic impeachment trial.

The outcome on Saturday allows for the reinstatement of Ken Paxton more than three months after he was suspended from office when fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to remove him over allegations of abuse of power.

Paxton, an ally of former United States President Donald Trump, hailed the Senate verdict as a triumph for truth.

“Today, the truth prevailed. The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors,” he said in a statement.

Trump, too, welcomed the outcome, congratulating Paxton “on a great and historic Texas sized victory”.

Paxton, who has won a national profile as a thorn in the side of the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, including by filing dozens of lawsuits to block implementation of national policies, faced 16 articles of impeachment.

The trial, which opened on September 5, saw a string of former top aides testify at length about what they called Paxton’s corrupt practices, including 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.

Two-thirds of Texas’s 31 senators – or, 21 senators – had to vote to convict him on any single article. But no single article of impeachment saw more than 14 senators vote to find Paxton guilty.

The firebrand politician’s wife, Angela Paxton, is also a state senator, but was not allowed a vote in the proceedings.

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.

In May, the Texas House voted 121-23 to remove Paxton on 20 articles, making him the third sitting politician in the state’s 178-year history to be impeached.

The trial was triggered by Paxton’s request earlier this year that House lawmakers approve a $3.3m settlement he had reached with former staff members who had accused him of abuse of office in 2020 and were subsequently fired.

State lawmakers did not fund the settlement.

After closing Saturday’s impeachment proceedings, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who as president of the Senate presided over the trial, criticised the entire process as a rush job that lacked transparency.

“Millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said. “It should have never happened this year, and hopefully it doesn’t again.”

Paxton’s critics slammed the outcome.

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 … are fine by them.”

Shortly after the verdict, Republican Governor Greg Abbott welcomed Paxton back to work without reservations.

“Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration,” Abbott said. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.”

The verdict far from ends Paxton’s troubles, however.

He still faces trial on felony securities fraud charges, remains under a separate investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and is in jeopardy of losing his ability to practise law in Texas because of his baseless attempts to overturn Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.