MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — When scandal-plagued former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley decided to appoint his state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, to the U.S. Senate, Bentley appeared to have considered that he would also get to appoint a new attorney general, according to his notes, obtained by The Associated Press.
Strange’s appointment to fill Sen. Jeff Sessions’ seat came as Bentley faced an impeachment investigation by state lawmakers for the fallout of an alleged affair with a staffer, a scandal that eventually led to Bentley’s resignation. Strange had asked lawmakers to pause their investigation so his office could do “related work.”
As Strange seeks election to a full Senate term, he has been criticized for accepting the Senate appointment from a governor overshadowed by scandal.
“We will get to the truth about Luther Strange’s appointment deal with Governor Bentley while he was under investigation by the Attorney General’s office,” said Strange’s challenger in the Republican primary runoff, former chief justice Roy Moore.
Bentley gave Strange high rankings in every category, including that one, noting he would get to appoint the next attorney general. Bentley appointed Strange to the Senate in February and resigned two months later after pleading guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations.
“It was really more about what I was going to have to do if I chose them,” Bentley said. “What I was trying to do on the decision had to do with who was going to be the best senator.”
Strange has said he and Bentley did not discuss the investigation, and called criticism of the appointment unmerited. He said he opened the investigation that eventually led to Bentley resigning and taking a plea deal.
“If I had thought he would appoint some crony or friend (as attorney general) I certainly wouldn’t have taken it. … The only bad result would have been if someone came in and tried to interfere with the investigation, which they didn’t,” Strange told AP this summer.
The handwritten notes dated Jan. 6, 2017, are titled “Deliberation and consideration of the 20 candidates.” Along with categories like federal knowledge and delegation relations, Bentley listed the “trickle-down effect.” ”Have to appoint AG” Bentley wrote in a summary of Strange’s interview and gave Strange the best ranking in that category.
Bentley wrote that Strange was the only candidate who had announced he was running for the Senate and had “equal knowledge to any congressman.” He also wrote that “McConnell & Session are OK,” a presumed reference to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Sen. Jeff Sessions who was now the nation’s attorney general.
Bentley wrote that Strange told him, “I can do more for you (the state agenda) as senator than I can as AG.”
The handwritten notes are subject to political interpretation. They could show a case for Strange’s nomination. They also show that getting to appoint a new attorney general was one of the items under consideration by the embattled governor.
The status of the attorney general’s investigation against Bentley at the time of Strange’s interview was unclear. Complaints had been filed against Bentley at the state Alabama Ethics Commission. Strange in November asked an impeachment committee to pause while his office did “related work.”
Strange told The Associated Press he had opened an investigation into the “dueling allegations” between Bentley and his law enforcement secretary, Spencer Collier. Bentley accused Collier of monetary malfeasance, while Collier claimed he was forced out of his job because he knew of the governor’s relationship with a staffer.
Strange’s office cleared Collier of wrongdoing.
After elevating Strange, Bentley appointed Steve Marshall as attorney general. Marshall immediately recused himself from anything involving Bentley and named a retired district attorney to take over the matter. Bentley resigned and took a misdemeanor plea deal in April as lawmakers opened impeachment hearings.
Strange campaign spokesman Cameron Foster said, “As Luther Strange has said repeatedly, he was the best pick for the job, and the only candidate who had declared that he was running for the Senate seat no matter who was appointed.”
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