Friday News: Corruption, Inc.


DAVID LEWIS TAKES PLEA DEAL IN CAMPAIGN FINANCE SCHEME: One of the most powerful Republicans in the state legislature was charged with federal financial crimes Thursday, in what prosecutors say was a scheme to take money from his political donors for personal use. Harnett County Rep. David Lewis has been a state lawmaker since 2003 and for the last several years has been chairman of the influential House Rules Committee. Thursday afternoon, he suddenly announced he was resigning from the state legislature, effective immediately. He reported that his campaign was sending money to the North Carolina Republican Party but in reality, the court document says, he was writing checks to a bank account he controlled. He put the account in the name of a company — which federal prosecutors say never existed — that he called “NC GOP, Inc.” to disguise what was going on.

JUDGE RULES EXPRESS VOTE MACHINES CAN BE USED FOR ELECTION: Certain touch-screen ballot-marking machines will remain in use in North Carolina this fall, a judge ruled in a case in which voters questioned the equipment's accuracy and health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state NAACP join the four voters who demanded in April that the ExpressVote machines — already used in roughly 20 of the state's 100 counties since last year— be barred from future elections. They wanted hand-marked paper ballots used instead. But Wake County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Holt rejected their request, saying no tabulation errors have been reported since the machines were first used last fall. There's also no evidence their use will increase the likelihood of the virus's spread, especially with cleaning guidelines issued by the State Board of Elections, Holt wrote. “Issuance of a preliminary injunction would create considerable risk that (the counties) would be unable to perform their duties, as well as cause confusion about the particulars of how voting would take place,” Holt wrote. The judge also pointed out that the plaintiffs did not challenge in court the machines until eight months after the state board certified their use.

NC STATE MOVES TO ALL ONLINE CLASSES AFTER 95 STUDENTS GET CORONAVIRUS: North Carolina State University announced on Thursday it will move all undergraduate classes online starting on Monday. The announcement comes just one day after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill halted physical instruction on its campus. Several coronavirus outbreaks have occurred since classes began at both campuses on Aug. 10. "The majority of NC State's course hours are already online, but the remaining in-person and hybrid classes will move to online-only instruction for the remainder of the fall semester," said an email to students from Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State. As of Wednesday, 95 N.C. State students and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes began, according to the universit y's dashboard of coronavirus cases. UNC 's website reported 130 positive cases during the first week of classes, up sharply from 10 cases during the Aug. 3-9 move-in week. The University of North Carolina System has said that decisions on whether to shift to remote classes will be made by individual campuses with the necessary approval.

TRUMP BLOCKS FDA FROM REGULATING TESTS FOR DISEASES, INCLUDING CORONAVIRUS: The Trump administration this week blocked the Food and Drug Administration from regulating a broad swath of laboratory tests, including for the coronavirus, in a move strongly opposed by the agency. The new policy stunned many health experts and laboratories because of its timing, several months into a pandemic. Some public health experts warned the shift could result in unreliable coronavirus tests on the market, potentially worsening the testing crisis that has dogged the United States if more people get erroneous results. They argued the change is unlikely to solve current testing problems, which at this point are largely due to shortages of supplies such as swabs and chemical reagents. But supporters cheered the change as long overdue, saying it could help get new and more innovative tests to market more quickly. They said that the FDA review process sharply slowed testing at the beginning of the pandemic and that the new policy could ensure such bottlenecks don’t recur. The episode is the latest in which health agencies have been undercut by political overseers. On Wednesday, for example, President Trump blamed the FDA for not yet authorizing the emergency use of convalescent plasma, a promising but unproven treatment. “You have lot of people over there that don’t want to rush things. They want to do it after November 3rd,” he said in a White House press briefing. Some FDA backers inside and outside government worry the policy change may be a way to blame the agency for the February testing debacle that set the United States behind and allowed the virus to spread undetected for weeks.

BANNON ARREST CAPS MONTHS-LONG INVESTIGATION INTO "WE BUILD THE WALL" GRIFT: With the indictment, Mr. Bannon became the seventh Trump associate to have been charged with federal crimes, a list that includes Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager; Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer. The 24-page indictment, unsealed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, is by far the most politically sensitive case that Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan, has handled since she assumed her job after her predecessor, Geoffrey S. Berman, was fired in June by Mr. Trump. Mr. Kolfage, who lost both his legs and one of his arms during his service in Iraq, created We Build the Wall as a GoFundMe page in December 2018. It was an immediate success, raising nearly $17 million in its first week online, prosecutors said. To persuade potential donors to contribute to the effort, prosecutors said, Mr. Kolfage promised them that he would “not take a penny in salary or compensation” and that all of the money he raised would be used “in the execution of our mission and purpose.” According to the indictment, Mr. Bannon described We Build the Wall as a “volunteer organization.” But all of that was false, prosecutors said. Instead, they claimed, Mr. Kolfage secretly took more than $350,000 in donations and spent it on home renovations, boat payments, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry and cosmetic surgery. Mr. Bannon, working through an unnamed nonprofit organization, received more than $1 million from We Build the Wall, prosecutors said, some of which he used to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.



Spectrum is acting up

Not sure if it was the heavy rain last night or what, but today's news brief may be delayed for a while.

*edit: I am unreasonably proud of myself for doing what most of you would do automatically (again, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed). Triggered my IPhone to generate a wifi hotspot, and then jumped on it with my laptop. Which is a good deal, since my dang Spectrum is still out.