PBS NewsHour full episode, March 29, 2022

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff. On the "NewsHour" tonight: a pivotal moment. Russia and Ukraine discuss a potential path to peace, as Ukrainian forces retake a critical suburb of Kyiv. We discuss this crossroads with the prime minister of Estonia. KAJA KALLAS, Prime Minister of Estonia: Vladimir Putin has to be isolated politically on all the levels, because what we see in Ukraine, they are targeting the civilians, and this is a war crime. JUDY WOODRUFF: Then: fighting racism. An anti-lynching bill bearing the name of slain teen Emmett Till.

It's signed into law by the president nearly 70 years after his murder. And investigating the insurrection. New documents reveal a nearly eight-hour gap in President Trump's January 6 call logs. We talk to a key member of that probe. All that and more on tonight's PBS NewsHour. (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: "We'll see" — that was President Biden's reaction today to the news that Russia said it would curtail some of its military activity in Northern Ukraine. American officials across the administration echoed that caution. The U.S. believes Moscow is moving troops away from Kyiv to redeploy them elsewhere, including the Donbass region.

Today, Russian forces also continued their bombardment of cities in Southern Ukraine. Meantime, talks in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia showed some signs of progress. And that's where special correspondent Jack Hewson begins our coverage tonight, reporting from Kharkiv. JACK HEWSON: In Istanbul today, Turkish officials tried to set a friendly tone, as Ukrainian and Russian negotiators meet for the first round of in person talks in nearly three weeks. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who earlier this month offered to be a mediator, highlighted the meeting's gravity. RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkish President (through translator): As members of the delegations, you have taken on a historic responsibility. The whole world is awaiting the good news that will come from you. JACK HEWSON: After the meeting, Ukraine sent Moscow its most detailed proposal yet for a future peace deal, raising hopes for talks between the two leaders. DAVID ARAKHAMIA, Head of Ukrainian Delegation (through translator): We think that we have worked through enough material, so that a meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and the Russian Federation can be made possible. We have sent the proposal to the Russian side, and are waiting for their answer.

JACK HEWSON: Ukraine pledged to remain neutral, without joining military alliances or hosting military bases, in exchange for security guarantees similar to NATO's Article 5, which says an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies. Turkey, Germany and Poland were named among the potential guarantors of Ukraine's security. Ukraine also proposed a 15-year negotiation period over the status of Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. Meanwhile, Russia said it would drastically reduce its military activity in Northern Ukraine, including around Kyiv. MICHAEL KOFMAN, Center for Naval Analyses: The Russian military has been signaling a likely shift of strategy for at least the last week-and-a-half, if not longer. Their offensives on most fronts have stalled out. They were conducting an operational pause. They lost momentum. And the one area where they were still making gains was in the fight for the Donbass and in the fight the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. JACK HEWSON: Michael Kofman is a Russia expert at the Center for Naval Analyses, a nonprofit research organization. MICHAEL KOFMAN: This is less a withdrawal or retreat, and more of a retrenchment, or, to be frank, a redeployment of Russian forces, throwing them behind the other troops that the Russian military has fighting in the Donbass, where they're trying to encircle Ukrainian troops.

JACK HEWSON: Throughout the country, Ukrainian soldiers have put up strong resistance. In this town northwest of Kyiv, they take abandoned Russian tanks as their trophies. MARAT SAIFULIN, Ukrainian Soldier (through translator): We kicked out the Russians from here, and they are now several kilometers away. We will advance and we will free more in the coming days. JACK HEWSON: Further east, Ukraine continues its battle for Kharkiv. Russian military losses mount, but civilian lives are not spared. This city, home to nearly 1.5 million before the war, has suffered some of the most relentless bombardment. Talk of peace and reduced military activity has had little impact on the ground here in Kharkiv. The regional government has reported 46 strikes on the city over the past 24 hours, predominantly mortar fire. And the sounds of incoming and outgoing artillery rounds can regularly be heard. Russian attacks today also continued in the south, in the port city of Mykolaiv, the governor's office torn apart.

