News Headlines 2/23/21

U.S. PASSES MILESTONE OF 500,000 DEAD FROM COVID-19: The U.S. passed 500,000 coronavirus deaths on Monday (February 22nd), a number that seemed unimaginable when the pandemic began one year ago and that accounts for some 20 percent of deaths reported worldwide. The number of cases and deaths in the U.S. have fallen significantly in recent weeks after a deadly surge over the holidays. However, despite that and the ongoing campaign to vaccinate Americans, experts warn that tens of thousands of more deaths are likely in the next few months. President Biden marked yesterday’s sad milestone with a candlelight moment of silence after he delivered remarks remembering those who’ve died and trying to offer comfort to those they left behind. Biden, who ordered flags on federal property lowered to half staff for five days, urged Americans to, quote, “resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” and to, “Remember those we lost and those left behind.” He also looked to a brighter future, saying, “This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again.” After he spoke, Biden, First Lady Jill BidenVice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff stood outside the White House for a moment of silence. Five hundred candles, each standing for 1,000 people who’ve died, lined the stairways on either side of them, and the Marine Band played “Amazing Grace.”

Biden: [“While we’re fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news.”] SOUNDCUE (:16 OC . . . on the news.)

[“So today I ask all Americans to remember. Remember those we lost and those left behind. But as we remember, as we all remember, I also ask us to act. To remain vigilant. To stay socially distanced. To mask up. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”] SOUNDCUE (:26 OC . . . it’s your turn.)

[“This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again. And as we do, we’ll remember each person we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left behind.”] SOUNDCUE (:17 OC . . . they left behind.)

SUPREME COURT ALLOWS N.Y. PROSECUTOR TO GET TRUMP’S TAX RECORDS: The Supreme Court yesterday (February 22nd) declined to stop former President Donald Trump‘s tax records from being turned over to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who’s been trying to get them from since 2019 as part of a criminal investigation. Accounting firm Mazars, which has long done work for Trump and his businesses, had said it would comply with a subpoena for more than eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax records, but Trump sued to try to stop it. Vance issued a statement yesterday that said only, “The work continues.” Trump put out a statement blasting Vance’s investigation as politically motivated and saying the Supreme Court, quote, “never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did.”

Supremes Reject Election Cases: The Supreme Court yesterday also rejected cases related to the November election that had been filed by Trump and his allies in five states Joe Biden won, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

LEADER IN ALLEGED OATH KEEPERS CONSPIRACY NOW SAYS DIDN’T MEET WITH SECRET SERVICE: Former Army Ranger Jessica Watkins, a leader in an alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy in the January 6th U.S. Capitol attack, is now saying she didn’t meet with the Secret Service that day. Watkins had said in a court filing over the weekend that she was given a VIP pass to the earlier rally that day at which then-President Donald Trump and others spoke, had met with Secret Service agents, and was providing security for lawmakers and others. But yesterday (February 22nd), Watkins said she’d only spoken with Secret Service members as she went through security at the rally. Her new court filing says of that interaction, “She was given directives about things she could and could not do, including directions to leave all tactical gear outside of the VIP area, and she abided by all of those directives.” In response to Watkins’ earlier claim, the Secret Service had denied that private citizens were working with them to provide security on January 6th. The Justice Department has indicted Watkins on several charges related to the attack.

WIFE OF MEXICAN DRUG KINGPIN ‘EL CHAPO’ ARRESTED IN U.S.: The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested Monday (February 22nd) at Virginia’s Dulles International Airport on drug charges. Emma Coronel Aispuro, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, has been accused of helping him run his cartel, charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. The Justice Department has also accused her of helping Guzman escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and taking part in the planning of a second prison escape. Guzman was extradited to the U.S. in 2017 and is serving a life sentence after being convicted.

PROBE CRITICAL OF COLORADO POLICE IN FATAL 2019 ARREST OF ELIJAH MCCLAIN: The results of an independent investigation released Monday (February 22nd) criticized police handling of a 2019 incident in Aurora, Colorado, in which Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died after an arrest when someone called police to report him as suspicious. The report was critical of police for their aggressive treatment of McClain, with body camera footage showing him crying out in pain, apologizing, trying to explain himself, and pleading with police as they restrained him, sat or kneeled on him, and used “pain compliance” techniques. A neckhold made him unconscious, and paramedics later gave him ketamine to sedate him. McClain suffered cardiac arrest and later died after being taken off life support. The report also said the initial decision to stop McClain, quote, “did not appear to be supported” by reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity.

FAMILIES OF SERVICEMEMBERS KILLED IN PENSACOLA ATTACK SUE SAUDI ARABIA: The families of three U.S. servicemembers who were killed and 13 others who were severely wounded in a December 2019 attack by a Saudi Air Force member at Naval Air Station Pensacola have sued Saudi Arabia. Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Al-Shamrani, a flight student at the base, opened fire, killing three Navy servicemembers and wounding 13 people before being killed by law enforcement. The lawsuit claims Saudi Arabia knew Al-Shamrani had been radicalized and had anti-American views. Former Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray said last year that Al-Shamrani had communicated with al-Qaida operatives for some time, including right up to the attack.