JUDGE BADDOUR VACATES $2.5 MILLION SILENT SAM SETTLEMENT: A judge on Wednesday threw out a $2.5 million deal to give the controversial "Silent Sam" monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, saying the group had no legal right to negotiate the deal with the University of North Carolina system. It's unclear what happens now with Silent Sam, which stood on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus for more than a century before protesters pulled it down in August 2018. The statue had been in storage from the time of the protest until the UNC Board of Governors reached a deal with the SCV on the day before Thanksgiving. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour gave the Board of Governors until next Monday to figure out what they want to do with the statue. If they don't respond, he said he might hold another hearing on that issue.
BERGER MAKES $80,000 PROFIT FROM TOWNHOME BOUGHT WITH CAMPAIGN MONEY: State Senate leader Phil Berger sold his townhouse in Raleigh late last year to a well-connected lobbyist for an $80,000 profit. Berger was previously the subject of an ethics complaint for paying himself monthly rent for that townhouse out of his campaign account. He bought the home in 2016 for $250,000 and sold it in December for $330,000 — a 32% gain in just three years. Now, he faces an additional ethics complaint from the same government watchdog, this time focused on the home sale. In addition to the $80,000 Berger made selling his home, he also previously took $73,500 from his campaign fund as rent payments to himself, according to veteran government watchdog Hall. In addition to the townhouse, Berger’s campaign also pays a separate monthly rent payment to his law firm in Eden.
MCCLATCHY BANKRUPTCY FILING ABANDONS SHAREHOLDERS: McClatchy Co., the organization behind Raleigh's own News & Observer, released a statement saying they filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, ending family control of America's second largest local news company. The news organization said the move comes as part of a strategy to reposition themselves for a digital future by shedding the costs of their print legacy. They said if the court accepts their plan a company named Chatham Asset Management LLC would operate McClatchy as a privately held company. The release said more than 7 million shares of both publicly available and protected family-owned stock would be canceled. McClatchy's release said their filing would have no immediate impact on their employees. They manage 30 newsrooms in over 14 states, including the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer.
BARR TO TESTIFY BEFORE CONGRESS OVER HIS ACTIONS AIDING TRUMP: Attorney General William Barr has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next month, appearing for the first time before the panel as questions swirl about whether he intervened in the case of a longtime ally of President Donald Trump. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., released a letter Wednesday to Barr “to confirm your agreement to testify” on March 31. In the letter, Nadler and committee Democrats write that they have concerns that Barr has misused the criminal justice system for political purposes. “In your tenure as attorney general, you have engaged in a pattern of conduct in legal matters relating to the president that raises significant concerns for this committee,” Nadler and the Democrats wrote. The Justice Department confirmed Barr would testify. His appearance will be the first before the House Judiciary panel since he became attorney general a year ago, and since he declined an invitation to testify about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report after it was released.
CONGRESS PROBES TRUMP'S CHARGES TO SECRET SERVICE STAYING AT MAR-A-LAGO: The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday asked the Secret Service to provide a full accounting of its payments to President Trump’s private company after The Washington Post revealed that the Secret Service had been charged as much as $650 per night for rooms at Trump clubs. In a letter to the Secret Service, signed by Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the committee asked for records of payments to Trump properties, and copies of contracts between the Secret Service and Trump clubs. Last week, The Post reported that the Secret Service had been charged nearly $400 and as much as $650 per night for rooms at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, and charged $17,000 a month for a cottage that agents used at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey. President Trump still owns his companies. These payments show he has an unprecedented — and largely hidden — business relationship with his own government. In its letter, the House Oversight Committee said that the “Secret Service has not disclosed the full scope of its payments to the President’s businesses or its expenses for presidential travel to [Trump’s] own properties.” The Secret Service is legally required to send Congress a report every six months on its spending to protect presidential residences. But since the start of Trump’s term, the letter said, the Secret Service has provided only three of the required six reports. And, even in those three, the lines for spending at Trump’s Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago clubs are both blank, the committee said. The letter asks the Secret Service to explain why.