Emergency workers rushed to evacuate anyone alive. WOMAN (through translator): This is just a nightmare. A girl died on my floor. What can I say? JACK HEWSON: Inside, the workplace now turned into wreckage. Surveillance footage caught the missile strike, after the impact, huge billows of smoke. To evacuate those still trapped by the violence, Ukraine said three humanitarian corridors were agreed today after a day-long pause, including one from Mariupol, where tens of thousands of civilians still try to escape the devastation. But in another impassioned speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more needed to be done to punish Russia. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, Ukrainian President (through translator): Yes, we can say that the signals we hear from the talks are positive. But these signals can't silence the explosions of Russian shells. Sanctions must get stronger weekly, and they must be of high quality. JACK HEWSON: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jack Hewson in Kharkiv, Ukraine. JUDY WOODRUFF: And a note: The "NewsHour"'s coverage of Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

In the day's other news: The FDA and the CDC endorsed a second booster shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for those over 50. It also applies to younger people with badly weakened immune systems. The move came as vaccinations have slowed markedly, and as a new version of the Omicron variant is spreading. We will get details after the news summary. In China, Shanghai's sweeping lockdown to stop a COVID surge entered a second day. Streets were largely empty, and shops were shuttered. The lockdown is being carried out in two phases, beginning in and around the financial district. Officials said thousands of financial workers are sleeping in their offices to keep business running.

The U.S. Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, joined calls today for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any cases involving the January 6 Capitol riot. Schumer cited reports that Virginia Thomas, who is the justice's wife, texted former President Trump's chief of staff, trying to overturn the 2020 election. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The information we know right now raises serious questions about how close Justice Thomas and his wife were to the planning and execution of the insurrection. The January 6 Committee is investigating, and doing a good job, and I think they will turn over every stone. And we await the outcome. But there's enough evidence already, I think, that he should recuse himself. JUDY WOODRUFF: Two dozen other House and Senate Democrats urged Thomas' recusal on Monday. There is word that former President Trump's official phone records during the January 6 assault have a roughly eight-hour gap. Various reports today said the gap spans the time that Trump supporters stormed the U.S.

Capitol. But it is widely known that he spoke with Republican lawmakers during those hours. Investigators are now looking into whether he used different phones. In Israel, a gunman killed at least five people in a Tel Aviv suburb today, the third deadly attack in a week. Cell phone video showed a man with an assault weapon running into the street and opening fire, before he was killed by the police. Israeli reports said he was a Palestinian. South Korea has dismissed North Korea's claim that it launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile last week. The North Koreans showed video purporting to be their longest-range missile yet. The South said that it was a less powerful, older version, and that the video came from a previous launch. The U.S.

Border Patrol reports a sharp new increase in migrants crossing the southern border. The agency said today that some 190,000 people have been stopped since the year began. That is twice the total from the same period a year earlier. It also comes as the Biden administration is deciding whether to end asylum restrictions related to COVID-19. Back in this country, the White House budget chief today defended President Biden's newly released plans for taxing and spending. Shalanda Young testified at a congressional hearing, where Republicans criticized tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy by $2.5 trillion over 10 years. REP. JASON SMITH (R-MO): What is the president's rationale for imposing tax increases that'll harm jobs, particularly when the country is trying to emerge from a pandemic? SHALANDA YOUNG, Director, Office of Management and Budget Director: He believes that we should invest in the middle class, those working to get to the middle class, and he has a policy — and this budget follows it — not to raise taxes over — for anyone making less than $400,000. JUDY WOODRUFF: The president also called last year for a minimum tax on the wealthiest households, but it never gained traction in Congress.

Congressional leaders made final farewells today to Don Young, the longest serving Republican ever in the U.S. House of Representatives. He lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, as family and colleagues attended a ceremony in his honor. President Biden visited the Capitol later to pay his respects. Young served 49 years in the House before his death this month at the age of 88. The U.S. Senate voted today to consider Lisa Cook's nomination to the Federal Reserve Board. She would be the first Black woman on the Fed's board. The nomination had been stuck in committee, as Republican members questioned her experience. Now the full Senate will proceed with a confirmation vote.

