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Impeachment hearing draws mixed reactions from Foxx, local Democratic leader and political-science professor

The televised impeachment inquiry drew mixed responses from local Republican and Democratic leaders on Wednesday, with Republicans typically viewing it as a waste of time and Democrats seeing it as a necessary constitutional function.

“Today’s public hearings have revealed nothing that we didn’t already know,” U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said in a statement. “President Trump already made his conversation with the Ukrainian president public, highlighting that no mention was made of any conditions made on aid to Ukraine, no pressure was applied on Ukraine, and Ukraine had to take no action to receive lethal aid from the Trump administration, something the Obama administration refused to provide.

“Instead of investing further time and attention on this sham, partisan process, Democrats should work with Republicans, including President Trump, to address the real issues facing American families,” Foxx said.

Larry Johnson, the chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said he was pleased that the House Intelligence Committee is pursing the investigation.

“It’s inherent in (its) duty of Congress under the constitution,” Johnson said. “I’m also upbeat that the American public will be able to watch and form their own opinions of what occurred and whether the president did or didn’t abuse his power.”

It’s a good thing that TV viewers can see what Democratic and Republican members of Congress are saying about the impeachment inquiry, Johnson said.

Aaron Berlin, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, said that the impeachment inquiry is flawed.

Unfortunately, the left- wing Democrats from California and New York are trying to overturn the 2016 election results through repeated failed investigations into President Trump,” Berlin said in an email. “Instead of continuing to waste taxpayer dollars on these failed investigations into the president, those Democrats should focus on what matters to American families: creating more jobs, lowering health-care prices, securing the border, passing the President’s pro-worker trade deal, fighting the opioid crisis and more.”

John Dinan, a political-science professor at Wake Forest University, said in an email: “At the present time, public views on impeachment generally fall along partisan lines, as is the case with many other disputes in American politics.”

Dinan pointed to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998.

“The key question is whether the move this week to hold public committee hearings in the House holds out the prospect of changing the existing situation, whereby Republicans oppose impeachment and Democrats are supportive,” Dinan said. “There was not much movement across the aisle two decades ago, in the case of the Clinton impeachment, with only a handful of House Democrats crossing the aisle to support articles of impeachment and a handful of House Republicans crossing the aisle to vote against impeachment articles.

“To date in the Trump impeachment inquiry, there has been even less willingness of Democrats and Republicans to cross the aisle, with no Republicans voting yes on the resolution to start the impeachment inquiry and only two Democrats crossing party lines to vote against the resolution,” Dinan said. “And so the question is whether this week’s hearings will lead to any more aisle-crossing by members of either party, in an era where we see less and less aisle-crossing behavior on the part of members of Congress.”

2020 court date for man facing murder charges in case where woman was found in dumpster

A Winston-Salem man facing charges of murdering a woman and then leaving her body in a dumpster along Country Club Road is not scheduled to be back in court until May 2020, according to court documents.

Mario Kennard Bennett, 31, is charged with murder in the death of Shantika “Tika” Lashae Dunlap, a mother of three boys and one girl. Dunlap was found Dec. 15, 2018, in a dumpster at 4843 Country Club Road. She was reported missing on Dec. 13, 2018.

An arrest warrant alleges that Bennett killed Dunlap the day before she was reported missing. Bennett also faces criminal charges alleging that he stole Dunlap’s financial card and that he tried to take off an electronic monitoring device.

Bennett was scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on Nov. 7, but according to court documents, his case has now been continued until May 7, 2020. He is currently in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed on the murder charge. Nothing substantial will happen with the case until Forsyth County prosecutors seek an indictment, which sends the case to Forsyth Superior Court, where either a trial date is set or a plea deal is reached.

Cause of death

According to an autopsy, Dunlap died from asphyxia due to suffocation. The report said Dunlap had petechiae, or pinpoint bruises, in her eyes and on her upper and lower gums. Dunlap also had blunt force injuries, including abrasions and contusions on her head, neck, torso, her right knee, feet and her left hand.

The autopsy report referenced police investigative reports in saying that police found Dunlap in a dumpster behind Juggs Growlers and Pints on Country Club Road. Her body was wrapped in a blanket that was secured with tape.

When officers took the blanket off Dunlap’s body, they found a plastic bag taped over Dunlap’s head. Her feet were covered with another trash bag that was taped at the ankles.

The report indicated that a sexual assault exam was performed on Dunlap but the results have not been publicly released. Bennett is not currently charged with rape or sexual assault.

Authorities have not released any additional information about Dunlap’s death, including whether Bennett knew Dunlap and how he may have come into contact with her. Judge Eric Morgan of Forsyth Superior Court sealed all search warrants until the criminal case is resolved. The sealing orders don’t specify what “resolved” means.

