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Steve Helber/AP  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gives a thumbs-up as he leaves the Senate chamber Friday during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington.

Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON – The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon 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 pushed off final voting on his fate to Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorized to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 p.m. EST Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there’s nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal.

Nor will he face potentially damaging, open-Senate testimony from witnesses.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands and will 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.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid as leverage as the ally fought Russia. He is charged with then blocking the congressional probe of his actions.

Senators rejected the Democrats’ effort to allow new witness es, 51-49, a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

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

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal was 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.

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

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton has written 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 the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick 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 charge 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 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 galleries.

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.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman, Deb Riechmann and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Ancient shark fossils found during Mammoth Cave exploration
 Will Whaley  / 

Shark fossils found in Mammoth Cave National Park have stunned the paleontology world.

It all started with two Mammoth Cave specialists, Rick Olson and Rick Toomey, finding the fossilized shark in the cave walls while exploring and mapping the cave system.

Paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett, who researches shark fossils, was brought to Mammoth Cave in November after the discovery and said this find is a rarity.

“I was shown a set of photographs that looked like a series of teeth and some big chunks of cartilage with the teeth,” Hodnett said. “I thought this is really cool because shark cartilage in itself is very rare in the fossil record. Shark skeletons are made up primarily of cartilage. It is a softer tissue than, say, bone tissue, which fossilizes better. When you actually have cartilage of any kind to preserve, it is always a fantastic find.”

Hodnett said the shark was recognizable as a shark called Saivodus Striatus.

“Saivodus is only known from the late Mississippian Period, which is about 330 million years ago,” Hodnett said. “All we have known up until now is just the teeth of Saivodus. To actually have cartilage with the teeth was like a major find for this particular species of shark.”

To properly verify the fossils, Hodnett spent time at Mammoth Cave looking at the spot where the fossils were found.

“They thought maybe they had a whole skeleton, which unfortunately wasn’t the case, but what was really amazing is that the cartilage belonged to one big skull, which was exposed in the cave wall,” Hodnett said. “From what I could see was one big jaw of the shark and some other cartilage that could belong to parts of the cranium.”

Hodnett said the size of the jaw was similar to the size of the Great White Shark, which is not uncommon for the Savidus species.

“Saivodus is actually a pretty big shark,” Hodnett said. “For the particular one found at Mammoth Cave, we are thinking about something between 15 and 20 feet long.”

Hodnett added there were other Saivodus fossils found, leading experts to believe the species could be upward of 25 or 30 feet long.

After the initial identifications were verified, Hodnett said the plan of what to do with the fossils is next.

“I took the measurements and photographs and we are still coming up with a plan on what to do with this particular specimen whether we will be able to remove it safely out of the cave wall or if this is something we will have to document in place,” Hodnett said.

Hodnett also said Mammoth Cave is abundant in other shark fossils as well.

“In the process of getting to the new specimen, we are seeing more shark teeth,” he said. “It is surprising how (many) shark fossils there are at Mammoth Cave, and because they are preserved in the cave, they are not exposed to the elements like other shark fossils. They can fall apart or get abraded from either wind, sand grains or snow. Because they are in the cave and slowly eroding out of the cave due to cave moisture, they are in great shape and they are offering a lot more high-resolution information.”

The rock that the fossil was found in is also significant, according to Hodnett.

“There is a diverse group of shark fauna that is in the cave, and there’s a particular layer of rock that is at Mammoth Cave,” said Hodnett, adding that the rock layer is called Ste. Genevieve Limestone. “This layer is known going all the way to Missouri to West Virginia. We have never had any documentation of shark fossils coming from that particular rock bed. That in itself is ... like a major puzzle piece.”

This finding also will allow comparisons to be made to other findings around the world.

“At this moment, in North America, we have very little good (examples) of fossil sharks for this time period,” he said.

Hodnett also addressed how these fossils ended up in Mammoth Cave.

“There was an ancient warm seaway that went through most of North America,” he said. “But things change, new mountains rise and up and drain the land. About 13 million years ago, the river system started to carve into the limestone and started forming tunnels, which is the Mammoth Cave system we know in the area. If it wasn’t for the water actually changing and shifting every time creating these tunnels, we would have never known that the shark teeth were here.”

The research is still being conducted, according to Hodnett, adding that he plans to do a presentation for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Cincinnati in October.

Hodnett also hopes that the research in Mammoth Cave will expand.

“I’m hoping that there will be more research in the cave,” he said. “We have only been in a few tunnels and it is amazing what we found in those. Imagine what else we could find in the rest of them. That would be the other goal to expand and look at other locations in the cave and find more evidence of sharks. There are other layers of rocks from different formations that could have records of sharks as well, but we don’t know if we don’t look.”

Mammoth Cave National Park Public Information Officer Molly Schrorer said the fossils and their location are protected.

“Everything in the park is protected,” she said. “We preserve it and protect it for scientific and educational purposes. These fossils are such an important and fragile resource. We are very careful about how we show those to the public. These particular fossils are out of the public view and off the main cave route.”

Schrorer said the discovery is generating a lot of good publicity for the park.

