By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) -The Texas Senate on Saturday acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on 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 trial on securities fraud and is under investigation by the FBI.
But Paxton was vindicated on Saturday by easily winning acquittal on the various allegations of corruption contained in the articles of impeachment, which the Texas House passed by a wide margin in May.
Paxton, an ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump, repeatedly insisted that he was innocent and that the impeachment trial is a political witchhunt.
"Today, the truth prevailed. The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors," Paxton said in a statement.
Paxton boosted his standing in right-wing circles when, in December 2020, he asked the Supreme Court to throw out results from four states that had cast their votes for Joe Biden in the November election. The court tossed out the case.
In a statement, Trump offered "congratulations to Attorney General Ken Paxton on a great and historic Texas sized VICTORY."
After closing the impeachment proceedings, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who as president of the Senate presided over the trial, criticized the entire process as a rush job that lacked transparency.
"Millions of taxpayers dollars have been wasted on this impeachment," Patrick said.
"Our founders expected better. It should have never happened this year, and hopefully it doesn't again."
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a written statement that "the jury has spoken" and that Paxton "has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially 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 ... are fine by them."
Paxton faced 16 articles of impeachment. Two-thirds of Texas' 31 senators - or, 21 senators - had to vote to convict him on any single article. No single article of impeachment saw more than 14 senators vote to find Paxton guilty.
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.
The 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.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Edited by Donna Bryson, Mark Porter, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)