By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley will appoint Attorney General Luther Strange as Alabama’s next US Senator.
Strange’s appointment comes after the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as the next US Attorney General last night. Sessions, who served as a Senator for more than two decades, delivered his resignation to Bentley late last night.
“This is truly a remarkable time in our state’s history,” Bentley said Thursday morning. “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.”
Strange, who has served as Alabama attorney general since 2011, has long been suspected as the favorite, but Bentley confirmed the appointment this morning. Bentley and Strange were both elected in 2010 and have served together, sometimes at odds, since then. They were both reelected in 2014.
“I am greatly honored and humbled to accept the appointment to Alabama’s Senate seat vacated by Senator Jeff Sessions,” Strange said. “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, who is 63, will serve as a temporary US Senator, but has announced his intentions to run in a special election for the seat set to take place in 2018. Bentley announced the plans for the special election last month.
Strange will join US Richard Shelby in Washington. Shelby said Thursday that he was happy Bentley took the appointment “seriously” and said he was ready to get to work with Strange.
“Luther Strange is known for his unwavering commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law, which will continue to be critical in this new role,” Shelby said. “I have always known Luther to have the best interest of the state of Alabama in the forefront of his mind, and I look forward to partnering with him to fight for conservative principles in the Senate.”
With a new US senator now appointed, that will leave a vacancy at the head of the Attorney General’s Office, and Bentley will get to appoint that replacement as well, who may be responsible for overseeing an investigation into him.
Strange has neither confirmed nor denied any investigation by his office into Bentley over his alleged affair with Rebekah Mason, but House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones thought last fall that there was a “criminal investigation” into Bentley when they delayed House impeachment proceeding at Strange’s request.
Strange told them at the time that his office was conducting necessary “related work” that could have overlapped with the House’s impeachment investigation.
Some, including State Auditor Jim Ziegler, have accused Strange of obstructing justice by halting the House investigation. Others have suggested that Bentley chose Strange so that he could appoint an attorney general that would halt the investigation into him — if there is one.
Last month, Jones told reporters that his committee would not continue an impeachment probe into the Governor until Strange gave them the all clear. He never did.
“Whenever the Attorney General has reached a point that we are able to resume, we will resume,” Jones said at the time. “I’ve always said, and I will continue to say, we are going to finish what we started. I’m just not able to say when it will be.”
Prior to the suspension, the Committee had conducted preliminary hearings, established procedures and had even issued subpoenas to Bentley, Mason and others close to them, but with little success.
Bentley will hold an official announcement this morning at 9 a.m. Check back for more updates.