FRED ESHELMAN SUES TO RECOVER $2.5 MILLION DONATED TO TRUMP "VOTE FRAUD" EFFORT: North Carolina investor Fred Eshelman donated $2.5 million to Houston-based True the Vote to help the organization challenge election results in seven battleground states, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in a Texas federal court. The organization said it needed over $7.3 million for its Validate the Vote 2020 project. Eshelman, a donor to President Donald Trump and former pharmaceutical executive, created the Eshelman Institute for Innovation at the University of North Carolina’s School of Pharmacy, which also is named for him. Eshelman wants True the Vote to return his donation so the funds can be used in other efforts to challenge the results of the election.
GREASE MONKEY GREG LINDBERG MAY BE ANGLING FOR A TRUMP PARDON: Greg Lindberg was once North Carolina's largest political donor, but he was convicted earlier this year of trying to bribe the state's insurance commissioner. He began serving that sentence last month in an Alabama prison camp. The New York Times mentioned Lindberg in a story earlier this week that lays out some of the pardon and clemency options before President Donald Trump in the last two months of his presidency. Trump pardoned his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, the day before Thanksgiving. The newspaper said Alan Dershowitz, a well known attorney who represented the president during his impeachment, was exploring pardons on behalf of two clients, including Lindberg. WRAL News reached out via email Friday to two of Lindberg's spokespeople, as well as to two of his attorneys. "Neither Greg Lindberg nor his legal team will be commenting on the report in the New York Times about Mr. Dershowitz and a possible pardon," one of the spokespeople replied. The New York Times reported that Dershowitz said he had not approached Trump about Lindberg's case, but that Lindberg is a client and he is advising him on whether to seek a pardon or clemency.
ALAMANCE SHERIFF AGREES CONFEDERATE STATUE SHOULD BE REMOVED IN CLOSED MEETING WITH PASTORS: In a recent closed-door meeting, Alamance County religious leaders say Sheriff Terry Johnson gave a straightforward disavowal of white supremacy and agreed that the Confederate monument in front of Graham’s historic courthouse should be moved. “If this is true, why aren’t you saying this in public?” Rev. Randy Orwig remembers asking Johnson at the Nov. 5 meeting attended by more than a dozen clergy. “Of course, there was no response,” said Orwig, the senior pastor at Elon Community Church United Church of Christ said. “It was laughed off in side conversations.” His comments to clergy are a sign that within the small town of Graham, the seat of the conservative Alamance County, political calculations are shifting. The sheriff, once accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of some of the country’s worst racial profiling, is once again in the national spotlight and under siege by lawsuits alleging he has violated people’s fundamental rights. Although the cloud of pepper spray on Oct. 31 marked the only widespread use of chemical weapons in Graham in recent memory, social justice organizers in the community are familiar with displays of force. “He’s just got a long pattern of criminalizing any kind of First Amendment freedom of expression that’s critical of him or any of his policies,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, an organizer with Siembra NC, a group that advocates for the rights of Latino people.
TRUMP IS POSITIONING FOR A MAJOR PURGE AT OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: The budget office sent a list this week of roles identified by its politically appointed leaders to the federal personnel agency for final sign-off. The list comprises 88 percent of its workforce — 425 analysts and other experts who would shift into a new job classification called Schedule F. The employees would then be vulnerable to dismissal before Trump leaves office if they are considered poor performers or have resisted executing the president’s priorities, effectively turning them into political appointees that come and go with each administration. The Office of Personnel Management is also rushing to shuffle many of its own roughly 3,500 employees into the new category, a senior administration official said. Other agencies are pulling together lists of policy roles, too — but the budget and personnel offices volunteered to be test cases for the controversial policy, this official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations. By fast-tracking a process that gave agencies until Jan. 19 to identify affected jobs, the administration appears to be signaling its intent to leave as big an imprint as possible on a workforce it has long mistrusted. Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to block the effort. The White House budget office acts as the nerve center of the government, an elite career workforce that prepares and helps administer the annual spending plan and helps set fiscal and personnel policy for federal agencies. Its analysts are generally mission-driven, and they provide vast institutional memory and expertise for a president, regardless of party. With little guidance from the administration, alarmed employees, their allies in Congress and experts in the civil service are wondering how far Trump can go in the 54 days he has left in office.
TRUMP GETS SPANKED (HARD) IN COURT OVER PENNSYLVANIA ELECTION CHALLENGE: In a blistering decision, a Philadelphia appeals court ruled on Friday that the Trump campaign could not stop — or attempt to reverse — the certification of the voting results in Pennsylvania, reprimanding the president’s team by noting that “calling an election unfair does not make it so.” The 21-page ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was a complete repudiation of Mr. Trump’s legal effort to halt Pennsylvania’s certification process and was written by a judge that he himself appointed to the bench. “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote on behalf of the appeals court in a unanimous decision. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” Many courts have used scathing language in tossing out a relentless barrage of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and its supporters since Election Day; but even so, the Third Circuit’s ruling was particularly blunt. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the president,” the court declared at one point. “Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.” Last week, a federal judge in Atlanta appointed by Mr. Trump denied an emergency request to halt the certification of Georgia’s vote, saying that such a move “would breed confusion and disenfranchisement that I find have no basis in fact and law.” Then there was the judge whose ruling was upheld by the Third Circuit, Matthew W. Brann of Federal District Court in Williamsport, Pa. When Judge Brann, a former Republican official and member of the conservative Federalist Society appointed by former President Barack Obama, dealt Mr. Trump’s team an initial legal defeat last Saturday, he likened the suit to “Frankenstein’s monster,” saying it had been “haphazardly stitched together.” He also noted that the suit was filled with “strained legal arguments” and “speculative accusations” that were “unsupported by evidence.”