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Appalachian State junior quarterback Zac Thomas (12) runs the ball on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2019 in Boone, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal/Andrew Dye) 20191101w_spt_appstate

Sharply divided House approves Dems' impeachment rules

WASHINGTON — Democrats swept a rules package for their impeachment probe of President Donald Trump through a divided House Thursday, as the chamber’s first vote on the investigation highlighted the partisan breach the issue has only deepened.

By 232-196, lawmakers approved the procedures they’ll follow as weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses evolve into public committee hearings and — almost certainly — votes on whether the House should recommend Trump’s removal.

All voting Republicans opposed the package. Every voting Democrat but two supported it.

Underscoring the pressure Trump has heaped on his party’s lawmakers, he tweeted, “Now is the time for Republicans to stand together and defend the leader of their party against these smears.”

Yet the roll call also accentuated how Democrats have rallied behind the impeachment inquiry after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent months urging caution until evidence and public support had grown.

She and other Democratic leaders had feared a premature vote would wound the reelection prospects of dozens of their members, including freshmen and lawmakers from Trump-won districts or seats held previously by Republicans. But recent polls have shown voters’ growing receptivity to the investigation and, to a lesser degree, ousting Trump.

That and evidence that House investigators have amassed have helped unify Democrats, including those from GOP areas. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said she was supporting a pathway to giving “the American people the facts they deserve,” while Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., said voters warrant “the uninhibited truth.”

Yet Republicans were also buoyed by polling, which has shown that GOP voters stand unflinchingly behind Trump.

“The impeachment-obsessed Democrats just flushed their majority down the toilet,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesman for House Republicans’ campaign arm.

Elsewhere at the Capitol on Thursday, three House panels led by the Intelligence Committee questioned their latest witness into the allegations that led to the impeachment inquiry: that Trump pressured Ukraine to produce dirt on his Democratic political rivals by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country’s new president.

Tim Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council the day before his appearance, testified — still behind closed doors — that he saw nothing illegal in Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president that is at the center of the Democrat-led investigation.

Yet, Morrison also largely confirmed much of what William Taylor, the highest-ranking U.S. official in Ukraine, said in earlier, highly critical testimony about the call, which Taylor said he and Morrison discussed several times.

The Democrats are still waiting to hear if Morrison’s one-time boss, John Bolton, will testify. They have subpoenaed former national security adviser Bolton, who quit the administration after disagreements with Trump over his handling of Ukraine.

In the House inquiry vote, the only Democratic “no” votes were by Reps. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey freshman, and veteran Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats. Both are battling for reelection in Republican-leaning districts.

Also supporting the rules was independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the GOP this year after announcing he was open to considering Trump’s impeachment.

Thursday’s House debate was laced with high-minded appeals to defend the Constitution and Congress’ independence, as well as partisan taunts.

“What are we fighting for? Defending our democracy,” said Pelosi. She addressed lawmakers with a poster of the American flag beside her and opened her comments by reading from the preamble to the Constitution.

She also said the rules would let lawmakers decide whether to impeach Trump “based on the truth. I don’t know why the Republicans are afraid of the truth.”

But her counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, cast the process as a skewed attempt to railroad a president whom Democrats have detested since before he took office.

“Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box,” he said.

No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., accused Democrats of imposing “Soviet-style rules.” His backdrop was a bright red poster depicting the Soviet hammer and sickle emblem and the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square.

The House is at least weeks away from deciding whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If it does, the Senate would hold a trial on whether to remove him from office. That GOP-run chamber seems highly likely to keep him in the White House.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., likened Democrats to a “cult,” accusing them of bouncing from “one outlandish conspiracy theory to another.” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., pointedly said she looked forward to Republicans “prioritizing country over party, just as we took an oath to do.”

Democrats said the procedures are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Pelosi decided to have the vote following a GOP drumbeat that the inquiry was tainted because lawmakers hadn’t voted to formally commence the work. The rules direct House committees “to continue their ongoing investigations” of Trump.

Democrats hope Thursday’s vote will undercut GOP assertions that the process has been invalid. They’ve noted that there is no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.

The rules require the House Intelligence Committee — now leading the investigation — to issue a report and release transcripts of its closed-door interviews, which members of both parties have attended.

The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.

Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the committees holding the hearings approve them — in effect giving Democrats veto power.

Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. Democrats would retain leverage by empowering panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to deny requests by Trump representatives to call witnesses if the White House continues to “unlawfully refuse” to provide testimony or documents Congress demands.

Nearly 700 children and parents, some dressed in costumes, attend community Halloween festivities at Winston-Salem State University

Nearly 700 children, parents and other adults, some dressed in costumes, gathered Thursday for a community celebration of Halloween at Winston-Salem State University.

WSSU officials decided to schedule this year’s Ram-O-Lantern to coincide with the university’s annual homecoming activities, said Kimberly Fair-Reese, WSSU’s executive director for university donor events.

“Halloween is one of the most popular days of recognition throughout the country,” Fair-Reese said. “So we thought what a better way to celebrate that and incorporate Halloween as part of our homecoming events for WSSU.”

Adults and children arrived at the Reaves Student Activity Center on campus dressed in costumes transforming them into Superman, Wonder Woman, the Black Panther, Batman, the Incredible Hulk, witches, princesses and more. Some played with hula-hoops while others played games of Twister, checkers and Uno. At some of the candy and craft stations, student volunteers distributed candy to the children.

Kendra Morgan, a 2009 graduate of WSSU, escorted her daughter, Serenity, 6, and her son, Shaun, 8, to the party.

“My kids like Halloween,” said Morgan, who is now a lawyer in Winston-Salem. “They have been talking about this event all week.”

Josue and Tandice Jean Baptiste, who live in Advance, brought their 3-year-old daughter, Violet, to the Halloween event.

Tandice Jean Baptiste, a 2004 graduate of WSSU, said her family attended the festivities to support the university.

“It’s safe, and it’s indoors,” Jean Baptiste said. “It’s another opportunity for the alumni to bring their children so they can be part of the WSSU experience.”

Many parents and relatives took videos and photographs of their children in costume. Many boys and girls chased each other and danced in the center’s gym during the event, which, according to the university, also had more than 60 food and merchandise vendors.

Romain Melvin, a WSSU senior from Fayetteville, and Alexandria Colson, a WSSU senior from Rock Hill, S.C., served as volunteers.

“I love kids, and I love Halloween,” said Melvin, who is majoring in mass communications. “It’s a perfect combination.”

Colson, a nursing major, said she is studying to become a pediatric nurse.

“I like being around kids,” she said.

Ida Staton, who lives in Bethel in Pitt County, said she traveled four hours on a bus to attend the Ram-O-Lantern at WSSU.

“My daughter was telling me about this event, and the Zeta Phi Beta step show on Friday,” Staton said. “By 7 p.m. Saturday, I will be on a bus, heading back home.”

Alex Payne, 13, a student at Paisley IB Magnet School in Winston-Salem, shot basketballs at a small goal with other children. Alex wore a Carolina Panthers aqua blue jersey with quarterback Cam Newton’s last name. Alex said Newton is his favorite player.

Angela Blue, an university program specialist in WSSU’s Division of Student Affairs, also displayed the Halloween spirit. Blue wore a plastic bloody ax on the top of her head.

Blue said she was depicting a character in a horror movie.

“I was at the wrong place and the wrong time,” Blue said.

Amy Black of Walkertown brought her son, Alston, 9.

“It’s feel safe here, and it was good that it’s indoors because of the rain,” Black said. “There is a good crowd here.”

Traffic congestion expected Saturday for WSSU homecoming events and WFU football game

Fans of the Rams and Demon Deacons likely will cause traffic delays and congestion Saturday in Winston-Salem, especially with three major events scheduled to begin within a 3½-hour time period, authorities say.

Winston-Salem State University’s Homecoming Parade will start at 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Winston-Salem. The parade starts on Poplar Street NW and Fourth Street, moves down Fourth Street turning right at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and continues south to Cromartie Street.

“We are prepared for a large turnout” of parade-goers, police Capt. Michael Weaver said Thursday night.

Two hours later, N.C. State will play Wake Forest in a football game at noon at BB&T Field.

More than 30,000 people are expected to attend the game, said Steve Shutt, a spokesman for Wake Forest Athletics. WFU officials will work with Winston-Salem police and local transportation officials to handle traffic congestion around BB&T field, Shutt said.

