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Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon additional 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 moved to push 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 acquittal behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday.

Under an agreement that was to be voted on Friday night, the trial would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal appeared all but set after a hard-fought effort to allow new witnesses was defeated 51-49 on a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands to 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. Some called it a cover-up.

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

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal is 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.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on allegations that he abused power and obstructed Congress like no other president has done as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate possible corruption by would-be Democratic rival Joe Biden, and then blocked the congressional probe of his actions.

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 procedural votes late Friday to call Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, but they were all being rejected.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes 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 Zelenskiy 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 Biden and his son Hunter. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included 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 allegation 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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Schumer, but it was not yet final.

Under the proposal, the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.

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 after the House impeached Trump largely along party lines after less than thee 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.

Trump is almost assured of eventual acquittal with the Senate nowhere near the 67 votes needed for conviction and removal.

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 seems 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.

Though protesters stood outside the Capitol, few visitors have been watching from the Senate gallery.

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.

Tri-State Arena Cross showcases professional, amateur motocross riders

HUNTINGTON — Motocross riders from across the Tri-State were at Mountain Health Arena on Friday competing for cash prizes during the Tri-State Arena Cross 2020 Indoor Championship Series.

The series features professional and amateur motocross riders, with professionals racing for more than $10,000 cash and amateurs competing for their share of $10,000 in prizes.

The championship series continues at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Mountain Health Arena (formerly the Big Sandy Superstore Arena) in Huntington. Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for ages 10 and under, and free for ages 4 and under, and are available at the arena box office or www.ticketmaster.com.

New this year are stunts by YouTube sensation Ronnie Mac, who will host a VIP meet-and-greet for an additional $15. Meet-and-greet passes include early entry at 3 p.m., the event, and a private VIP room with food and refreshments.

State releases final drug response plan

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s newly released 2020-22 Substance Use Response plan received favorable reviews from two Cabell County delegates, but they both said more work needs to be done.

The West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy and the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment released the plan Thursday.

The plan presents strategic framework to address the current gaps and needs over the next three years to address the drug epidemic that has plagued the state for well over a decade. It encompasses prevention; community engagement and supports; integrated health systems; treatment, recovery and research; court systems and justice-involved populations; law enforcement; and public education.

“This plan provides important background on the state’s many initiatives as well as our goals for the coming years,” said Bob Hansen, director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, in a release. “An annual review process will ensure our strategies and objectives remain current and on target.”

Hansen and Brian Gallagher, chairman of the governor’s council, presented the plan to members of the House of Delegates’ Committee on the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse on Thursday.

Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, chairman of the committee, and Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, both said overall they were pleased with the plan.

Rohrbach, a physician, had been asking for the final draft since the session began at the start of the month. The plan already had missed its statutory deadline, partly due to lack of steady leadership before Hansen took over in 2018. An audit of the office also pointed to the formation of the governor’s council as another reason the response plan was delayed.

The same audit also found the draft of the plan did not meet the required mandate to also include a plan to reduce tobacco use, which the office had to adjust.

Rohrbach said he generally was pleased with the final product delivered Thursday. He said he welcomed the comprehensive look at prevention efforts, as well as tobacco and vaping. He said he also was pleased to see the plan address ways to attack whatever drug is plaguing the state as the drug of choice shifts. He said the newly launched dashboard, created by the Legislature last year, will help keep that information up to date and help officials target resources.

“There are some places that they will need legislation, and I tasked them to get formulated what they need very quickly because this session is rapidly moving,” Rohrbach said. “I’m committed to getting what they need passed to accomplish the goals. But overall I was very happy with the plan and want to work to see it implemented. Obviously, they may need some funding that we will work diligently to find, but some of the funding is already in place and it just pulls some of the resources together.”

Hornbuckle said he, too, was generally pleased with the plan’s direction, and said he thinks the state has done a good job of building up infrastructure to address the opioid epidemic, but there are still things that can be enhanced.