And on Wall Street, stocks rallied again, on hopes that negotiations will end the war in Ukraine. Major indexes were up 1 percent to nearly 2 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 338 points to close at 35294. The Nasdaq rose 264 points. The S&P 500 was up 56. Still to come on the "NewsHour": the president signs a law making lynching a federal hate crime; the Supreme Court hears an Army Reservist's case involving exposure to burn pits in Iraq; Oscar winner Troy Kotsur discusses his historic victory for "CODA"; plus much more. We return now to the announcement today from the FDA and the CDC, that they are authorizing booster shots for certain Americans.

William Brangham has been following all this, and he joins me now. So, hello, William. Both these agencies authorizing these shots for people who are over 50, and all of those who may have a compromised immune system. What was the explanation they gave for this move today? WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The FDA and the CDC said that they're trying to do everything they can to protect the people who are most at risk of the serious consequences of COVID-19, that, also and the fact there's this subvariant of Omicron that is spreading here in the United States, but has also been causing a lot of problems overseas.

And so, while the FDA today tried to stress that the vaccines are still working in the most important ways — they're keeping us out of the hospital and they're keeping vaccinated people from dying, for the most part — there is some evidence that that protection starts to wane at about four months, especially for older people and immunocompromised people.

And so they also cited some Israeli studies showing that a fourth booster was protecting people and boosting their immunity. So, given that and this subvariant, the officials said, OK, we're going to authorize Moderna and Pfizer for a fourth booster. Separately, the CDC said today that, for people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and had been boosted with that, that they might want to consider a booster that's of an mRNA vaccine, so a Pfizer or Moderna shot for those people. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, and, William, we are reading there's real disagreement inside these agencies among experts over whether this is the right thing to do, some of them saying that the evidence is not conclusive.

Explain what that argument is. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: No, that is exactly right, Judy. This was definitely not a universally acclaimed move today by the CDC and the FDA. Some people, like Dr. Bob Wachter at UCSF — we have had him on this show many times — he says he welcomes this move, he's going to get the booster himself. He's a mid-60s, healthy man. And he's going to recommend it to his patients. But there are others, many others, like Dr. Carlos del Rio from Emory, who we have also had on the show, who argues that the evidence is really not clear, as you mentioned. They're not as confident about these — this Israeli data, because it's fairly preliminary. And they say that, maybe for older people, maybe for immunocompromised people, but for the — but for 50-year-olds and people younger, that they're still getting good protection, and that that's not necessarily important.

Also, many of those people point out that the virus is still quite low in the country right now. And so you might want to try to time your booster for when and if a surge starts to occur. That's complicated for a lot of people to do. But, remember, if you do get this booster, there is going to be some initial protection after about a week, but then it too will start to wane after three, four or five months. So, perhaps those people are arguing, maybe you want to wait. And so there is some evidence also that spreading those doses out is beneficial.

So, again, a complicated reaction to this move today. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, William, it sounds like what you're — what you're describing is what could be a regular cycle of recurring booster shots needed to deal with COVID. Is that what people think could be in our future? WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That is what officials are hinting at. There was talk today at the FDA presser that, perhaps as soon as next fall, people might be up for another booster. I mean, the long-term hope is that we don't have to be doing two or three shots every year and that this could be more like a COVID booster like you get a flu shot, once a year. Some of that, though, depends on what this virus is doing.

Some of that depends on whether we can do a better job here in the U.S. of getting more people vaccinated and, equally as importantly, getting a vaccine out to the rest of the world, so we can head off the next variant from emerging. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know this is something that people really do want to understand, especially since this has been going on for as long as it has. William Brangham, thank you very much. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You're welcome, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: We return to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The tiny nation of Estonia shares a 180-mile border with Russia. During World War II, the Soviet Union occupied the country. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, Estonia regained its independence. Now it is a NATO and a European Union member on the front line facing Russia. For more on how it is responding to the war in Ukraine, I spoke with the Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas, earlier today.