Parking will cost $20 per vehicle at the Joel Coliseum’s parking lots, he said. Wake Forest season-ticket holders will park in the lots around BB&T Field.

Shaw University will play Winston-Salem State University in the Rams’ homecoming game at 1:30 p.m. at Bowman Gray Stadium.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 fans are expected to attend the game, said Trevin Goodwin, WSSU’s sports information director.

“We don’t have an exact estimate,” Goodwin said. “It’s homecoming, so you don’t ever know.”

Winston-Salem police and city transportation crews are prepared to handle traffic and the crowds for these events, Weaver said.

Off-duty police officers will work with WSSU and WFU police at these events, Weaver said.

City transportation crews will place barricades at the downtown city streets that border WSSU’s homecoming parade route, Weaver said.

“There will be definitely traffic congestion, but we have enough personnel to handle it,” Weaver said. “We are ready to roll.”

Pat Ivey, a division engineer in Winston-Salem for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said that drivers will encounter more vehicles on local roads and highways with travelers going to the three events.

“People need to come early in anticipation of traffic delays in these areas with those many events,” Ivey said.

An eastbound lane of Business 40 will be closed Saturday at its interchange with the eastern leg of the Northern Beltway, which is being built, Ivey said. Crews are installing a sound wall along the highway.

In addition, a one-mile stretch of Business 40 through downtown Winston-Salem will remain closed Saturday as its renovation project continues, Ivey said.

“With the additional vehicles and the closure of Business 40, visitors and alumni are urged to give themselves plenty of time and to become familiar with the alternate routes to and from campus,” said Jay Davis, a WSSU spokesman.

Message boards on Business 40, Interstate 40 and U.S. 52 will have information about the three events to help direct motorists to those venues, Ivey said.

“People need to allow some additional time because it will take longer to get through those areas,” Ivey said. “The delays could be substantial during those times.”

Saturday’s forecast calls for a high temperature near 60 degrees in Forsyth County amid sunny skies.

Patchy fog is expected before 9 a.m. in Winston-Salem, according to the National Weather Service.

Saturday night’s low temperature will be around 35 degrees with mostly clear skies in the area.

Sexual-addiction counselor in Winston-Salem charged with insurance fraud

A Winston-Salem sexual-addiction counselor has been charged with submitting fraudulent billing statements for client sessions he never did, bilking Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina of insurance money.

Gregory Alan Letourneau, 54, of the 1300 block of Glen Oaks Road in Clemmons was served a criminal summons Tuesday charging him with felony insurance fraud and felony obtaining property by false pretenses, according to court documents. He is scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on Nov. 14.

Letourneau is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified sexual-addiction therapist at Wings of Change of Forsyth LLC, which is at 526 W. First St., according to the company’s website. Letourneau is listed as the registered agent for the company, which was formed in 2014, according to documents filed with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office in Raleigh. The company was briefly dissolved in 2016 for failing to file annual reports. The secretary of state’s office reinstated the company this May.

The criminal summons alleges that on March 27, 2015, Letourneau submitted a written statement to Blue Cross that “contained false information billed for numerous dates of services that were fictitious.” The summons also alleges that Letourneau illegally obtained insurance payments from Blue Cross based on the false billing information.

Year-long investigation

Barry Smith, the assistant director of public affairs for the N.C. Department of Insurance, said the agency began an investigation about a year ago after receiving a complaint from one of Letourneau’s clients. The client told officials with the state insurance department’s criminal-investigations division that Letourneau was billing for sessions that did not happen, Smith said.

The alleged false billing occurred nine times in 2015 and four times in 2017, Smith said. The amount of insurance payments totaled $1,089, and Letourneau had refunded $693 for the nine 2015 sessions. He had not refunded payments for the 2017 sessions, Smith said.

He said the insurance department’s investigation is still active.

According to website for Wings of Change, the N.C. Social Work Certification and Licensure Board issued a license to Letourneau in 1996.

He received his certification as a sexual-addiction therapist in 2006 and has been a clinical supervisor for the past three years, according to the website. He also has certification as a therapist who helps clients recover from traumatic experiences. His license is still active, according to the state licensing board’s website.

Letourneau did not immediately return a message left at his office and on his work cellphone. A phone number associated with his home was disconnected.