AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday picked as the state's new elections chief an attorney who briefly joined former President Donald Trump's legal team last year as it challenged the 2020 election results.
John Scott is also a former state litigator who defended Texas' strict voter ID law, which was eventually upheld after a federal judge found it was designed to intentionally discriminate against minorities.
His appointment as secretary of state troubled voting rights groups near the end of an already highly charged year in Texas over elections, and at a moment when Trump and GOP activists are pressuring Abbott to perform a full audit of the 2020 election results — even though Trump won the state by 300,000 votes.
“In what world does it make sense to appoint someone who took an active role to discredit the will of voters?" said Stephanie Gomez, associate director of Common Cause Texas.
Scott, who has served in other roles for Abbott over the past decade, did not immediately return a phone message Thursday.
Shortly after President Joe Biden's victory last November, Scott filed notice in federal court that he was joining the Trump campaign's legal team as it challenged the outcome in Pennsylvania. Biden beat Trump in the state by more than 80,000 votes, according to certified results.
Scott withdrew from the case after just three days, along with fellow Texas attorney Bryan Hughes, a Republican state senator. Hughes was the main author behind a sweeping a new elections law in Texas that imposes new voter restrictions and led to Democrats walking out of the state Capitol in protest.
Abbott made no mention of Scott's brief stint with Trump's legal team in announcing the appointment.
“John understands the importance of protecting the integrity of our elections and building the Texas brand on an international stage,” Abbott said in a statement.
Because Abbott waited to reveal his pick until after the Legislature was no longer in session — lawmakers went home Tuesday — Scott can take the job without immediately submitting to a confirmation process that derailed one of the Abbott's former elections chiefs in 2019. State Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic leader in the Texas House, said the timing denies Texans “the fair and transparent process they deserve.”
Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, has not given in to Trump's demands for a full audit. In September, hours after Trump first prodded Abbott, the Texas secretary of state's office said it would audit four large counties — three of which were won by Democrats — but those efforts include standard post-election reviews.
Still, Abbott said Scott's experience “will enhance his oversight and leadership over the biggest and most thorough election audit in the country.”
Republicans have also sought election reviews in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all battlegrounds lost by Trump. In practically every case, the reviews were launched under pressure from Trump and his allies to carry out an investigation into ballots, voting machines and voter rolls for evidence of fraud to legitimize claims that have universally been debunked.