Prime Minister Kallas, thank you very much for joining us. At the moment we're speaking, the Russian Defense Ministry is saying there will be significant military pullbacks in the north of Ukraine, around Kyiv and other areas. What do you make of this? KAJA KALLAS, Prime Minister of Estonia: First of all, they haven't told the truth before, so we have to be very skeptical if they are telling the truth now. But if they are telling the truth, then it means that they are struggling because Ukrainians are fighting really, really hard, and they are assessing that they can't take Kyiv. But we must understand that, if we look at the map, they have progress in very many areas of Ukraine, and they have not pulled back from Ukraine. So, the aggression is still there. JUDY WOODRUFF: What more, at this point, do you believe the West, NATO can do to stop Vladimir Putin, to stop the Russian military, and especially to stop them from killing civilians? KAJA KALLAS: First, we definitely have to help Ukraine with all the means that we can.

Military aid, we can give them. We have given — as Estonia, a very small country, we have given a lot, over $200 million, which is, for our 1.3 million people, a lot. But bigger countries can do more. Then, second, we must help Ukrainians with the humanitarian aid and trying to get the civilians out. But, on the other hand we also must isolate Putin in every possible way, in all the international fora, because what he's doing is clearly committing war crimes. JUDY WOODRUFF: We had on the "NewsHour" last night a respected military analyst tell us that he believes that this war could be morphing into something like the Bosnian war, which went on for three years, left over 100,000 people dead.

Do you think that that's a real possibility? KAJA KALLAS: Well, if we look at the surveys that have been done in Ukraine, then Ukrainians believe, a majority of Ukrainians believe that they are winning this war. And the other question that was posed to them was that, should the war be stopped if — or, like, should it be — some territory should be left to Russia if they achieve peace? And, again, majority said that no. So, President Zelenskyy is in a very difficult position, because his people are thinking that they are winning this war, and the victory means that Russia pulls off completely from their territories. And until that time, they will fight. But, at the same time, President Zelenskyy really wants to have peace, because he sees his people being slaughtered and his cities being destroyed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you, Prime Minister, about Estonia. Obviously, you're a much smaller country than Ukraine. Does what's going on there make you much more worried about what Vladimir Putin could do to your country, and aimed at your people, many of whom in your east are Russian-speaking? KAJA KALLAS: Well, first of all, actually, exactly 18 years ago today, we joined NATO, and that makes a huge difference. No NATO country has ever been attacked. We don't see any military threat, and we feel secure.

At the same time, we also discuss in NATO to boost our defense, because, if we have such an aggressive neighbor, and is clearly invading neighboring countries, then our deterrence should be boosted up as well, because, in order to have peace, you have to prepare for war. JUDY WOODRUFF: And how many — let me ask you about that. I mean, how many more troops do you think need to be stationed in Estonia? How much more weaponry? How much of that is — would be troops from other NATO countries? KAJA KALLAS: We feel that we should have in the Baltics combat-ready division of NATO, of course, with the enablers, which means air defenses and other capabilities.

We are currently discussing at the NATO level, and the military is looking into that, because one is that we are ourselves investing a lot in our defense, almost 2.5 percent now. But, also, the other pillar is the collective defense of NATO. So, we also have to spend this money wisely, which means that we have to cooperate more, procure some capabilities together that would be too expensive for any individual member state to do on their own. JUDY WOODRUFF: Prime Minister, let me ask you about what President Biden said in the last few days, and that is that Vladimir Putin cannot, in his words, remain in power.

Do you agree with him? KAJA KALLAS: I think that Vladimir Putin has to be isolated politically on all the levels, because what we see in Ukraine, why there are more civilian casualties than there are military casualties, is because they are targeting the civilians. And this is a war crime. What I'm really worried about is that if some kind of agreement is made, that Putin, Vladimir Putin, is not somehow liberated from all the responsibility, because, if he is, then he will move and make additional moves later on.

