Jeff Sessions Senate: Former attorney general to challenge Doug Jones for Alabama Senate seat

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Jeff Sessions launching campaign for Senate

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is poised to run for his longtime Senate seat in Alabama, multiple Republicans familiar with Sessions' plans confirmed to CBS News. Sessions would be challenging Senator Doug Jones, who is considered the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate.

Sessions resigned from the seat, which he held since 1997, at the start of the Trump administration. Wednesday will mark the two-year anniversary of Sessions' resignation. Mr. Trump forced out Sessions in anger over Sessions' recusal from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Hill first reported Sessions' anticipated bid. Sessions will appear on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight," according to a source.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney, is the the only Democrat to hold statewide office in deep-red Alabama, a state Mr. Trump won by 28 points in 2016. His election followed an unusual series of events for the office, including the Republican primary victory of Roy Moore, a divisive figure in Alabama politics who was later accused of pursing teenage girls while he was in his 30s.

Jeff Sessions Senate: Former attorney general to challenge Doug Jones for Alabama Senate seat
Jeff Sessions seen November 1, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Getty

As attorney general, Sessions was a strong backer of the Trump administration's immigration crackdown and defended the travel ban during several court challenges. At college appearances earlier this year in Massachusetts and Minnesota, protesters greeted Sessions.

Sessions, who was consistently ranked as one of the most conservative senators, has a long history in Washington. In  1986, President Reagan nominated Sessions to be a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. He was not confirmed, with the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 against recommending Sessions to the whole Senate.

Four lawyers who worked with Sessions said during that hearing he had made racist comments, including calling the NAACP "un-American." He apologized for once joking that he thought the Klu Klux Klan was "OK until they found out I smoked pot."

During his time in the Senate, he served on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

An early backer of Mr. Trump and later a campaign adviser, Sessions' appointment as attorney general was confirmed by razor-thin margin of 52-47 in the Senate, almost entirely along party lines. But Sessions did not disclose his contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign when asked at his confirmation hearing about contacts between the campaign and the Russian government.

As a result, he recused himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election. Later, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel, Robert Mueller, to lead the investigation.

Mr. Trump was never happy that Sessions recused himself and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed a special counsel, saying it would be "the end" of his presidency. "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f**ked," Mr. Trump told Sessions during an Oval Office meeting at the time, according to the Mueller report.

When Sessions resigned from his Senate seat in 2017, former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley appointed Luther Strange, who was state attorney general at the time, to the seat. Bentley, who was on the brink of impeachment, resigned shortly after appointing Strange, who was investigating him. Bentley pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in exchange for not being prosecuted on ethics and campaign finance charges. Strange has denied any wrongdoing.

In an August primary against Moore and Congressman Mo Brooks, who Mr. Trump had backed, Strange failed to garner the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. Mr. Trump came out heavily in favor of Strange in the September runoff primary, but Moore won the primary.

Moore previously served as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, but was removed twice — once for defying a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. Then, after he was elected again, a judicial discipline panel permanently suspended Moore in 2016, ruling that he urged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the federal courts.

Between the primary and the special election in December, Moore denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, calling the initial story from The Washington Post — later confirmed by CBS News — a "completely false and a desperate political attack."

The Republican party at first backed away from Moore but he remained defiant and denied the allegations. Eventually the RNC conceded and threw their support behind him. Mr. Trump even recorded a robocall and tweeted on the day of the election "Vote Roy Moore!"

The allegations were enough to drive Democratic turnout toward Jones, costing Republicans what had been considered one of their safest seats in the Senate. The Senate Leadership Fund said in a statement June 20 that they were confident Alabama Republicans would "realize that nominating" Moore would be akin to "gift-wrapping" the Senate seat for the Democrats, according to AL.com.

Kathryn Watson contributed reporting.