MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s governor on Thursday named state Attorney General Luther Strange, a well-connected Republican and former Washington lobbyist, to the U.S. Senate seat left empty by Jeff Sessions.
Strange will join the Senate after Sessions’ selection as U.S. attorney general by President Donald Trump was confirmed Wednesday. The 63-year-old lawyer has been the state’s attorney general since 2011. His selection caps two months of jockeying and political guessing games over who would get the nod from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
The appointment comes two months after Strange asked the Alabama House Judiciary Committee to pause an impeachment probe of Bentley, who was accused last year of having an affair with a onetime top political adviser.
Bentley has acknowledged making personal mistakes, but denied doing anything legally wrong.
Strange, sometimes referred to as “Big Luther” because of his 6-foot-9 frame, announced last year his intentions to run for the coveted Senate seat regardless of whether he got the interim appointment.
“It is the honor of my life,” Strange said in a news conference in which Bentley signed the official appointment letter. “I’m very excited about this opportunity to head to Washington in this historic time in our nation’s history.”
Strange, who chaired the Republican Attorney Generals Association, said he and others had spent the last years fighting “federal overreach.”
“We’ve been what’s called the last line of defense against unbridled federal government. Now, we have a chance to go on the offense. Jeff Sessions as attorney general is the first step in the process,” Strange said.
Bentley and Strange will fly to Washington, D.C., to deliver the appointment letter so Strange can be sworn in Thursday afternoon.
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 seat will be filled as part of the general election in 2018.
Bentley said Strange stood out as the clear choice, noting that Strange is well-known in Washington and already had proven he could win a statewide election.
“He is going to do a fantastic job for this state,” Bentley said Thursday. “Luther and I both agree that the federal government should not intrude on states’ rights,” Bentley said.
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 lawmaker who spearheaded the legislative impeachment effort against Strange, state Rep. Ed Henry, said his appointment to the Senate seat “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.
On Thursday, Strange defended his decision to pause the impeachment investigation, saying a Nov. 3 letter to the Alabama House committee was sent “before there was even a presidential election.” It was Trump’s victory that led to the Senate vacancy.
At the time he sent the letter, Strange said his office was doing “related work” though he never publicly elaborated on what it involved or when the work would be completed. The letter raised questions about what role Strange’s office had in the investigation.
“We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor,” Strange said Thursday.
He said he trusted his chief deputy Alice Martin, who will take over as acting attorney general until Bentley names a replacement, will handle the matter appropriately.
Strange is a graduate of Tulane University, where he played basketball on scholarship, and of Tulane Law school.
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.
Bentley interviewed 20 candidates for the Senate appointment before choosing from among six finalists.