BURR & TILLIS VOTE TO BLOCK WITNESSES IN TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: North Carolina’s U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voted with the majority of their Republican colleagues to block the Senate from calling witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Friday evening, clearing the way for a final vote on acquittal. The vote was 51-49 with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah joining 47 Democrats and independents in wanting additional witnesses and documents beyond what was provided by the House of Representatives. The final vote will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. after closing arguments on Monday and speeches from senators on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. “The hearsay that John Bolton or anybody else may bring to this is irrelevant because even if the president said this, it does not raise to the level of removal from office, which is a sacred thing because the American people have duly elected him,” Burr said.
JUDGE REJECTS GREG LINDBERG'S INCREDULOUS ARGUMENT FOR DISMISSAL: U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn shot down a string of arguments attorneys hoped would end the trial before it started, a common legal move that is much less commonly successful. Cogburn said one of the arguments from North Carolina financier Greg Lindberg "strains credulity," and he swatted away others in a 16-page order. The trial against Lindberg, John Gray and John Palermo, all accused of conspiring to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey to ease up on Lindberg's insurance companies, is slated begin Feb. 18 in Charlotte. Lindberg essentially argued that, even if he did offer Causey $2 million in campaign contributions to pull a troublesome regulator off Lindberg's companies, that's not enough to prove bribery under federal law. Some of the money for the alleged bribery scheme flowed through the North Carolina Republican Party, and former party Chairman Robin Hayes has already pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents. He may be called to testify during the bribery trial.
CONFEDERATE LAWYER SAYS $74,999 WAS LIKE A "PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT": Minutes after the lawsuit was filed, Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour signed a consent order settling the lawsuit, giving the SCV control of Silent Sam and establishing a $2.5 million trust UNC-Chapel Hill would fund that the SCV could use to build a facility to house the statue. But six days before the lawsuit and the settlement, UNC Interim President Dr. Bill Roper and Kevin Stone, the SCV state president, signed a deal giving the group an extra $74,999. That side deal was purportedly to keep the SCV from displaying Confederate flags or other banners on any of the UNC system's 17 campuses for five years. But $75,000 also happened to be the amount the SCV needed to secure ownership of Silent Sam from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to Boyd Sturges, a Louisburg attorney who represent the SCV. By agreeing that UNC would pay a dollar less than the $75,000, the two sides skirted a review of the deal by the state Attorney General's Office, which looks at all agreements involving state agencies of at least $75,000.
POMPEO VISITS UKRAINE AS U.S. SENATORS PUT ON KABUKI THEATRE: Pompeo met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy just hours before the Senate was to cast crucial votes that could lead to an abrupt end and acquittal in Trump’s trial. Democrats accuse Trump of withholding American security aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference. Several witnesses at House impeachment hearings testified about the link, but Pompeo, a loyal Trump ally, denied the allegations. “It’s just simply not the case. We will find the right time, we will find the appropriate opportunity” for a visit by Zelenskiy, Pompeo said at a press conference after meeting with the Ukrainian leader. Pompeo had not been expected to announce a White House visit while in Ukraine. Pompeo is the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine since the impeachment process began last year. That process started with revelations about a July 25 phone call between Zelenskiy and Trump. Ukraine is eager for good relations with Trump as it depends heavily on U.S. support to defend itself from Russian-backed separatists. Although the military assistance was put on hold, it was eventually released after a whistleblower complaint brought the July 25 call to light. The Trump administration has also supplied Ukraine with lethal defense equipment, including Javelin anti-tank weapons.
TRUMP ADDS SIX MORE NATIONS TO BIGOTED IMMIGRATION BAN: President Trump added six countries to his administration’s travel ban Friday — including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country — in a widely anticipated expansion that Democrats blasted as “clearly discriminatory” against people from predominantly black and Muslim nations. Citing national security concerns, officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department said Trump’s proclamation would bar most citizens of Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan from coming to work and live in the United States. Two nations, Tanzania and Sudan, would be banned from applying for the visa lottery, which issues up to 50,000 visas a year worldwide to countries with historically low migration to the United States. The new ban takes effect Feb. 22; travelers who have received visas or are in transit at that time will not be affected. Travelers who have not received visas will be subject to the ban but will be automatically considered for waivers. House Democrats attacked the expansion hours before the Trump administration unveiled it, calling the ban “xenophobic” and “reckless” and saying there is no evidence of national security threats that would warrant such restrictions.