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Former Texas elections chief appointed as interim attorney general

John Scott, former Texas secretary of state, will lead the attorney general’s office during Ken Paxton's suspension and upcoming impeachment trial.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Following the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday appointed the state's former elections boss to act as interim attorney general.

In a statement, the Republican governor said that John Scott has the background and experience to lead the attorney general’s office in the short term. Scott, a Fort Worth attorney, served as Texas secretary of state as recently as last year and worked under Abbott during his time as attorney general.

“Scott was the deputy attorney general for civil litigation and has handled cases at all levels of the justice system," said Abbott. “His decades of experience and expertise in litigation will help guide him while serving as the state’s top law enforcement officer.”

Scott enters the role of interim attorney general just days after the Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to impeach Paxton over allegations of criminal acts, including abuse of office, accepting bribes and retaliating against employees.

By taking on the role of interim attorney general, Scott wades into an office shaken up by political turmoil. However, the appointee is not without some controversy of his own. 

In 2021, when Abbott appointed Scott to take on the role of secretary of state, critics decried the decision due to Scott’s involvement in former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Scott briefly represented Trump in a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania challenging the integrity of the election results.

On Wednesday, Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa voiced concern over Scott’s appointment, saying in a statement it is troubling that Abbott would “install an election-denier” as the state’s top cop.

“We hope and expect that Interim Attorney General Scott will leave his dark, anti-democratic values behind him as he begins in his new role,” said Hinojosa.

Scott will also be inheriting a long catalog of active lawsuits the state of Texas has filed against the federal government and the Biden administration. Since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, Paxton has filed over 20 lawsuits challenging the administration's approach to abortion policy, immigration and labor.

Scott will serve as attorney general until the Texas Senate decides Paxton's fate. For Paxton to be permanently removed from office, the Senate must hold a trial and two-thirds of senators must vote in favor of his removal from office. Further complicating the trial is Paxton’s wife, Angela, who has served as a state senator since 2019.

The trial is set to begin no later than Aug. 28

Paxton, a Republican who was reelected to a third term as attorney general last November, has argued his suspension from office is politically motivated and illegal. He has taken direct aim at Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a fellow Republican from Beaumont, claiming that under his direction, Democrats and liberal Republicans sought to remove him from office.

“Texas voters now know that Speaker Phelan and the corrupt politicians he controls are more focused on political retribution against conservatives than the welfare of the people,” said Paxton in a statement posted to Twitter.

Earlier this year, Paxton reached a $3.3 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by a group of whistleblowers who claimed he retaliated against them after they reported him to the FBI for accepting bribes and using his office to benefit a friend and campaign donor who was also under investigation. Turning to the Legislature, Paxton asked lawmakers to fund the settlement with public tax dollars through the state's budget, which sparked an investigation into the allegations from the House Committee on General Investigating.

The committee, which is comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans, filed 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton and made their case that Paxton used his position to benefit himself and those around him.

Only two people have been impeached and removed from office in Texas history. In 1917, Governor James Ferguson was impeached after he cut funding for the University of Texas when the institution refused to fire political opponents of his. Then, 58 years later, Duval County District Judge O.P. Carrillo was impeached for failing to pay federal income tax and using county employees and equipment for his personal gain.

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