One issue is the need to promote the state’s Good Samaritan law, passed two years ago, which protects people who call 911 in the event of an overdose from criminal charges. The goal of the law is to promote lifesaving actions by eliminating fear of reprisals. Hornbuckle said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, raised the point to officials during the committee’s presentation that more education needs to be done to promote the law.

Hornbuckle said while it’s great what the state has done to assist those in recovery from substance use disorder to find housing and jobs, the state also has to do better to ensure it helps people in those areas before they find themselves addicted.

“Looking at lead indicators as far as somebody apt to fall into addiction, might be predisposed to it, and making sure we are addressing those folks and those segments of our population, but just youth in general — we have to be more proactive,” he said.

There is also an issue with diversity in addressing this matter, Hornbuckle said. While the prison population has a disproportionate minority percentage, recovery residences are primarily white, he said.

“We do a good job of reaching our rural areas, but we don’t do a good job of reaching minorities,” he said.

The council also lacks diversity, which Gallagher agreed was something that should be addressed.

The ODCP and the Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment hosted eight public forums in the fall of 2019 to provide residents with the opportunity to provide comments. Feedback was also accepted online for those unable to attend.

Leadership dispute erupts at aluminum mill company

FRANKFORT, Ky. — An aluminum company planning to build a $1.7 billion plant near Ashland announced a management shakeup this week, but the company’s top executive later disputed that he had stepped down.

The dispute comes as Braidy Industries tries to complete financing for a long-promised Kentucky project staked to millions in taxpayer money.

The boardroom drama began when Braidy Industries said Thursday that its chairman and CEO, Craig Bouchard, would step down from that role but remain a member of the company’s board of directors. The company offered no reason for the change, which comes at a crucial time for efforts to build the mill.

Bouchard disputed the company announcement Friday, saying on social media that he did not authorize the company release and had not relinquished his job.

Despite the confusion, the company forged ahead with its plans.

The company announced Thursday that its current president, Tom Modrowski, had been named interim CEO and current board member Charles Price would serve as board chairman.

On Friday, in a response to Bouchard, Price said the company’s board had “confirmed” its action this week, removing Bouchard as CEO and chairman.

Braidy has said the shakeup comes as the company enters “its final fundraising stage.”

“Tom and the board will continue to focus our efforts on completing fundraising and planning for construction of the Ashland mill,” Price said in the Thursday release.

Despite those assurances, the Kentucky Senate’s top leader expressed uncertainty Friday when asked if he remains confident the project will come to fruition.

“Until it gets built, you always have to have concerns,” Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, told reporters.

Bouchard had been the public point man for the project — long touted to bring a badly needed infusion of jobs to a struggling region. The company has said it will create 1,500 construction jobs and more than 650 full-time jobs once the plant starts production. The mill is to be built in EastPark Industrial Center, not far from where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet on the Ohio River.

The Bluegrass State also has a financial stake in the project.

In a rare move, former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin persuaded the state Legislature to approve a $15 million investment in the project, making taxpayers partial owners of the planned mill.

The state investment sparked a legal fight, led by the Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, for records detailing the company’s finances. Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration recently released those records.

Word of the company’s shakeup brought responses from the top levels of state government.

“We were previously advised of these changes, and it is our understanding they do not impact the current status of the project,” Beshear spokesman Sebastian Kitchen said in a statement before Bouchard’s social media post disputing the company announcement.

The governor’s office later said it didn’t have any additional information to share.

Beshear ousted Bevin in last year’s election.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne noted that local officials near the planned mill remain confident that the project is moving forward and will be completed.

“I know this governor’s office is committed to seeing it through,” the speaker said. “It’s a project that’s going to mean generational change for that area.”

Osborne also spoke before Bouchard’s social media comments.

Braidy’s Kentucky project drew widespread attention when the company forged a partnership with Russian aluminum giant Rusal, which previously faced U.S. sanctions for connections to a Russian oligarch.

A group of eight Democratic members of Congress asked the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate the investment because of their concerns about Russian influence on the economy and national security of the United States.