So, we can't forget all the crimes that he has already committed in Ukraine. JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean liberated from responsibility? KAJA KALLAS: If the goal is to get a peace agreement, then what I mean is that this is not the end. We should not forget what he has already done to Ukrainian people, because, if we go back to business as usual with President Putin, then his appetite will only grow. JUDY WOODRUFF: The sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia seem to be hitting the Russian people much harder than they are either Vladimir Putin or any of the people around him. Are they truly being effective? KAJA KALLAS: We see that the sanctions work. Why else Putin is complaining about them and wants to lift the sanctions or is talking about this? So, definitely, the sanctions hurt.

And the sanctions should remain in place until he is moving away from Ukraine and also possibly paying for the war damages, the repairments for Ukraine. But if we compare the sufferings of the Ukrainian people, it's uncomparable, what they are suffering, to anything that is going on in Russia. JUDY WOODRUFF: Final question, Prime Minister Kallas. And that is, as you watch the suffering of Ukrainian people day after day as this war grinds on, how do you — how do you take that in as a human being? How do you take that in as a leader who is responsible for the Estonian people? KAJA KALLAS: Yes, it's very difficult to watch, especially that we have had the same kind of fate. I mean, my mother was deported to Siberia when she was only 6 months old, together with my grandmother and great-grandmother, in cattle wagons for three weeks. So, there are exactly the same crimes going on right now in Ukraine. And it's very, very difficult to watch.

And what I have been advocating to other leaders of NATO is to give more military aid to Ukraine, so that they can fight back, give humanitarian aid when — I mean, if we can do it for 1.3 million people, then bigger countries can do much, much more. JUDY WOODRUFF: Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, thank you very much. Thank you. KAJA KALLAS: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act became law today, a bipartisan step toward acknowledging the history of racial violence in the U.S. Amna Nawaz has our report on the legislation's significance and what it took to get here.

It's part of our ongoing series Race Matters. And a warning: This story does contain graphic images that may be disturbing to some viewers. AMNA NAWAZ: A law more than a century in the making reckoning with one of America's most horrific legacies. JOE BIDEN, President of the United States: No federal law, no federal law expressly prohibited lynching, none, until today. (APPLAUSE) AMNA NAWAZ: The act declares lynching a federal hate crime, a decision with deep historical resonance and modern-day meaning for the criminal justice system. JOE BIDEN: Racial hate isn't an old problem. It's a persistent problem, a persistent problem. AMNA NAWAZ: Lynchings are broadly defined as public murders for alleged and untried crimes, often carried out by white mobs towards Black victims. In the aftermath of the Civil War, such killings violent and in public view, replaced slavery as the primary system of racial terror.

Between 1882 and 1968, more than 4,000 people, mostly Black men, are estimated to have been lynched. LONNIE BUNCH, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution: Lynchings were very much a means of social control. AMNA NAWAZ: Lonnie Bunch is the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and was the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., LONNIE BUNCH: This was an attempt to make sure that racial hierarchies weren't challenged, to make sure that economic opportunity wasn't fairly distributed. And, in essence, this was really a way to say that this was a white man's country, not a country that embraced all people. AMNA NAWAZ: The law today is named for one lynching victim, 14-year-old Emmett Till. In 1955, until was accused of whistling at a white woman in a grocery store in Money, Mississippi, where he was in town visiting family. His brutal kidnapping, torture, and murder laid bare in an open casket funeral put on national display the violent racism of the Jim Crow South.

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Till's killers, like 99 percent of lynching perpetrators, were never convicted of the crime. His murder galvanized calls for change. But the effort in Congress to declare lynching a crime actually preceded till's death. In 1900, George Henry White, who was at the time the only African American member of Congress, introduced the first anti-lynching bill. Making his case on the House floor, White said — quote — "I tremble with horror for the future of our nation if mob violence is not stamped out of existence." It never got a vote, the first of more than 200 times Congress stalled on the issue. The efforts from the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, met a staunch Southern bloc in the Senate that, for decades, filibustered civil rights legislation. FMR. SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA): There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility.

