Tuesday morning news – February 23, 2021

AG nominee Garland testifies in confirmation hearing » Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick for attorney general will face senators on Capitol Hill again this morning on day-2 of his confirmation hearing. 

On Monday, Garland told members of the Judiciary Committee that if confirmed, his first focus would be on prosecuting those involved in the siege of the U.S. Capitol. 

GARLAND: A heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government. 

Garland served as a federal appeals court judge until last year. He was President Obama’s pick to fill the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But Republicans scuttled his nomination for the high court.  

Senators on Monday pressed Garland on his assurances that the Justice Department would remain politically independent on his watch.

GOP Senator Chuck Grassley questioned him about special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. 

GRASSLEY: If confirmed, will you commit to providing special counsel Durham with the staff, resources, funds, and time needed to thoroughly complete the investigation.
GARLAND: Senator, I don’t have any information about the investigation as I sit here today.

Garland said one of his first orders of business would be to check with Durham on how the investigation is going. 

He also assured senators that he has not spoken with President Biden about any potential probe involving the president’s son Hunter Biden. 

The full Senate could vote on Garland’s nomination next week. He is widely expected to win confirmation. 

Biden announces changes to Paycheck Protection Program » President Biden says changes are coming to the Paycheck Protection Program. That is the coronavirus relief program for small businesses—providing loans, which in many cases can be forgiven. 

The president announced Monday…

BIDEN: For the next two weeks, the only folks who can apply for that PPP money are businesses with fewer than 20 employees. 

He said the pandemic has already put more than 400,000 small companies out of business. 

The Biden administration is also carving out $1 billion to direct toward sole proprietors like home contractors and beauticians.

The administration is also changing rules to allow those behind on their federal student loans to seek relief through the program. And new rules will clarify that noncitizen legal residents can apply to the program.

SCOTUS will not block transfer of Trump tax documents » The U.S. Supreme Court handed former President Donald Trump a legal defeat on Monday. The high court will not step in to halt the turnover of Trump’s tax records to a New York prosecutor. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The court’s action is seemingly the culmination of a drawn out legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.

The court’s order is a win for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019 as part of an investigation. Vance, a Democrat, had subpoenaed the records from an accounting firm that has long worked with Trump and his businesses. 

Vance’s office had said it would be free to enforce the subpoena and obtain the records if the Supreme Court did not step in. But it’s unclear when that might happen. 

While Vance’s office may finally seize the tax documents, they are not supposed to become public

Trump has called the push for his records “a fishing expedition” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in history.”

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.

Boeing recommends grounding all 777s after engine explosion » Boeing has recommended that airlines ground all 777 jetliners after an engine blew apart in Colorado over the weekend. 

David Delucia was a passenger on a United Airlines flight out of Denver. 

DELUCIA: The captain came on at about 10,000 feet, and he was giving the speech that they normally do. And before he could complete that speech, that’s when the engine blew. 

Debris crashed down on soccer fields, homes, and yards in a Denver suburb. No one on the plane or on the ground was hurt. 

The engine was a Pratt & Whitney PW4000. There are 69 Boeing 777s in service with that particular engine. 

United had 24 of the planes in service; it is the only U.S. airline with the engine in its fleet. Two Japanese airlines are grounding another 32 jets. 

Both Boeing and the engine maker say they are working with FAA investigators to determine the cause of the explosion. 

Virginia on verge of ending capital punishment » Virginia is on the verge of ending the death penalty in the state. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown has that story. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: The Virginia House and Senate voted Monday to approve a bill to repeal the death penalty in the state. The votes were largely down party lines. Democrats enjoy a majority in both chambers. 

That sent the legislation to the desk of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law. That will make Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.

Republicans raised concerns about justice for victims and their family members. They said there are some crimes that are so heinous that capital punishment is the only suitable sentence. 

It’s a major turnaround for a state that has has used the death penalty more than any other dating back to its days as a colony. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976—Virginia, with 113 executions, is second only to Texas.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s pick to be attorney general, answers questions from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., as he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. 

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