Lawmakers in the Texas House voted on Saturday to impeach Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney general, temporarily removing him from office over charges that he had used his elected position to benefit himself and a campaign donor.
After a four-hour proceeding before a packed gallery, the vote landed with titanic force in the Texas Capitol, where a statewide office holder had not been impeached in more than a century, since the Legislature voted to oust the sitting governor, James E. Ferguson, in 1917, for embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
Before the vote, Representative Andrew Murr, the Republican chair of the House investigating committee that recommended impeachment, closed by urging his colleagues to impeach. “The evidence presented to you is compelling and is more than sufficient to justify going to trial,” he said, adding: “Send this to trial.”
The final vote was 121 members in favor of impeachment — a bipartisan coalition that included nearly every Democrat and a majority of the chamber’s Republicans — and 23 against, with two abstaining. As they voted, the board in the front of the chamber lit up in green lights signaling support. It went well beyond the 75 necessary.
“It was a hard one, a hard one, really hard,” Representative Jeff Leach, a Dallas-area Republican who voted in favor of impeachment, said after the vote.
According to Texas law, Gov. Greg Abbott may appoint an interim attorney general, pending the Senate trial, but he is not required to. A spokesman for his office did not respond to a request for comment on what he intended to do.
With the impeachment vote, Mr. Paxton was immediately removed from office, pending the Senate trial. No date had been set for that to begin.
The Senate trial will be presided over by the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, an arch conservative aligned with many of Mr. Paxton’s supporters. Mr. Patrick has maintained a neutral posture in public comments this week. A two-thirds vote is necessary to convict in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 19-to-12 advantage.
The speed with which events proceeded left legislators, Texas officials and other political observers stunned and grasping: Just a few days ago, almost no one in the Capitol had been even aware that such a significant investigation of Mr. Paxton was underway, much less that an impeachment vote could be the result.
His fellow Republicans, who introduced the 20 articles of impeachment, presented Mr. Paxton as a rogue public official who could not be trusted in the office he occupied. They did so in reference to Mr. Paxton’s actions, which they said in many cases amounted to crimes, and contrasted them with the integrity of those who stood up to him, many of them conservative Republicans.
“Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures,” said David Spiller, a Republican member of the investigating committee, speaking to the House on Saturday. “As a body we should not be complicit” in that behavior, he said. “Texas is better than that.”
Mr. Paxton released a statement immediately after the vote, calling the process “illegal, unethical and profoundly unjust.”
“I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just,” Mr. Paxton wrote. He has many allies in the more conservative Senate, including his wife, Angela, and personal friends.
The articles of impeachment charged Mr. Paxton with abusing his office in a range of ways, including taking what amounted to bribes, disregarding his official duty, obstructing justice in a separate securities fraud case pending against him, making false statements on official documents and abusing the public trust.
Many of the articles focused on Mr. Paxton’s purported use of his office to benefit a particular donor, Nate Paul, a real estate investor in Austin who has given $25,000 in political contributions to Mr. Paxton. Those included using the office to intervene in a legal dispute that Mr. Paul was having with a nonprofit, and hiring a lawyer on contract to work for the attorney general’s office, at Mr. Paul’s request and over the objections of senior staff members at the attorney general’s office, in order to look into a federal inquiry of Mr. Paul.
Mr. Paul also provided other benefits to Mr. Paxton, the articles of impeachment said, including giving a job to a woman described during the impeachment proceedings as Mr. Paxton’s “mistress,” and providing expensive home renovations, including countertops valued at around $20,000.
Mr. Paxton, 60, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been a strong supporter of conservative legal causes and one of the chief antagonists of the Biden administration on a range of issues, including the Affordable Care Act and immigration on the southern border. Mr. Paxton also challenged the results of the 2020 election in court, a losing fight that won him the support of former President Donald J. Trump.
He was elected to a third term last year even after the alleged offenses were prominently raised during the campaign, including by Republicans who ran against him in the primary election. He has accused the more moderate Republican leadership of the House of acting in concert with Democrats to oust him.
