Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 26, 2021

Attack threat looms over Kabul airport evacuation push, Jan. 6 investigators demand Trump documents, and more

1

1,500 Americans still in Afghanistan as threats loom over evacuation

About 1,500 American citizens remain in Afghanistan as the U.S. government rushes to evacuate everyone seeking to leave before the Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday. More than 4,500 U.S. citizens have been flown out of Afghanistan in the chaotic evacuation effort that began at Kabul's international airport after the Taliban seized control of the country earlier this month. U.S. and allied planes flew 19,200 people out of Kabul in the last day, and more than 10,000 others were at the airport awaiting flights, officials said Wednesday. European leaders warned the airport was no longer safe. A British official said there had been "very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack" there, possibly within "hours."

2

Panel investigating Jan. 6 attack demands Trump documents

The House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters made broad requests for federal agency records on Wednesday. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee's chair, sent letters demanding materials pertaining to the insurrection and to Trump's attempts to reverse his election loss to President Biden. Thompson demanded that agencies hand over documents covering such matters as "the former president's knowledge of the election results and what he communicated to the American people about the election." Thompson told the agencies to hand over the materials within two weeks. "Our Constitution provides for a peaceful transfer of power, and this investigation seeks to evaluate threats to that process," Thompson wrote.

3

Man sentenced to 6 years in prison for Whitmer kidnapping plot

Ty Garbin, a 25-year-old Michigan man who admitted he was part of a 2020 plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) from her summer home, was sentenced Wednesday to 75 months in prison and fined $2,500. More than a dozen men have been accused of participating in the plot. Government lawyers said the plotters discussed attacking legislators at the Michigan state Capitol before shifting to the kidnapping plan. Garbin is the only person to have pleaded guilty in the case. Prosecutors said he has cooperated extensively. Garbin, a mechanic, was upset by Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions, his lawyer said. Garbin apologized in court, saying he "can't even begin to imagine the amount of stress and fear" the plot caused Whitmer and her family.

4

Appeals court upholds Dylann Roof's death sentence

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the death penalty for Dylann Roof, the South Carolina man convicted of killing nine African-American members of a historic Black church in Charleston. Roof was sentenced to death in January 2017 for the 2015 attack. He was the first person in the U.S. to receive the death penalty for a federal hate crime. Overwhelming evidence presented at the trial, including some of Roof's own writings, confirmed that he was a white supremacist, and that he planned the attack over several months, hoping to start a race war. "His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose," the judges wrote.

5

Lawmakers face bipartisan criticism over secret Afghanistan trip

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan collection of other members of Congress on Wednesday leveled harsh criticism against Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) for making a secret trip to Afghanistan to observe the chaotic evacuation effort that followed the Taliban's takeover of the country. Pelosi said she found out about the trip on Tuesday but said nothing, to avoid endangering the congressmen's safety. "This is deadly serious," Pelosi said, adding that lawmakers were discouraged from going to Afghanistan to avoid straining limited resources ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News on Wednesday that the trip "put people in jeopardy," although he understood why the lawmakers went.

6

Texas governor bans COVID vaccine mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday issued an executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates regardless of a vaccine's FDA approval status, The Texas Tribune reported. His previous executive order also prohibited COVID vaccine mandates, but only for shots under emergency use authorization. The decision came one day after Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine, Comirnaty, received full FDA approval, a certification many health officials and lawmakers hoped would encourage shot mandates and curb vaccine hesitancy. But Abbott's order said no state governmental entity can compel anyone to get vaccinated, even with an FDA approved vaccine. The order also barred private entities that receive government funding from denying entry over vaccination status, or requiring people to share that information.

7

N.Y. governor says COVID death toll higher than Cuomo said

New York's new governor, Kathy Hochul, said Wednesday on her first day in office that the state had nearly 12,000 more COVID-19 deaths than former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had revealed publicly. "The public deserves a clear, honest picture of what's happening," Hochul told NPR. Cuomo's administration had provided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with data on the state's full death toll of nearly 55,400 people, but he had only reported the 43,400 deaths that occurred in hospitals and long-term care facilities to the public as of Monday, hours before he left office to avoid impeachment after being accused of sexually harassing at least 11 women. Federal health officials and some academic institutions tracking coronavirus deaths had been using the higher figure for months.

8

J&J: COVID booster shot increased antibodies 9-fold

Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that booster shots for its one-dose coronavirus vaccine produced a nine-fold increase in antibodies compared to 28 days after the first shot. The company said the data came from two Phase 2 studies conducted in the United States and Europe in which some of the roughly 2,000 participants got booster doses six months after their first shots. "We have established that a single shot of our COVID-19 vaccine generates strong and robust immune responses that are durable and persistent through eight months," Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Janssen, said in a statement. "With these new data, we also see that a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine further increases antibody responses among study participants who had previously received our vaccine."

9

Delta to charge unvaccinated workers $200 monthly to cover medical bills

Delta Air Lines told employees in a Wednesday memo that unvaccinated people on the company's health plan would have to start paying a $200 monthly surcharge to cover possible COVID-19 medical bills. "The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said. "This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company." The company said the fee would take effect Nov. 1, which would give workers plenty of time to get fully vaccinated if they don't want to pay. Bastian framed the charge as a security deposit to cover potential expenses, but the memo also noted that vaccinations are part of the company's effort to prevent the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus to the airline's destinations.

10

Judge sanctions pro-Trump lawyers over Michigan election lawsuit

A federal judge ordered sanctions against Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and several other pro-Trump lawyers who filed a lawsuit trying to overturn Michigan's 2020 presidential election results, saying they engaged in "a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process." U.S. District Judge Linda Parker said the lawsuit "was never about fraud — it was about undermining the People's faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so." She said sanctions against the lawyers who tried to reverse former President Donald Trump's election loss were necessary to "deter the filing of future frivolous lawsuits designed primarily to spread the narrative that our election processes are rigged and our democratic institutions cannot be trusted." Parker, who dismissed the Michigan lawsuit in December, ordered the lawyers to attend ethics classes. Wood said he would appeal.

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