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How Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Would Impact Alabama Politics


An open Senate seat in Alabama may provoke questions about a sex scandal involving the governor there. Here's the situation. You may have seen Senator Jeff Sessions answering pointed questions from his Senate colleagues this past week during confirmation hearings for attorney general. Sessions is President-elect Trump's choice for the post. And if he's confirmed, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley will appoint a new senator to fill his seat. Business as usual, right? Well, not so fast.

To talk more about this, we're joined by John Sharp. He is in Mobile, Ala., and he's a reporter for AL.com. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN SHARP: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So fill us in, for those of us who may not know, the situation with Governor Bentley. He's been under a lot of scrutiny for the last year due to some, let's say, salacious allegations. What's the story?

SHARP: Yeah. The allegations surfaced about 10 months ago. And essentially, what had happened is that a recording of him making some less-than-noble comments toward his top campaign adviser came out and some salacious sayings involved. And it generated quite a scandal here in Alabama that has continued on to this day, even though some of the interest and intrigue in this particular scandal has died off a little bit as the months have worn on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the problem became actually political and legal. In 2016, the state legislature was trying to impeach Governor Bentley after this scandal, right?

SHARP: Oh, yes. Yes. You know, there was enough lawmakers, state lawmakers, signed on to pursue with the impeachment process, and therefore a committee was established to look into the possibility of impeaching the governor. But as of November 3, that process was suspended. And that's kind of where we're at right now.

There's a little dispute going on in the legislature whether or not they can continue on with these proceedings or if the Alabama attorney general's office is going to look into it further, whether or not they're going to investigate. We're at kind of a standstill in the process.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm glad you mentioned that. Attorney General Luther Strange - what's his role in this?

SHARP: Well, right now, it could potentially be a very intriguing situation because the Alabama attorney general is interested in Jeff Sessions' seat. And Governor Robert Bentley has that authority to pick who will be the replacement for Jeff Sessions if Jeff Sessions is confirmed, as we all think he will be. But Luther Strange - his name has popped up as a possible and probably a likely replacement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let me get this straight. Attorney General Luther Strange, tasked with investigating criminal activity of the governor, is now angling for possibly the vacant Senate seat, which the subject of his investigation appoints, the governor. Is there any evidence that they're colluding, that there's - that he's decided to possibly mothball this investigation in order to get this Senate appointment?

SHARP: Well, there's no evidence of an actual collusion going on. You know, the governor himself has admitted to interviewing 20 different people for Jeff Sessions' seat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do people in Alabama feel about having their governor, who I imagine a lot of folks want to see impeached, picking their new senator?

SHARP: Well, I think there are some mixed views on that. Right now, the governor has indicated he has a choice to call a special election before 2018 to give the public the ability to vote on the new senator. But he has chosen, as of about two weeks ago, that he is going to forego the election process in order to save the state money. And there are some mixed views about that right now.

You know, the governor's pick will be in office for about 18 months. People will know him more and give that person the opportunity to do some things in that Senate seat that probably would not have been able to do if that he or she had to run for election in 2017.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Sharp is a reporter for AL.com following all the things going on down there in Mobile, Ala. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHARP: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.