Bennett is a registered sex offender, convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting and raping a 4-year-old boy.

He also was investigated in 2012 by Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies on allegations that he raped three women and assaulted another at a house in Rural Hall.

He was never convicted of raping any of the women but pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and assault by strangulation in connection with the 2012 allegations, court records said.

'College Guarantee' program announced for Forsyth County residents

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines announced a new program Wednesday that will allow local high school graduates who can’t afford the cost of Forsyth Technical Community College to attend for free.

Funded primarily by an $870,000 grant from BB&T Corp., the Winston-Salem College Guarantee was announced at a news conference on the campus of FTCC. The “Hope and Opportunity” scholarships will be available to students from low-income households who graduate at the end of the current school year.

“I believe that allowing our young people to obtain the education and training they need is one way, but an important way, to interrupt the cycle of inter-generational poverty,” Joines said during the announcement.

“So today, I’m very happy to announce that any student who graduates from a Forsyth County high school who cannot afford to ... will be able to attend Forsyth Technical Community College completely free,” Joines said.

The grant, coupled with other sources of money including federal grants, will potentially allow some 2,550 students to participate in programs lasting up to two years, officials said, giving students a chance to get good jobs or go on to four-year institutions.

Forsyth Tech President Janet Spriggs said after the announcement that the number of students officials think they can help was based on the number graduating from local schools who do not either continue their education or go into the military.

So without the College Guarantee, Spriggs said, many of these students might not get more education or training.

“This investment will open new doors of hope and opportunity for students who need it the most,” Spriggs told those gathered at Forsyth Tech for the announcement. “Think how many more students will be able to achieve their dreams, thanks to this investment.”

With a two-year technical degree, Joines said, students could get the skills to work good-paying jobs in areas such as plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning, medical technologies, aviation maintenance and others “without the crippling debt of college loans.”

Joines made a remark that provoked a chuckle out of Wednesday morning’s audience, after he said that those students getting good jobs could have a $102 million impact on the local economy:

“If you stacked that ... with $100 bills, it would exceed the height of the BB&T building,” Joines said, as a graphic flashed on a screen showing a stack of bills beside the building.

BB&T is funding the college program grant for six years. The scholarships will cover tuition, books and fees and other expenses as necessary, including transportation, child care and remedial education.

Students who live in households with an income of 80 percent or less of the average median income in the county will be eligible for the scholarships.

Not just anyone can get the help. To qualify, in addition to meeting the income requirement, students must:

  • Be graduates of a Forsyth County high school no earlier than this school year and be between the ages of 18 and 21. Students in public or private schools can apply.
  • Be full-time students at Forsyth Tech and carry at least 12 hours of credit.
  • First take advantage of other means of funding college, including Pell grants or other funding sources (or not be qualified for other assistance).
  • Maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average.
  • Participate in a remedial program if testing shows a deficiency in math, reading or other basic skills.

Students also have to commit to remaining in Forsyth County for at least two years after graduation, unless they attend a four-year institution located elsewhere.

Announcing the program were the city, Forsyth Tech and the Winston-Salem Alliance, an economic development nonprofit headed by Joines.

Canty Alexander, regional executive for BB&T, said that he’s glad the grant is starting up right away.

“This will reduce poverty,” he said. “It will also keep program participants right here in Forsyth County once they complete their degree ... that is one of the things we looked at when we put this program together.”

Don Flow, the chairman of the Winston-Salem Alliance, credited BB&T chairman and chief executive Kelly King for making the new program happen.

“It would not have happened without Kelly King,” Flow said, recounting how he and others met with King and told him how they wanted to tackle the problem of poverty. “Kelly King sat in front of me, we told him the story and he said, ‘We’re in.’ “

Depending on lab fees and book expenses, Forsyth Tech officials say it can cost $1,720 per semester to attend the community college with a 12-hour course load.

Spriggs said the program’s value is that it will be a “last dollar” grant that will come in only after a student has gotten all the Pell Grant and scholarship assistance, and make a real difference for students who might not otherwise have any other sources of help.

Some of the BB&T money will actually go to helping students apply for financial assistance, Spriggs said, noting that many low-income students don’t know how to navigate the programs that give financial aid.

D.D. Adams, who represents North Ward on the Winston-Salem City Council, called the College Guarantee grant a “game-changer,” and challenged local officials to come up with a way to help families meet early childhood educational needs as well.

Malishai Woodbury, who chairs the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, and schools superintendent Angela P. Hairston spoke with enthusiasm about the College Guarantee grant during Wednesday’s announcement.

“Wow, what a great day,” Hairston said. “We are here to acknowledge and celebrate not just a game-changing event but a life-changing event, and this is going to change our community.”

Joines said the program fits in with the Alliance’s goal of boosting education so that 65 percent of the adults in Forsyth County between the ages of 25 and 55 have an associate degree or higher.

