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N.C. judge turns down GOP candidate’s request to certify disputed congressional race

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell

WASHINGTON — A North Carolina judge Tuesday denied Republican Mark Harris’ request to certify the still-disputed congressional race in the state’s ninth congressional district, saying that the North Carolina Board of Elections should complete its investigation before the court considers intervening.

Attorneys for Harris, who finished with a 905-vote lead in November’s general election, argued that the ongoing delays in the state’s investigation and uncertainty about the process going forward was enough reason for the judge to intervene and grant Harris’ petition.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled against the request, and he expressed skepticism during the two-hour hearing in Raleigh on Tuesday, suggesting that it would be an overreach for the court to determine the outcome of the election before the state board had concluded its investigation.

“Certification is not appropriate until the investigation into the protest is concluded,” Ridgeway said.

The North Carolina Board of Elections has not certified the results of the race between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of its ongoing investigation into allegations of irregularities and fraudulent activities related to absentee by-mail voting.

Harris’ attorney David Freedman argued that Harris is not suggesting that an investigation shouldn’t continue but that the race should be certified without further delay.

“We are a couple months past the election and we don’t have representation for the residents of the 9th district,” Freedman said.

Ridgeway took a short recess before returning with his decision and saying that it would be an overreach for the court to determine the outcome of a disputed election when the court doesn’t have access to the records and investigative documents that have been collected in the case.

“Why are we looking at a dramatic intervention of one branch of government into another branch of government,” Ridgeway asked.

Representing McCready was Democratic heavyweight attorney Marc Elias, who served as general counsel for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and for other high profile Democratic Party entities.

In a statement following the decision, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said, “we are pleased that Harris’ frivolous request has been denied and that North Carolina can get back to investigating allegations of systematic electoral fraud committed on behalf of Harris’ campaign.”

But North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said “nothing about today’s court hearing changes the fact that Congressman-Elect Dr. Mark Harris won the election. He received more legal votes and no public evidence has shown the outcome is in doubt. We are confident that Dr. Harris will be certified by the new State Board and will be seated in Washington.”

Central to the disputed race are allegations of unusual voting activity involving absentee ballots, especially in rural Bladen County. The investigation has centered on political operative McCrae Dowless who was hired by political consulting firm Red Dome, which was working on grassroots outreach for the Harris campaign.

Since Election Day, the North Carolina Board of Elections has been upended by both political and legal activities unrelated to the disputed congressional race but directly having an impact on it.

In response to a lawsuit by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who alleged that the independent, bipartisan nine-member board was unconstitutional, a three-judge panel ordered that the board be dissolved.

That ruling resulted in the creation of a new board that will be made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, giving Democrat McCready an advantage in the case.

Because of the dissolution of the board, the previously scheduled evidentiary hearing of the congressional race on January 11 is now scheduled for January 31.

Harris’ attempt to convince the court to decide is a last-ditch effort to certify the race before the new, Democrat-majority board is seated.

Rich Gardella and Annie Rose Ramos contributed.



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PRICE OF BREXIT MAPPED: How much would no deal Brexit cost the UK economy?

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BUSINESS lobby group CBI has provided a fresh analysis of government figures, and the findings paint a bleak picture of the potential economic damage of a no-deal Brexit.

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FBI agents say shutdown is hampering counterterrorism, sex trafficking probes

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By Rich Schapiro

The partial government shutdown is hampering FBI investigations into terror suspects, drug traffickers and child sexual predators, according to a report by a group representing the federal law enforcement officers.

The 72-page report, titled “Voices from the Field,” features dozens of firsthand accounts from unnamed agents detailing the ways the shutdown is hindering their work.

“I currently investigate a particularly violent street gang,” an agent from the FBI’s central region says in the report. “I have had to tell our local law enforcement partners that I cannot assist in funding these operations because my field office does not have money. This means that the one chance we may have to take down several violent individuals may pass us by and we may not get the chance again.”

An unidentified agent who works on counterterrorism investigations says in the report that the shutdown has “eliminated any ability to operate.”

“It’s bad enough to work without pay, but we can only conduct administrative functions while doing it,” says the agent, who works in the western region. “The fear is, our enemies know they can run freely.”

The shutdown has also stripped the department of the ability to buy drugs for narcotics busts and pay confidential informants, according to the report from the FBI Agents Association.

“Not being able to pay confidential human sources risks losing them and the information they provide forever,” an agent from the central region says in the report. “It is not a switch that we can turn on and off.”

The FBI’s roughly 35,000 employees, including 13,000 special agents, are bracing to miss their second paycheck this Friday as the shutdown stretches into its fifth week.

“That is one month, four weeks, 30 days without pay,” FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor said Tuesday at a news conference.

O’Connor’s voice began to quiver as he recalled bringing food to his office Monday night to help those in need. “It is truly sad that we must resort to this because we are being let down by our elected officials,” O’Connor said.

The Justice Department did not return a request for comment.

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