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Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring Trump’s acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president’s removal in U.S. history. But senators pushed off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorized to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there’s nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal.

Nor will he face potentially damaging, open-Senate testimony from witnesses.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands and will make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they’d heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid as leverage as the ally fought Russia. He is charged with then blocking the congressional probe of his actions.

Senators rejected the Democrats’ effort to allow new witnesses, 51-49, a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called that decision “a tragedy on a very large scale.” Protesters’ chants reverberated against the walls of the Capitol.

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal was justified and inevitable.

“The sooner the better for the country,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant. “Let’s turn the page.”

The next steps come in the heart of presidential campaign season before a divided nation. Democratic caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night. Four Democratic candidates have been chafing in the Senate chamber rather than campaigning.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from Bolton, whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won’t be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial’s expected outcome. Democrats forced a series of new procedural votes late Friday to call Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, but all were rejected.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton has written that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelensky after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals that are central to the abuse of power charge in the first article of impeachment.

The story was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

Trump issued a quick denial.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Key Republican senators said even if Trump committed the offenses as charged by the House, they are not impeachable and the partisan proceedings must end.

“I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a late holdout, told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged partisan atmosphere, having “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.’’ She said, “The Congress has failed.”

Eager for a conclusion, Trump’s allies nevertheless suggested the shift in timing to extend the proceedings into next week, acknowledging the significance of the moment for senators who want to give final speeches.

To bring the trial toward a conclusion, Trump’s attorneys argued the House had already heard from 17 witnesses and presented its 28,578-page report to the Senate. They warned against prolonging it even further. The House impeached Trump largely along party lines after less than three months of formal proceedings, making it the quickest, most partisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

Some senators pointed to the importance of the moment.

“What do you want your place in history to be?” asked one of the House managers, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger.

To hear more witnesses, it would have taken four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats in demanding more testimony. But that effort fell short.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seemed unlikely. Asked late Friday, he told senators it would be “inappropriate.”

Murkowski noted in announcing her decision that she did not want to drag the chief justice into the partisan fray.

As protesters chanted outside the Capitol, some visitors watched from the Senate galleries.

Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.

Business 40 reopening this weekend as Salem Parkway

Business 40 will reopen this weekend as Salem Parkway, highway officials announced Friday morning. The goal is to have traffic back onto the downtown freeway by tonight or early Sunday morning.

A small crowd erupted into cheers at BB&T Ballpark with Friday’s announcement, with city leaders, highway officials and onlookers smiling broadly in the winter air.

With rain moving in Friday morning, highway officials said only the weather could toss a wrench into the reopening plan. But they added that the freeway will be open for Monday’s commute.

“It is my great pleasure to announce to you that, this weekend, we plan to open the new Salem Parkway, more than six months ahead of schedule,” Pat Ivey, the division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation here, told the crowd.

“Go DOT!” shouted D.D. Adams, the Northeast Ward council member.

Ivey said “the final touches are weather-dependent, and any rain could delay the opening briefly.” Although rain on Friday will continue this morning, conditions will turn mostly sunny this afternoon with a high around 51.

Sunday is expected to be sunny with a high of 57.

Highway officials said construction crews will be installing pavement markings into the weekend — some are already in place — and that even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, the opening is imminent.

“You’ve heard me say many times you have your good days and bad days of being a mayor,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said during the announcement. “Today is a great day for being the mayor of Winston-Salem.

Joines predicted the project would become “a textbook example of how to do a very difficult project in an urban setting.”

Local officials gave credit to highway officials and contractors Flatiron Constructors and Blythe Development for bringing in the project ahead of schedule.

Larry Shaver, state highway resident engineer, said that over the course of the project the general contractors hired 41 other contractors and subcontractors, and provided employment for close to 600 workers. About 200 of the workers were hired during construction, he said.

As a prelude to the freeway opening, workers took down the last barriers blocking the new Cherry Street bridge shortly after 3 p.m., allowing traffic to cross for the first time since the old Cherry Street bridge was demolished last May.

Later in the afternoon, workers reopened Brookstown Avenue to traffic crossing under Business 40.

That left the Marshall Street bridge as the only vehicular bridge crossing Business 40 that was still not in use, but Shaver said the rain and snow Friday afternoon would prevent that bridge from opening Friday as planned.