Presently, only 41% of the county’s residents over the age of 25 have an associate or more advanced degree, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Joines announced a “Thought Force” against poverty in 2015, followed by the creation of a nonprofit group called the Partnership for Prosperity. While the new educational push is not part of that effort, it fits in with the goals, Joines said.

Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the Democrats’ case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment streamed from Americans’ TVs Wednesday, including a new contention that he was overheard asking about political “investigations” that he demanded from Ukraine in trade for military aid.

On Day 1 of extraordinary public U.S. House hearings — only the fourth formal impeachment effort in U.S. history — career diplomats testified in the open after weeks of closed-door interviews aimed at removing the nation’s 45th president.

The account they delivered was a striking though complicated one that Democrats say reveals a president abusing his office, and the power of American foreign policy, for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as he opened the daylong hearing.

“Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself.”

Career diplomat William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Kyiv, offered new testimony that Trump was overheard asking on the phone about “the investigations” of Democrats that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.

Trump said he was too busy to watch on Wednesday and denied having the phone call. “First I’ve heard of it,” he said when asked.

All day, the diplomats testified about how an ambassador was fired, the new Ukraine government was confused and they discovered an “irregular channel” — a shadow U.S. foreign policy orchestrated by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.

The hearing, playing out on live television and in the partisan silos of social media, provided the nation and the world a close-up look at the investigation.

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for “a favor.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats’ activities in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden — all while the administration was withholding military aid for the Eastern European ally that is confronting an aggressive neighbor, Russia.

Both sides tried to distill it into soundbites.

Democrats said Trump was engaged in “bribery” and “extortion.” Republicans said nothing really happened — the military aid was ultimately released after Congress complained.

Trump restated his aggressive defense with rapid-fire tweets, a video from the Rose Garden and a dismissive retort from the Oval Office as he met with another foreign leader.

“It’s a witch hunt. It’s a hoax,” he said as he appeared with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his side.

Across the country, millions of Americans were tuning in — or, in some cases, deliberately tuning out.

Viewers on the right and left thought the day underscored their feelings. Anthony Harris, cutting hair in Savannah, Ga., had the hearing on in his shop, but he said, “It’s gotten to the point now where people are even tired of listening.”

The hours of partisan back-and-forth did not appear to leave a singular moment etched in the public consciousness the way the Watergate proceedings or Bill Clinton’s impeachment did generations ago.

“No real surprises, no bombshells,” said committee member Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

Still, the session unspooled at least partly the way Democrats wanted with the somber tones of career foreign service officers telling what they knew. They sounded credible.

The witnesses, Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in his bow tie, defied White House instructions not to appear. Both received subpoenas.

They are among a dozen current and former officials who already testified behind closed doors.

Wednesday was the start of days of public hearings that will stretch into next week.

Taylor, who was asked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to return to Ukraine as Trump was firing Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, introduced new information Wednesday.

He testified that a staff member recently told him of overhearing Trump on a phone call when they were meeting with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call to the Ukraine president that sparked the impeachment investigation.

The staff member explained that Sondland had called the president and they could overhear Trump on the other end asking about “the investigations.” The ambassador told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified.

In the face of Trump’s denial, Schiff expects the person to appear before investigators for a closed-door deposition. He is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, according to an official granted anonymity.

Republicans argued that even with the diplomats at the witness table, the Democrats have only second- or third-hand knowledge of Trump’s alleged transgressions.

A Trump ally on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, mockingly called Taylor the Democrats’ “star witness” and said he’d “seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”

Taylor, a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer in Vietnam, responded: “I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything.”

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump had a “perfectly good reason” for wanting to investigate the role of Democrats in 2016 election interference, giving airtime to a theory that runs counter to mainstream U.S. intelligence which found that Russia intervened and favored Trump.

Nunes accused the Democratic majority of conducting a “scorched earth” effort to take down the president after the special counsel’s Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.

The veteran foreign service officers delivered heartfelt history lessons about Ukraine, a young and hopeful democracy, situated next to Russia but reaching out to the West.

Asked about Trump’s withholding military aid from such an ally, Taylor said, “It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.”

Both men defended Yovanovitch, a career officer who Kent has said was subject to Giuliani’s “campaign of lies.” She is to testify publicly Friday.

Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House. While he said he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company, he “did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.”

Republicans sought to hear from the anonymous whistleblower by subpoenaing him for a closed-session. The panel voted down the request.

“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff declared.

The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment.

There’s no consensus yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the Trump phone call with Zelenskiy.

The White House released a rough transcript of the telephone conversation, with portions deleted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But she pressed ahead after the whistleblower’s complaint. She said Wednesday it was sad that the country has to undergo the inquiry with Trump, but “he will be held accountable.”