Auditor sues Bentley over Senate appointment

Vice President Mike Pence stands with newly-sworn Alabama Republican Sen. Luther Strange, left, who replaces outgoing Sen. Jeff Sessions, during a ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. The 63-year-old Strange, sometimes called 'Big Luther' because of his height, will serve until an election is held to fill the seat for the remainder of Sessions' term, when ends in January of 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s state auditor has filed suit against Gov. Robert Bentley over his appointment of Luther Strange to the Senate seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with Zeigler claiming there was a “corrupt bargain” between the two.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed the suit Sunday in Montgomery County, claiming Bentley is wrong to wait until 2018 to hold an election for the position. The suit said state law requires an earlier special election.

“They think they’ve gotten away with it; they haven’t,” Zeigler said in an interview. “This is a corrupt bargain.”

Bentley’s office has said the appointment is legal and called the suit “meritless.”

“The governor set the election in the way state and federal law requires,” wrote David Byrne, Chief Legal Advisor to the governor, in a statement. “Auditor Zeigler has filed this wasteful lawsuit without even proposing an election date he believes to be legal or feasible.”

Strange, the former Alabama attorney general, is to serve in the Senate for the rest of Sessions’ term, which ends in January 2020. Bentley has said that the seat will be filled as part of the 2018 general election.

The appointment has been a target for critics because Strange, as attorney general, asked a House committee to pause an impeachment investigation against the governor before Bentley appointed him to the seat.

Strange said his office was pursuing “related work” but has never clarified what that meant. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the appointment.

The Alabama House Judiciary Committee began the investigation last year after Bentley’s former law enforcement secretary accused Bentley of having an affair with a married staffer and interfering in law enforcement business. The governor acknowledged that he made personal mistakes but denied committing any impeachable offenses.

The House committee is set to discuss the investigation Tuesday. Chairman Mike Jones has said he expects the probe to resume and for members to make an impeachment recommendation to the House before the legislative session ends in May.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has set up a subcommittee to draft trial procedures should the House vote to impeach the governor.

President Donald Trump’s victory led to the Senate vacancy when Sessions was confirmed as U.S attorney general.

Zeigler is a frequent critic of Bentley and has previously filed several unsuccessful lawsuits against him.

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