Thursday News: The usual suspects

REPUBLICANS BRING HOFELLER BACK TO HELP DESIGN NEW MAPS: Republican leaders have tapped a familiar consultant to help with the drawing of new districts for electing General Assembly members after maps he drew six years ago were found by the federal courts to include illegal racial gerrymanders. Tom Hofeller, a seasoned GOP mapmaker and a chief architect of the 2011 N.C. maps, is working with legislative leaders again on how to create new districts that will pass muster. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and House redistricting leader, informed a group of legislators on Wednesday of Hofeller’s return to a process that could determine how the state is divided into political districts for the rest of the decade. Hofeller was profiled in The Atlantic magazine in 2012 in an article titled “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.”

JUSTIN BURR ADMITS TO BEING STEALTHY ABOUT JUDICIAL DISTRICT MAPS: Burr, who surprised the state's judiciary in the last week of session by proposing a complete redraw of judicial maps, said he's traveling the state, talking to judges and district attorneys about the plan. He said this outreach is "in the early stages," and his maps haven't changed from what he initially proposed. Democrats pushed back hard against Burr's proposal during session, saying he was attempting to rig the judiciary by drawing lines that would help elect Republican judges. The legislature, controlled by a GOP majority, recently voted to make judicial elections partisan affairs. Asked why he didn't loop judges and prosecutors into his process early on, instead of surprising them with already drawn maps, Burr said it's because they would have fought him. With a map in hand, the debate is about tweaking the map, not about blocking change outright, he said. "I've seen this play before," said Burr, who has pushed, sometimes successfully, for smaller judicial redraws in the past. "It's no longer, 'How do we kill this?'"

SPINDALE'S WORD OF FAITH CHURCH FINALLY COMING UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION: Ten former members of the Word of Faith Fellowship church say they have been contacted by U.S. federal and state authorities investigating allegations of abuse, forced labor and visa fraud after a series of Associated Press stories about the North Carolina-based evangelical sect, which has branches in Brazil and Ghana and affiliations in other countries. In Brazil, the federal police told AP the justice department has asked for a 2012 inquiry to be reopened into complaints that Word of Faith Fellowship’s two churches in the country were illegally sending minors to the United States. The country’s foreign ministry said it was contacting the U.S. consulates in Brazil and U.S. law enforcement agencies for more information, and added that its embassy in Washington, D.C., was trying to reach Brazilians who came to the U.S. via the church.

TRUMP'S BAN ON TRANSGENDER MEN AND WOMEN IN THE MILITARY SURPRISES PENTAGON OFFICIALS: The Pentagon was blindsided by President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that his administration would block transgender people from the U.S. military, and the Defense Department has no idea yet how it will affect troops already serving. The president’s declaration on Twitter, saying transgender people would not be allowed to serve “in any capacity,” came a year after the Defense Department under former president Barack Obama lifted its ban on transgender troops serving openly. On Wednesday, neither the Pentagon nor the White House could answer how the Trump administration intends to carry out such a ban — announced while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was on vacation — or what it means for the thousands of transgender people already serving in the military.

IN EFFORT TO HELP TRUMP DISTRACT FROM HIS OWN TROUBLES, HOUSE COMMITTEE WILL INVESTIGATE CLINTON'S E-MAILS (AGAIN): House Judiciary Committee Republicans Wednesday heeded President Donald Trump’s relentless calls for more investigations into Hillary Clinton, agreeing to seek documents relating to the FBI probe of her private email server. "If it's in the public interest to investigate the Trump administration, it is most certainly in the public interest to investigate the real crimes by the real criminals," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a committee member. Trump has been prodding Attorney General Jeff Sessions via Twitter to revive an inquiry into the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who lost the election to Trump. Clinton’s use of the private email server as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was investigated for months by the FBI.