The rain kept workers from putting down some critical paint lines where Marshall Street intersects High Street just south of the bridge. Shaver said the lines would be applied and the bridge opened when the street got dry.

Business 40 has been closed for a $100-million renovation since Nov. 17, 2018. Originally planned as a two-year closure, the project was sped by incentives to the contractors to finish early.

The Winston-Salem Dash have announced a “Pop-Up Party” today from noon to 2 p.m., one that will allow people to walk on the freeway between Peters Creek Parkway and Brookstown Avenue. The city, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Creative Corridors Coalition and the general contractors are all joining the Dash in putting on the event.

“People said they wanted a chance to walk it, to touch it, to do things they won’t be able to do after it opens,” said Larry Shaver, the resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation here.

Dash officials said their event will include a DJ, activities for children, $2 hot dogs and beer and $1 soft drinks, coffee, water and popcorn. For more details, go to www.milb.com/winston-salem.

While Business 40 was closed, many drivers took Fifth Street to come into downtown Winston-Salem from the east, and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive saw increased traffic as an alternate route downtown.

“My East Ward streets will returned to the residents,” said Annette Scippio, the council member for East Ward.

Northwest Ward Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said that while the Business 40 closure brought pain, “it has been far less painful than all of us anticipated.”

Many business owners reported a drop in customers during the closure, and some said it contributed to their closure.

Jason Thiel, the president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, said he knew when he saw striping being put down on Business 40 that the end was near.

“It is going to be a relief to the downtown business community,” Thiel said. “I want to thank everyone on the construction crew for getting it done as quickly as they could.”

Joines famously announced last year that it was possible Business 40 could reopen around Christmas.

State officials quickly walked that back, but it was true that there was a chance Business 40 could have opened by the end of 2019, had every break fallen the right way.

As it stands, the reopening of the last bridges over the work zone will come a little over 14 months after Business 40 was shut down.

The two pedestrian bridges being built as part of the project will remain under construction, and workers will be constructing noise walls and carrying out other activities even after cars flow on the highway once again. Final completion of the project is set for sometime this summer.

There will be nighttime lane closures at times for some of the wrap-up work.

Ivey said the project marked the first time in the state’s history that a section of freeway was shut down in both directions at the same time.

Asked early on, residents overwhelmingly chose to have the road completely shut down for two years, instead of keeping the highway open and stretching construction over six years.

“I told everybody that two years would come and go; and look, we are ahead of schedule,” Northeast Ward Council Member D.D. Adams said after the announcement.

She put her hands out as if holding a steering wheel:

“I am ecstatic. I can’t wait,” she said.

Police identify Friday's gunshot victim, and arrest two men in connection with his death

Winston-Salem police have identified a man who was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound Friday morning at a home on the city’s south side and arrested two men on charges in connection with his death.

Ulises Baltazar Cruz, 39, of Frank Street, was the victim of the shooting, police said.

Alexander Alvarez Nieto, 24, of Dunleith Avenue, and Jeremy Aguilar Zarate, 20, of East 25th Street, were arrested Friday and charged with murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon, police said. Bond information for Nieto and Zarate and their court dates weren’t immediately available Friday night.

Officers are not looking for any other suspects in connection with Cruz’s death.

Officers went to the residence at 2917 Frank St. around 3:15 a.m. after getting a call about a dead person inside the home, Winston-Salem police officer Sgt. Eric Johnson said. Forsyth County EMS pronounced Cruz dead at the scene.

Crime scene tape surrounded a home at the corner of Frank and Huff streets Friday morning, and forensics investigators were still at the scene.

Yellow evidence placards sat along the driveway.

A children’s bicycle and a silver Honda also sat in the driveway.

Investigators could be seen examining the car and documenting what appeared to be tire tracks in the mud of the driveway.

Police said the killing appeared to have been an isolated incident.

The Winston-Salem Police Department asks that anyone with information regarding this investigation call the Winston-Salem Police Department at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800. En Español: 336-728-3904.

Crime Stoppers may also be contacted via “Crime Stoppers of Winston Salem Forsyth County” on Facebook.

Cruz’s death marks the second homicide in Winston-Salem for 2020. At this point in 2019, no homicides had been reported in the city.

Before fatal Hanes Mall shooting, man was being choked and hit, attorney argues. Prosecutors say killing was premeditated.

The attorney for Robert Anthony Granato said in court papers that Julius Randolph “Juice” Sampson was shot to death after Sampson threw Granato on the ground and began choking and hitting him.

Granato, 23, is facing a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Sampson, a 32-year-old married father of three and a local barber, on Aug. 6, 2019. The shooting happened outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall.

Paul James, Granato’s attorney, is building a self-defense claim and has said previously that this is more likely a case of voluntary manslaughter than premeditated first-degree murder. Race has been at the center of discussions about the shooting although Winston-Salem police Chief Catrina Thompson said last year that investigators had not found any evidence that the shooting was racially motivated. She also said both men used racial epithets.

At a bond hearing last month, James said Sampson used the N-word first and then Granato, who is white, hurled the N-word back at Sampson, who was black. Soon after that, Sampson lunged at Granato, grabbed him by the throat and slammed him to the ground, James alleges.

In court papers filed Jan. 21, James adds new details:

“As (Granato) was on the ground with the deceased on top of him choking and hitting him, the evidence shows the deceased was shot in the chest and then stood up from the defendant and then collapsed to the ground and shortly died,” James wrote in an affidavit supporting a motion to suppress Granato’s statements to the police.

In the affidavit, James noted that Sampson weighed 90 pounds more than Granato.

Forsyth County prosecutors strongly disagree that this is a case of self-defense.

Judge George Bedsworth of Forsyth District Court filed on Friday an order that set a bond of $500,000 for Granato on the murder charge. That order outlined findings of fact based on what Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin and James said during a Jan. 16 bond hearing:

At 3 p.m. Aug. 6, Granato and his friend, Landon Smith, came into BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. He had a concealed carry permit and was carrying a 9-mm handgun and a .22-caliber Derringer pistol. Before going into the restaurant, Granato, however, placed the 9-mm handgun in the glove compartment of his car. James said in court that Granato forgot he still had the Derringer pistol.

Later, Sampson and his friend came into the restaurant to have lunch.

Three empty seats separated the two groups of men. Sampson worked as a barber at Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall.

Granato, after having several alcoholic drinks, complained that there wasn’t enough alcohol in his drinks and called female staffers “fat bes” and a sexist term referring to female genitalia, according to Martin. Sampson defended the women, and Granato told Sampson that it was a free country and he could say whatever he wanted.

Managers asked Granato and Smith to leave. Sampson and his friend got up at the same time. Martin said Granato took his pistol out and hid it behind his back, which James disputed happened.

It was after Granato used the N-word at Sampson that the confrontation became physical and the shooting happened, according to the findings of fact in Bedsworth’s order.

James argued in the motion to suppress that Winston-Salem police took Granato into custody without being charged and that they questioned him, even though Granato invoked his constitutional rights to not incriminate himself and after he asked for an attorney.

James is asking a judge to throw out any statements that Granato made to police.

In a separate motion, James asks Forsyth County prosecutors to turn over any information that might be favorable to Granato. That kind of information is known as exculpatory evidence.

Specifically, James said he is seeking investigative reports that prosecutors and police may have in connection to Sampson’s criminal history. According to the court records, Sampson was convicted of assault on a female in 2008. He was also convicted in 2011 of possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon. He was charged in 2008 with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious injury. Prosecutors voluntarily dismissed that charge.

Martin declined to comment on the motion.

“The normal practice will remain true for every criminal case,” she said. “The motions in this case will be heard in open court by the presiding judge.”

James also filed a demand for a speedy trial, writing that Granato “does not wish the proceedings in this matter to be delayed in any fashion.” The case is in Forsyth District Court and prosecutors plan to seek an indictment at some point that will send the case to Superior Court, where either a trial date is set or a plea arrangement is negotiated. It could take at least a year or more before the case comes up for trial. Granato is scheduled to appear in district court on June 25.

A date for when these motions will be heard has not been set.

Granato remains in Forsyth County Jail with total bond set at $503,000. If he is released, he has to comply with a number of conditions, including having no contact with Sampson’s family or potential witnesses and being placed on electronic house monitoring. His carry concealed handgun permit is suspended.