By Brad Brooks and Maria Caspani
LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) -The Texas House on Saturday voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, a conservative firebrand and ally of former President Donald Trump who has been accused by his fellow Republicans of abuse of office.
In historic proceedings, the 149-member House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton after hours of debate during which the chamber heard speeches from supporters and opponents of impeachment. Two members were present but not voting while three were absent.
Paxton will now be temporarily removed from office pending a trial in the Senate, where his wife, Angela Paxton, is a senator. The Texas Senate is in recess until 1 p.m. CDT (1800 GMT) on Sunday, according to its website.
Paxton has denied the accusations and denounced the proceedings as "illegal, unethical, and profoundly unjust" in a statement on Twitter after Saturday's vote.
"I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just," he said.
In a message on his social media channel Truth Social ahead of the vote, Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2024, vowed to "fight" Texas House Republicans if Paxton were to be impeached.
The 20 articles of impeachment presented by a Republican-led House committee accuse Paxton of improperly aiding a wealthy political donor, conducting a sham investigation against whistleblowers in his office whom he fired, and covering up his wrongdoing in a separate federal securities fraud case against him, among other offenses.
Paxton's impeachment proceedings laid bare the rift among Texas Republicans. Some spoke passionately in support of impeaching the state's top law enforcement official.
"Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures," Representative David Spiller said ahead of the vote.
Others vehemently opposed it. John Smithee, a long-serving conservative member of the chamber, said he was not speaking in Paxton's defense but criticized the process and said there was insufficient evidence.
"There is not word, not one sentence in the testimony before you that would be admissible in any Texas court of law," Smithee said. "It is hearsay within hearsay within hearsay."
Paxton has staked out a position on the far right on divisive cultural issues. He has sued the Biden administration nearly 50 times attempting to halt what has he labeled as "unlawful tyrannical policies" on issues including immigration, gun rights and business regulation.
The five-member Texas House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend that Paxton be impeached and removed from office.
Paxton easily won re-election last year after fending off a Republican primary challenge from George P. Bush, a scion of two former presidents.
The committee has heard testimony from its investigators about several years of alleged abuse of office by Paxton, including that he provided friend and donor Nate Paul, a Texas real estate developer, with FBI files related to the bureau's investigation into Paul.
The impeachment articles also allege Paxton engaged in bribery when Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Tom Hogue, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)