Alabama attorney general named to Jeff Sessions' Senate seat

(Reuters) - Alabama’s state attorney general will fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions after his confirmation as attorney general of the United States, Governor Robert Bentley said on Thursday.

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Luther Strange, also a Republican, will hold the Senate seat until a special election in 2018, the governor’s office said in a statement.

Sessions, 70, served two decades as a senator for Alabama before being confirmed on Wednesday as President Donald Trump’s attorney general. A Senate divided by concerns over his record on civil rights voted 52-47, largely along party lines.

Strange, a 63-year-old former basketball player at Tulane University nicknamed “Big Luther” for his size, had announced his plans to run for the seat after Trump nominated Sessions.

“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 following his appointment.

Alabama voters first elected Strange as attorney general in 2010. Bentley on Thursday highlighted Strange’s role in negotiating the landmark settlement agreement with BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to local media, Alabama lawmakers said Strange asked them last year to suspend their impeachment investigation of Bentley over allegations he had an affair with a former political adviser and used state resources to pursue it.

The Republican governor has denied the affair and any wrongdoing. Lawmakers said Strange was conducting a related probe, but the attorney general’s office has not said whether it was investigating the governor, according to the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office did not have an immediate comment on the reports.

The governor’s office said Bentley conducted more than 20 hours of interviews with candidates before tapping Strange for the Senate seat.

Bentley said Strange would be sworn in on Thursday.

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown