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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — A second Senate Republican has come out against controversial Trump judicial nominee Thomas Farr, a move that is certain to sink his chances of confirmation.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the Senate’s only African-American Republican, said in a statement that he could not vote for Farr because of concerns about his record.

The nominee to be a federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been accused of legal efforts that effectively disenfranchised African-American voters.

“This week, a Department of Justice memo written under President George H.W. Bush was released that shed new light on Mr. Farr’s activities,” Scott wrote in a statement announcing his opposition. “This, in turn, created more concerns. Weighing these important factors, this afternoon I concluded that I could not support Mr. Farr’s nomination.”

Scott joined fellow Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and the Senate’s Democrats in opposing Farr’s nomination.

Flake is opposing all judicial nominations until he receives a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired, but he said Thursday that he’s also opposing Farr because he’s not fit for the bench.

“I’m not prepared to support Tom Farr even on the merits,” Flake said. “I’ve studied it more, at least about decisions he’s made to defend certain (electoral) maps or whatever else, and then questions with regard to the Jesse Helms letter have never been answered to my satisfaction.”

Farr was legal counsel on the campaign of former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who was investigated for intimidating black voters in 1990. The Justice Department investigated the voter suppression, which led to the memo that Scott and Flake both referenced in their opposition.

Thomas Farr is an employment lawyer at Ogletree and Deakins in Raleigh, where he has also been the lead counsel defending clients against racial discrimination and workplace violation complaints. He also worked to defend the restrictive voter ID law in North Carolina, which Democrats say is disqualifying.

This is the second time Scott has derailed one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees because of concerns over racism. He objected to Ryan Bounds, a nominee for the ninth circuit in July, over racially insensitive writings during his time at Stanford University. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also opposed Bounds, resulting in the nomination being pulled just moments before the final vote was set to take place.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made confirming judges a top priority under the Trump administration and Republicans have confirmed a record number — 84, including two Supreme Court justices.

Scott has been wrestling with Farr’s nomination. After keeping a procedural vote to advance the nomination open for 45 minutes Wednesday while he continued to “do homework” he voted in favor of moving forward with the nomination.

Final passage was supposed to be Thursday but was delayed because Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., had a family emergency in Oklahoma.

Scott said that he wanted to speak to the author of the Justice Department memo again because he had additional questions.

Scott set off an aggressive lobbying campaign by members on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was an advocate of Farr’s, having known each other from North Carolina. He huddled with Sen. Scott on Thursday morning to reassure him of Farr’s qualifications.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., hoped that Scott oppose him.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who called Farr the “chief cook and bottle washer” of voter disenfranchisement in the North Carolina, praised Scott for his decision.

“Senator Tim Scott has done a courageous thing, and he’s done the right thing. Thomas Farr has been involved in the sordid practice of voter suppression for decades and never should have been nominated, let alone confirmed to the bench. Thankfully, he won’t be,” Schumer said.

This seat has been vacant since 2005 — longer than any other judicial post. Former President Barack Obama nominated two people who Republicans blocked.

Garrett Haake contributed.



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IRS agent admits giving Michael Cohen’s financial records to Stormy lawyer

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By Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter

Federal prosecutors say an IRS investigator in California has admitted leaking confidential details of financial transactions by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to Michael Avenatti, lawyer for Stormy Daniels.

John C. Fry has been charged in federal court with searching for and disseminating Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), reports filed by banks when they note potentially suspicious transactions.

Federal officials say they found telephone records that indicate Fry placed a phone call from his personal cell phone to that of Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti the day before Avenatti released details of Cohen’s financial transactions, and the day after.

Via Twitter, Avenatti disseminated information about Cohen’s receipt in 2017 of $500,000 from Columbus Nova, a company founded by a Russian billionaire, as well as payments to a Cohen company called Essential Consultants from other firms who do business with the federal government, including AT&T and aircraft manufacturer. The

The Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s Office announced after Avenatti’s disclosure that it would be investigating the source of his information.

Fry, 54, is an investigative analyst with the law enforcement arm of the IRS, the Criminal Investigative Division. He has worked for the IRS since 2008.

According to the complaint, he conducted numerous searches related to Cohen, and downloaded five SARs, including one related to a bank account for Essential Consultants.

The federal complaint says Fry verbally admitted providing the information to Avenatti when he was confronted by federal agents.

In a statement, Avenatti told NBC News, “I have done nothing wrong and did not violate any law whatsoever, just like reporters don’t violate the law when they do their jobs.”

Sarah Fitzpatrick contributed.



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Republican candidate Mark Harris calls for new election in disputed North Carolina House race

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Dartunorro Clark

RALEIGH, North Carolina — Republican candidate Mark Harris on Thursday called for a new election in the disputed North Carolina House race.

“Neither I nor any of the leadership of my campaign were aware of or condoned the improper activities that have been testified to in this hearing. Through the testimony I listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the ninth district seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”

Harris’ request for a new election came after several days of a state Board of Elections hearing that is seeking to determine whether there was misconduct with mail-in ballots in the state’s 9th congressional district. Harris testified Thursday morning that he had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activities of a political operative hired by his campaign.

State investigators described the matter as a “coordinated, unlawful” mail-in ballot “scheme” in Bladen County run by political operative McCrea Dowless that included the collection of absentee ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina.

Harris testified Thursday that Dowless had repeatedly assured him that he would not be doing anything against the law in his absentee ballot operation. Harris said that after consideration and talking with others he trusted, he decided to move forward with the hire.

“I was comfortable enough with the recommendations of the individuals from Judge Marion Warren who at first told me about McCrae Dowless and what he did and all the way through in meeting with those individuals, I was comfortable enough at that point,” Harris said.

However, Harris’ son, John Harris, testified before the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Wednesday, saying that he warned his father about the illegal tactics of Dowless, casting doubt on Harris’ insistence that he had no knowledge of fraudulent election activity in last year’s election.

John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, testified that he told his father he had become concerned about the practices of the operative, McCrae Dowless, after studying the 2016 congressional primary in the same 9th District. He said that his father decided to hire Dowless despite his concerns.



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‘NOT SIMPLER!’ Philip Hammond LASHES OUT at Williamson over China trade talks GAFFE

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CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond has accused Gavin William of choosing his career over a trade deal with China which was thwarted after the Defence Secretary sent a Royal Navy ship to the South China Sea.

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