Gov. Abbott appoints new interim attorney general as Paxton awaits trial

Angela Colmenero, Abbott’s former chief of staff, is the first woman to serve as attorney general in Texas.

By Glorie G. Martinez and Laura RiceJuly 12, 2023 4:22 pm,

Attorney general Ken Paxton’s impeachment vote this May marked the first impeachment of a Texas statewide official in over 100 years. In the wake of the impeachment, Texans may also have witnessed one of the briefest terms of an acting attorney general in Texas history.

John Scott, the attorney appointed by Gov. Abbott as interim AG during Paxton’s suspension, has stepped down after a little more than a month in office. Scott’s replacement is interim attorney general Angela Colmenero, who makes Texas history as the first woman to serve in the role of the state’s top law enforcement official.

Lauren McGaughy, an investigative reporter at the Dallas Morning News, joined the Standard for a deep dive on challenges to suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us about Angela Colmenero, the new temporary attorney general. How temporary? What is the arrangement there?

Angela Colmenero. Image from LinkedIn.

Lauren McGaughy: Well, it’s a little unclear. It was a bit of a surprise that John Scott, the first interim attorney general, stepped down as quickly as he did.

Now that we have a second one, I suspect that she’ll probably serve in the role through Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, which kicks off Sept. 5, because she works in the governor’s office. So, the governor has a little bit more flexibility there to help determine her schedule. 

She has most recently been Gov. Abbott’s chief of staff, is that right? What was her background before that? 

Before that, she was a longtime fixture in his general counsel. One of his top lawyers, basically. Prior to that, she worked alongside him when he was attorney general. In fact, she had an interesting position in the AG’s office years ago. She was the head of the General Litigation Division, which is a huge important division in the AG’s office. 

The current head of general litigation is actually taking a leave of absence to defend Ken Paxton. So, interesting people in those roles are kind of taking different stances on this issue right now. 

You have Paxton and then his impeachment and immediate suspension. Then, you have John Scott. Then, about a month into that role, you have Colmenero. From the outside, this looks pretty chaotic. What does that tell you, given Paxton’s ongoing impeachment? Should we read anything into Scott’s resignation? 

Well, I can’t say for sure. But it is important to note that John Scott, although he has been an Abbott appointee in the past, served as secretary of state before taking on the interim AG role. He was in the private sector, he was lobbying and consulting, and he made it very clear that he didn’t want to be in the position of interim AG for that long. He wanted to focus on his private sector career, and that’s what he’s returning to. 

So, being able to install someone like Colmenero – who works in the governor’s office and is already working inside the government – should provide more stability through the trial and maybe the chaos will die down a little bit. 

There were concerns among many about Scott’s role after the election of 2020, if I’m not mistaken. 

No, you’re remembering correctly.

John Scott had a limited but notable role in challenging the 2020 election results. So, when he was tapped by Abbott to take on the position of secretary of state, which is the chief elections administrator in the state, there was concern there that he was coming from this role or that he’s questioning the integrity of elections. 

But John Scott has been a longtime fixer for Abbott. He has tended to install him in positions where he needs some short term stability. 

What happens next? Does Colmenero now stay in this position of attorney general or interim attorney general? And what happens if Paxton is indeed found guilty by the Senate? 

All of this is pretty new territory for us here in Texas. There hasn’t been an impeachment of a statewide official in more than 100 years.

In terms of how it works logistically, Paxton will sit in front of the Senate. He’ll go on trial beginning Sept. 5, or no earlier than that. The senators will determine whether to remove him from that role of attorney general. 

If they want to determine whether he should ever be able to run for office again, that will be a separate vote. If they do that, that could block him from turning around and running again for attorney general if he’s removed, or running for some other role.

So, some of this is still up in the air. It’s a lot of unknowns. Right now, the interim AG is Angela Colmenero. I believe she’s the first woman to hold that position, as well.

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