Monday News: Damaged goods


GOP LEGISLATION REQUIRING PRIMARY AN EFFORT TO BOOT HARRIS: Legislation quickly passed by North Carolina's lawmakers this week would prepare a path for Republicans to dump their nominee in a still-undecided U.S. House race marred with ballot fraud allegations. "I think (legislators are) worried that Mark Harris might be damaged goods and they want to have the opportunity to have a different Republican nominee," said Carter Wrenn, a Republican operative and consultant to former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and others for more than 40 years. "That's how I read those tea leaves." If the state elections board decides ballot irregularities or other problems cast the true outcome into doubt and force a redo, the legislation — if allowed to go into law by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — would require new primary elections in the 9th Congressional District race, in addition to a new general election.

DEMOCRATS ARGUE REQUIRING ANOTHER PRIMARY COULD BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL: Democrats and a former N.C. Supreme Court Justice believe that changing the law, at this point, could be unconstitutional. “Now that the (primary) election has been certified — over and done — it raises constitutional questions whether it is an ex post facto law,” former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a Republican, told The News & Observer. North Carolina’s three Democratic representatives in the U.S. House made the same argument. “For the legislature to preempt that in any way is unacceptable. This is designed to give a partisan advantage,” Rep. David Price, of Chapel Hill, told The News & Observer on Thursday at the Capitol. Said Price, Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, and Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte issued a joint statement: “The Republican super majority in the General Assembly must understand that changing the law after the election, to require a new primary, is likely unconstitutional. This newly enacted legislation discredits North Carolina once again in the eyes of the Nation.”

NC JURIES ARE STEADILY REJECTING DEATH PENALTIES: There were only three capital trials in North Carolina this year - one each in Lee, Scotland and Wake counties. All three juries chose life without parole for the defendants instead of death sentences. Gretchen Engel, executive director at the Raleigh-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, has represented clients on death row and said more jurors are becoming educated about bias in the legal system. "Jurors are turning away from the death penalty and, in response to less favorable jury pools, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty less,” Engel said. “And so, this trend away from the death penalty is really being led by citizens who've been summoned for jury duty." Engel said now, there's greater public awareness about factors like race, geography and economic status that play a role in determining a person's guilt or innocence. North Carolina also has been home to a number of high-profile wrongful convictions in the past decade. In light of these factors, death-penalty opponents ask why some prosecutors continue to seek it. In Wake County, juries have declined to issue death sentences in nine consecutive capital cases.

LIKELIHOOD OF GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN GROWS OVER BORDER WALL FUNDING: Pushing the government to the brink of a partial shutdown, the White House is insisting that Congress provide $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border despite lawmaker resistance from both parties. Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will shut down at midnight Friday. "We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration," White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said Sunday. Asked if that meant having a government shutdown, he said: "If it comes to it, absolutely." About one-quarter of the government would be affected, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks. "He is not going to get the wall in any form," Schumer said.

RUSSIAN PROPAGANDISTS TARGETED AFRICAN-AMERICANS HEAVILY IN 2016: “The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” the report says. Using Gmail accounts with American-sounding names, the Russians recruited and sometimes paid unwitting American activists of all races to stage rallies and spread content, but there was a disproportionate pursuit of African-Americans, it concludes. The report says that while “other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens.” In some cases, Facebook ads were targeted at users who had shown interest in particular topics, including black history, the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X. The most popular of the Russian Instagram accounts was @blackstagram, with 303,663 followers.