Scores of supporters of Mr. Paxton packed the House gallery — urged to be there by a public appeal from Mr. Paxton the night before — and watched the proceedings mostly in silence. There were no outbursts or any efforts to disrupt the vote.
What surprised many observers in the Texas Capitol was not the nature of the allegations lodged against Mr. Paxton, but that they had finally caught up with him. Much of the wrongdoing presented publicly to a House investigating committee this week by its investigators had been known.
The allegations of corruption and abuse of office were described in 2020 by several of his top aides, who requested an investigation of Mr. Paxton. The aides who spoke up either resigned or were forced out or fired. Four of them filed a lawsuit over their firing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also opened an investigation and, in February, the Justice Department said that the inquiry had been taken over by investigators in Washington.
What changed this year was that Mr. Paxton sought state money to try to put the most serious matter behind him, asking for $3.3 million in state funds for a settlement that he had reached with the four aides. The Texas House responded by initiating an investigation of the request and the underlying accusations. Their findings that Mr. Paxton’s actions had been improper and possibly illegal provided the first official condemnation of his behavior.
Many of the most prominent national voices in the Republican Party, including Mr. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, came to Mr. Paxton’s defense, arguing that the impeachment was motivated by politics and served the interests of Democrats.
“For the last nine years, Ken has been the strongest conservative AG in the country,” Mr. Cruz wrote on Saturday. “I understand that people are concerned about Ken’s legal challenges. But the courts should sort them out.”
Mr. Trump explicitly threatened Texas Republicans who backed Mr. Paxton’s impeachment and, less than an hour before it started, urged them not to go forward with it. “I will fight you if it does,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Free Ken Paxton!”
Mr. Paxton himself was said to have been making similar threats, calling members directly in a last-ditch attempt to avoid impeachment and “personally threatening them with political consequences in their next election,” according to Representative Charlie Geren, a Republican member of the investigating committee.
During the proceedings, Mr. Paxton’s Republican supporters did not defend his actions but raised questions of fairness and due process. Several complained that they had not been given enough time or information to reach a decision, or that they were being asked to rely on “hearsay” in the form of testimony to the investigating committee rather than being able to examine evidence against Mr. Paxton on their own.
The committee itself did not consider evidence directly. Instead it relied on testimony from its investigators, who had collected documents and interviewed employees of the attorney general’s office and others as part of their investigation, which began in March.
“I’m opposed to this resolution, not because I’m convinced of the attorney general’s innocence,” said one of the principal opponents, Brian Harrison, a Republican member of the House’s ultraconservative Freedom Caucus. But, he said, the process did not “adequately document his guilt” and he called it “a sham railroading of a political enemy.”
Another Republican opponent, John Smithee, tried to offer an alternative for Republicans who might be on the fence: Vote no on Saturday, and come back for a “one-day hearing” where evidence could be fully presented and Mr. Paxton would have a chance to defend himself.
“If I’m ever going to be a part of any impeachment proceeding that actually results in the impeachment of an officer, I don’t want to look like a Saturday mob out for an afternoon lynching,” said Mr. Smithee, After he completed his remarks, a large portion of the public gallery erupted in applause.
Democrats had largely remained quiet as the Republicans debated among themselves, appearing to want to avoid making the impeachment a partisan issue.
“You keep hearing, ‘Why now?’” said Representative Terry Canales, a Democrat whose father, when he was a state representative, presented articles of impeachment against a district judge in 1975, the last time such a vote was taken. “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” Mr. Canales said, pounding the lectern at the front of the House chamber.
Outside the Capitol, a small number of opponents and supporters of Mr. Paxton protested and occasionally confronted one another. “What he’s doing is the right thing, and the speaker is doing the wrong thing,” said a 76-year-old retired information systems manager from Austin, who declined to give his name.
Ilan Levin, 54, an associate director at an Austin nonprofit, stood beside his bicycle arguing with Mr. Paxton’s supporters. He held a cardboard sign that said, “IMPEACH!!!” But he said he did not think the impeachment vote would have a big impact.
“A lot of Texans will forget about it by the next election cycle,” he said.
J. David Goodman and James Dobbins reported from Austin, Texas, and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. David Montgomery in Austin and Anushka Patil in New York contributed reporting.