Wednesday News: Raleigh runoffs?


INCUMBENTS CROWDER AND STEPHENSON TRAILING IN VOTES TO NEWCOMERS: Council members David Cox, Nicole Stewart and Corey Branch all won their races with more than 50% plus one of the votes cast, successfully avoiding a November run-off election. And newcomers Patrick Buffkin and David Knight will also be joining the board. That may not be the case for incumbents Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder. The longtime council members trailed Jonathan Melton and Saige Martin, respectively, after all of Tuesday’s votes were counted, though neither of the challengers crossed the 50% threshold and Stephenson, at least, suggested that he would ask for a runoff. The power on the council shifted two years ago. The majority call themselves proponents of smart-growth, while critics say they are slow- or anti-growth. Only one in the current majority — Cox — won outright Tuesday.

DAVID LEWIS RECEIVED HALF MILLION LOAN FROM MAN INDICTED FOR BRIBERY: House Rules Chairman David Lewis said his farm in Harnett County needed help, and he turned to a friend and fellow farmer, John Gray. Gray loaned him $500,000 in June 2018 for what was supposed to be four months. Deeds of trust filed in the deal show that Lewis and his wife, along with their farm and property company, put up land in four North Carolina counties as collateral. The loan has not been repaid, and Gray has not foreclosed on the properties as the deeds indicate he could. Lewis, R-Harnett, said Gray never asked for anything from the legislature in return. Lewis said he didn't know about Gray's impending legal trouble at the time. Gray was indicted in March, accused along with insurance tycoon Greg Lindberg, associate John Palermo and then-North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes of trying to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Causey had been working in secret with the FBI, recording conversations with the the four men now facing federal prosecution.

TRUMP PLANS TO BLOCK HIS ENTIRE ADMINISTRATION FROM IMPEACHMENT PROBE: The White House letter marks the beginning of a new all-out strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump. Aides have been honing their approach after two weeks of what allies have described as a listless and unfocused response to the probe. The president himself is sticking with the same Trump-as-victim rhetoric he has used for more than a year. “People understand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt,” he said on Monday. “I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody has done it for the first two and half years.” Early Tuesday, Trump escalated his fight with Congress by blocking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, from testifying behind closed doors about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “profoundly disappointed” that he wouldn’t be able to testify. And Schiff said Sondland’s no-show was “yet additional strong evidence” of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that will only strengthen a possible impeachment case.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY STRIKES BACK AT TRUMP OVER "DEEP STATE" NONSENSE: Trump has feuded with the national security community since many in the Republican establishment opposed his candidacy in 2016. And throughout the investigation into Russian interference in that election, the president sought to disparage U.S. intelligence agencies as a part of a politically motivated campaign to sabotage his presidency and sought to target some who spoke against him as partisan foils. Those who have come forward since the Ukraine impeachment inquiry was announced said they are determined to make clear that Trump’s conduct falls well outside the institutional boundaries of the presidency. “What is happening currently is not normal,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who served as a U.S. intelligence officer on Russia and Eurasia before stepping down in 2018. “This represents a deviation from the way that these institutions regularly function. And when the institutions don’t work, that is a national security threat.” She was among 90 national security veterans who signed an open letter published Sunday in support of the anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint that Trump had acted improperly in asking the Ukranian president to investigate Biden in a July phone call.

SPECIAL UNIT OF RUSSIAN GRU RESPONSIBLE FOR EUROPEAN ATTACKS: First came a destabilization campaign in Moldova, followed by the poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria and then a thwarted coup in Montenegro. Last year, there was an attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy in Britain using a nerve agent. Though the operations bore the fingerprints of Russia’s intelligence services, the authorities initially saw them as isolated, unconnected attacks. Western security officials have now concluded that these operations, and potentially many others, are part of a coordinated and ongoing campaign to destabilize Europe, executed by an elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system skilled in subversion, sabotage and assassination. The group, known as Unit 29155, has operated for at least a decade, yet Western officials only recently discovered it. Intelligence officials in four Western countries say it is unclear how often the unit is mobilized and warn that it is impossible to know when and where its operatives will strike. A retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 said that it specialized in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.”