AMNA NAWAZ: One hundred and five years later, still no consensus. The Senate in 2005 formally apologized for the crime and for the chamber's inaction. In 2020, the police killing of George Floyd and the resulting groundswell of demands for justice renewed the debate. In Minneapolis, a memorial for George Floyd was under way, and, in Washington, a raw fight to pass an anti-lynching law led by the Senate's three Black senators, Tim Scott, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. KAMALA HARRIS, Vice President of the United States: It should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it, and recognize it by federal law. AMNA NAWAZ: Just one senator stood in the way, Republican Rand Paul.

He argued the bill was too broad. SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): It would be a disgrace for the Congress of the United States to declare that a bruise is lynching, that an abrasion is lynching, SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I do not need my colleague the senator from Kentucky to tell me about one lynching in this country. KAMALA HARRIS: To suggest that a lynching would only be a lynching if someone's heart was pulled out and produced and displayed to someone else is ridiculous. AMNA NAWAZ: Fast-forward to this year's bill. The definition was revised to — quote — "death or serious bodily injury." SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Hallelujah. It's long overdue. AMNA NAWAZ: This time, everyone agreed, and the Senate moved forward unanimously. WOMAN: The yeas are 422. The nays are 3. AMNA NAWAZ: In the House, it was a similarly bipartisan result, though three Republicans opposed, Representatives Thomas Massie, Andrew Clyde, Chip Roy, citing issues with free speech and federal government overreach. What do you make of their concerns? LONNIE BUNCH: I think that you ought to be as broad as you can when it comes to protecting human life, when it comes to being — ensuring that fairness is there for all and that racial violence is not acceptable in this nation.

But, also, I think it's important because this is really symbolic. It is really an embrace to say that America was wrong. AMNA NAWAZ: Today, at the White House, Harris reflected on what it took to get the bill over the finish line. KAMALA HARRIS: Today, we are gathered to do unfinished business, to acknowledge the horror in this part our history, to state unequivocally that lynching is and has always been a hate crime. AMNA NAWAZ: More than recognizing history, the act reshapes federal hate crime standards. It broadens how lynchings are defined, to include any attack intended to kill or seriously injure someone because of their identity. And it sets a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for those convicted. PROTESTER: Whose lives matter? PROTESTERS: Black Lives Matter! AMNA NAWAZ: Those standards could apply to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who, in 2020, was attacked and killed by three white men while on a run in Georgia.

His name was written on posters across the country, synonymous with the fight for racial justice. All three of Arbery's killers were found guilty of murder and also of committing a hate crime that, under today's law, could be prosecuted as a lynching. LONNIE BUNCH: Lynching, really, as we know it, still exists. AMNA NAWAZ: It's a reminder, Bunch says, that the deaths of Arbery and Floyd are bonded to the death of Emmett Till. LONNIE BUNCH: It symbolizes a recognition of the strength of a mother who, at the worst time in her life, demanded the casket be open so the world see what they did to her son. So I just feel that she's smiling, saying that this death was not in vain. AMNA NAWAZ: A moment heavy with the wrongs of the past and hopeful for a more just future. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz. JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported, a U.S. House panel is looking into a gap of nearly eight hours in then-President Donald Trump's phone records from the day rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff is a member of the House committee investigating January 6, and I spoke with him a short time ago.

Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining us. The news about a gap in the logs that were kept for President Trump's phone calls on January the 6th, how great a concern is that? REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, I think there's always a concern when it looks like there may be records missing. We're looking at that very closely, and we're trying to determine, was the president using other phones? And we have evidence that I can't go into on that subject, but we're trying to get the complete picture. And we're getting a lot of information, not only from the Archives, but from witnesses. And we're putting all the pieces together on, exactly what was the president doing, and more importantly, as it would turn out, what was he failing to do during the time when the Capitol was under attack? JUDY WOODRUFF: So, former President Trump is saying he's never heard of such a thing as a burner phone.

And I think people are asking, was this the result of a deliberate omission by the White House in what it turned over to the National Archives, or was the president using phones that were — belonged to somebody else? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I don't put much stock in the president's comments, because, of course, he has used many falsehoods in the past. But, more than that, he can say he doesn't know what a burner phone is, but he does know what a cell phone or a staff cell phone or other people's cell phones are. So, we're looking at the range of possibilities. We want to make sure we have the complete record. JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest two individuals that the January 6 Committee has charged or recommended be charged with criminal contempt are Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino. How key are they to this entire investigation? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I think they're both very important witnesses.