“We’ve known these fossils are down there for many years, but they haven’t been scientifically researched until now,” she said. “To have an actual shark expert come in and tell us what we have has revealed how important these fossils are to the park and our geological history.”

WKU regents talk higher ed funding, salary change for Caboni
 Aaron Mudd  / 

An increase to Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni’s annual salary won preliminary approval from a WKU Board of Regents committee Friday.

However, the increase won’t actually amount to a real change in Caboni’s pay. That’s because the increase will be used to offset a new tax liability on university-owned housing the president is contractually obligated to live in.

Susan Howarth, WKU’s executive vice president for strategy, operations and finance, explained the change to the board as it met in committees Friday. She said that, as a result of a recent Internal Revenue Service audit, the president’s home on Chestnut Street has been deemed “a taxable, noncash benefit to the president.”

Due to the change, Howarth said Caboni “would basically take a pay cut of about $22,000 if we did not make this salary adjustment.”

Given that, Howarth said, the university is proposing the change “in order for (Caboni’s) net pay to remain the same that it is today.”

“It’s no increase in that pay,” Howarth said. “It’s only to cover the tax liability.”

The university-provided housing fell outside of three qualifications necessary for the IRS to exclude it from Caboni’s gross income. The housing passed two out of three “tests” but failed the third, with the IRS concluding that Caboni could live anywhere in Warren County and still fulfill his job responsibilities, Howarth said.

The change sparked some discussion from the regents.

Faculty Regent Claus Ernst noted that faculty members are often asked to use their own money while performing and advancing in their jobs at WKU, but “they don’t have an opportunity to come to the board and say … ‘Well, make my net salary whole again.’ ”

The salary increase, he argued, “will actually look quite bad” from the faculty’s perspective.

While Staff Regent David Brinkley acknowledged the move “looks bad optically,” he worried that not moving ahead would put the university out of compliance with Caboni’s employment contract.

“If we do not do this, we are not fulfilling the contract. That gives the employee the power to say that we’re in violation of the contract,” Brinkley said. “It’s not a justification. It’s a requirement.”

Ultimately, the Board’s Executive Committee agreed to the change and voted to send it on to the full board for a vote of approval at a later meeting. The board is scheduled to meet for its quarterly meeting in March.

In other business, the regents got an update about the ongoing legislative session from Jennifer Smith, special assistant to the president for government and community relations.

During her report, Smith discussed Gov. Andy Beshear’s budget proposal, which he unveiled this week to lawmakers. The General Assembly will now set to work crafting its own two-year state budget.

Smith noted that, while Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education asked Beshear to increase performance funding for the state’s universities by about $75 million over the next two years, “in the governor’s budget, he zeroed out performance funding.”

“Instead, he gave all the universities a 1 percent increase in our base appropriation,” Smith said.

She raised doubts that Beshear would be able to entirely eliminate performance funding for universities, which ties state tax dollars to outcomes like graduation rates. The funding mechanism is codified in state law, “and I think the House and the Senate are very invested in performance funding,” Smith said.

“President (Caboni) and I had several meetings on Wednesday with some key legislators, and I fully expect to see performance funding be put back in to the House budget,” Smith said.

For the second part of the CPE’s request, meant to chip away at a $7 billion need for campus maintenance across the state, Smith noted that Beshear only included half of the agency’s $400 million request in his budget proposal. The CPE’s request called for $400 million in state bonds matched with $200 million of campus funds.

Over the last decade, Kentucky’s colleges and universities have taken a beating in state spending cuts. According to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, since 2008, state investments in higher education have declined 33 percent.

Given that, Caboni said all of Kentucky’s colleges and universities will be speaking with the same voice to lawmakers this session.

“The message that we’re sharing, not just from WKU, but across all of our institutions is that what has happened for the past decade cannot happen,” Caboni said. “The best way for us to continue to grow the state economy is an investment in higher education. That’s a legislative-oriented message.”

Timothy Caboni

WKU suspends all student travel to China amid coronavirus outbreak
 Aaron Mudd  / 

Amid a coronavirus outbreak that the World Health Organization declared Thursday to be a global health emergency, all student travel to China from Western Kentucky University has been suspended, WKU spokesman Bob Skipper confirmed to the Daily News on Friday.

In an interview, Skipper said three WKU students are currently in China, all participants in the university’s Chinese Flagship Program, a language education program that culminates in students spending a year in the country.

Having completed their studies there, Skipper said the students will return to the U.S. early next week. A fourth student was scheduled to travel to the country in February, but “he will not go now,” Skipper added.

“At this point, their safety is of paramount concern,” he said.

Skipper told the Daily News that if faculty and staff wish to travel to a region with a Level 3 advisory, they must get approval from WKU’s provost and chief international officer.

The Courier Journal in Louisville was the first to report Friday that WKU, along with the University of Kentucky, had suspended all student travel to China. The Courier Journal reported that all student travel from WKU is suspended to regions under federal travel warnings of Level 3 or 4. On Thursday, the State Department elevated its Chinese travel advisory to Level 4: Do Not Travel.

There are at least six confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the U.S., CNN reported Friday. The most recent case was confirmed Thursday and was the first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus in the U.S. No cases have been documented in Kentucky.