Alabama AG named to Jeff Sessions' former Senate seat

Sen. Jeff Sessions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama's governor on Thursday named state Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate seat left empty by Jeff Sessions.

Strange will replace Sessions, whose selection as U.S. attorney general by President Donald Trump was confirmed Wednesday. Strange, a 63-year-old lawyer and former Washington lobbyist, has been the state's attorney general since 2011.

In Strange, Bentley chose a well-connected Republican who last year announced intentions to run for the coveted Senate seat regardless of whether he got the interim appointment. His selection caps two months of jockeying and political guessing games over who would get the nod from Gov. Robert Bentley.

"Alabama has surely been well represented by Senator Sessions, and I am confident Senator Strange will serve as a fine representative for our people. His leadership on a national level, service as a statewide elected official and long record of taking on tough federal issues are the very qualities that will make him a strong conservative Senator for Alabama," Bentley said in a statement.

Strange will serve until an election is held to fill the seat for the remainder of Sessions' term, which ends in January of 2020. Bentley has said that election will be held in the general election in 2018.

Strange said he was "greatly honored and humbled to accept the appointment."

"Senator Sessions' commitment to public service is nearly unparalleled in Alabama history and his departure from the Senate leaves tremendous shoes to fill. I pledge to the people of Alabama to continue the same level of leadership as Jeff Sessions in consistently fighting to protect and advance the conservative values we all care about," Strange said in a statement.

In elevating Strange to the U.S. Senate, Bentley also will have the authority to appoint a state attorney general to fulfill the remainder of Strange's term.

The appointment comes two months after Strange asked an Alabama House committee to pause an impeachment probe of Bentley, who was accused last year of having an affair with a onetime top political adviser. Strange said at the time that his office was doing "related work" though he never publicly elaborated on what it involved or when the work would be completed.

Bentley has acknowledged making personal mistakes, but denied doing anything legally wrong.

The lawmaker who spearheaded the legislative impeachment, state Rep. Ed Henry, said the appointment of Strange "looks bad."

"I think Strange looks bad. I think the public perception of that -- the appearance of Luther getting it just reeks of conspiracy and collusion. I don't know if there is, but the appearance is horrible," Henry, a Republican from north Alabama, said Wednesday, a day ahead of the announcement.

Henry said he recently apologized to Bentley, not for pushing the impeachment, but for taking pleasure in his personal and legal troubles.

As attorney general, Strange served as coordinating counsel for Gulf Coast states in litigation over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Under Strange's direction, Alabama also was one of 25 states that challenged then President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And even though he was recused from the investigation, Strange's office also angered some influential Republicans over a 2016 prosecution of the state's Republican House speaker at the time.

Strange is a graduate of Tulane University, where he played basketball on scholarship, and of Tulane Law school. At 6 foot 9, he is sometimes referred to as "Big Luther" because of his size.

Bentley interviewed 20 candidates for the Senate appointment before choosing from among six finalists.

Bentley and Strange will hold a news conference Thursday morning.