Thursday News: And so it begins...


ABSENTEE BALLOTS ARE IN THE MAIL FOR NC'S 2020 PRIMARY: The 2020 primary elections have begun in North Carolina, with mail-in ballots now available for people who choose to use absentee voting. In-person early voting won’t start until Feb. 13, though, and Election Day isn’t until March 3. So undecided voters still have time to make up their minds. People who plan to vote on Election Day for the primary, which is March 3, must register to vote no later than Feb. 7. However, people who miss that deadline can still register at the polls during early voting, as long as they bring an acceptable form of identification showing their name and address. That can include a driver’s license, utility bill, bank statement or other such official documents. Finally, people who don’t register in time to vote for the primary election can still vote in the general election in November, as long as they meet the deadlines for registering then.

ANOTHER WORKPLACE FATALITY FOR CHERIE BERRY TO IGNORE: One worker died and three others were freed after a trench collapse at a Durham construction site Wednesday that triggered a frantic effort to dig them out, authorities said. The Durham Fire Department issued a news release saying the body of the worker who was killed in the trench collapse was recovered in the late afternoon. The person's name wasn't immediately released. The three others made it out alive. One of the workers climbed out of the trench at a gas station construction site on his own, and two others were freed by first responders, Durham Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Iannuzzi told reporters. He didn't know their conditions. Rescuers spent several hours trying to free the fourth worker in the hole that Iannuzzi estimated was at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) deep. He said he believed the worker had been completely covered with dirt. Some rescuers were working by hand, others were shoring up the walls of the hole, and a vacuum truck and back hoe were on scene to help remove dirt.

MCCONNELL IS ABOUT TO SWEAR AN OATH HE'S ALREADY BROKEN: The senators will swear to administer “impartial justice” on the articles, or charges. But already, the senator-jurors are questioning whether that's possible. McConnell has given his flat-out answer. "I'm not an impartial juror," he declared last month. The process is inherently political. He also said he's coordinating tightly with the White House, a statement Democrats said was proof of McConnell's partiality. Republicans, meanwhile, have pointed out that Democrats have widely spoken of their disdain for Trump and cast doubt on his fitness for office. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has been meeting with a small number of GOP colleagues who want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren't part of the House impeachment investigation. Watch Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for signs of whether this group can stick together and force the Senate to consider additional material.

BIG SURPRISE, TRUMP PLANS TO OBSTRUCT SENATE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: The official indicated that Trump is likely to block efforts by Democrats to further build their case through new witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton. Allowing testimony from a former presidential aide about his discussions with Trump on foreign policy would be “extraordinary,” said the official, who added that he did not think the Senate should hear from any witnesses. Another official said the White House was prepared to exert executive privilege if the Senate subpoenas Bolton, who has said he is willing to testify under subpoena about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. In an Oct. 8 letter to the House, Cipollone declared the impeachment inquiry unconstitutional and illegitimate and said the Trump administration would not participate in it. Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s Law School, said the “very disturbing” letter was an indication that Cipollone would take the same antagonistic approach to the Senate trial. “The October 8 letter was very disturbing because of its very aggressive and combative tone. It also reflected no recognition of the importance of accountability and congressional oversight,” he said. “I expect that his taking the lead will mean the same very aggressive and combative approach that puts the president above the law.”

GIULIANI HENCHMAN LEV PARNAS MIGHT BE THE NAIL IN TRUMP'S COFFIN: When asked by The Times how he knew that Mr. Trump was aware of the pressure campaign, he said that Mr. Giuliani assured him that was the case. Before taking his first trip to Ukraine in February 2019, Mr. Parnas said that he met with Mr. Giuliani at the Grand Havana Room, a smoke-filled private club high above Midtown Manhattan, and relayed a concern that he and an associate, Igor Fruman, lacked the diplomatic credentials to carry out their task. Mr. Parnas said he proposed that the president designate them “special envoys” to ensure their safety and access. Then, Mr. Parnas said, Mr. Giuliani walked away to call Mr. Trump, and returned with a new plan: He would represent Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as the president, a move that might afford their shared mission the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege. Mr. Giuliani has denied Mr. Parnas’s account. Days later, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman embarked for Eastern Europe. In addition to the text messages, Mr. Parnas, who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges, provided Democrats in the House with voice mail messages left on his phone by Mr. Giuliani and another lawyer who worked on the Ukraine effort, emails, calendar entries and a bevy of photographs of Mr. Parnas with Trump allies.