Scavino was one of the paramount social media people for the president. And Navarro, of course, has been very open about his Green Bay Sweep, his plan to essentially overturn the presidential election, to compel the vice president to ignore his constitutional duty. And I hope it's an easy and swift decision for the Justice Department to seek indictments of both of these men for their contempt of Congress. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the Justice Department, we noticed that you made a point in your remarks to the January 6 Committee last night to say that Justice, in your words — quote — "has a duty to act" on this referral and others that the committee has sent. Justice so far has pursued prosecution in only one out of the five referrals from the committee.

Are you saying that Justice may be failing in its responsibility? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I'm deeply concerned with a couple of things. First of all, the Justice Department needs to move on these criminal referrals, and it needs to do that with alacrity. We're trying to prevent another attack like January 6, and we feel a real sense of urgency about it. But, more than that, what I was referring to was the opinion of a California federal judge that the president, the former president, and others likely committed a crime, felony offenses involving conspiracy and fraud and obstruction of the official proceedings, that is, the joint session of Congress. It's not just an obligation of Congress to be looking into that for accountability. It's also the obligation of the Justice Department. And that means more than the people who broke into the building that day need to be under this kind of scrutiny and investigation by the Justice Department.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is it your sense that Justice is not doing what it should be doing right now? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I don't see any indication, to give you an example, that the former president's phone call with the secretary of state of Georgia, in which he insisted the secretary find just the exact number of votes he needed to overtake Joe Biden. I think, if anyone else were on that call and it was recorded in the way it was, they would be under investigation.

And it should be no different because someone was a former president. If the rule of law applies to everyone equally, it needs to apply to everyone equally. JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you hold the attorney general, Merrick Garland, responsible? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Ultimately, the buck stops with the attorney general. I think there's a desire to distance that the Justice Department from any controversy and not embroil it in any political debate. And while that is laudable, we can't have, at the same time, a policy that effectively means, if you're president of the United States, you are above the law. So, I am concerned that in a desire to maintain a position above the fray, that credible allegations of illegality, serious allegations, may not be under investigation, when there should be. JUDY WOODRUFF: Two other quick questions, Congressman Schiff, about the wife of a Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It's been reported that the January 6 Committee wants to and will seek an interview with Ginni Thomas in connection with her contacts with the White House, with Mark Meadows and others.

Can you confirm that? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Anyone that has relevant information, anyone that is in contact with the White House chief of staff, and urging support for this effort to overturn the election, if they have got pertinent information, then they ought to share that with the committee. And the committee is certainly interested in it. But we have not issued a formal opinion on Ginni Thomas, and so I'm going to defer to the committee until we do. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, is it your view that Justice Thomas should recuse himself with — when it comes to any cases that have to do with January the 6th, as now the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is calling on him to do? REP. ADAM SCHIFF: You know, I'm going to speak, since I'm a committee member and we're conducting this investigation, at a higher level of generality.

As a prosecutor, I avoided being involved in any case in which not only would there be a conflict, but even the appearance of impropriety. If you have a Supreme Court justice who is sitting on a case in which their spouse is in any way involved, and it gives the public the appearance of a conflict, they ought to go nowhere near that case. I do think this points out the need for there to be an explicit code of ethics for the Supreme Court, not one that is — applies to court of appeals judges and district judges that they can utilize at their discretion. But I think they ought to have a very clear code that they follow as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Adam Schiff, who is a member of the January 6 Committee and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you very much. REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case that questions whether sweeping legal immunity for states trumps guarantees for America's military veterans. John Yang introduces us to a Texan who served his country and now finds himself in a legal battle for his old job. And a warning to our viewers: This piece discusses suicide. LE ROY TORRES, Co-Founder, Burn Pits 360: I'm not alone in this, in this battle. JOHN YANG: Le Roy Torres has a constant companion, a medical device that pumps concentrated oxygen into his damaged lungs. LE ROY TORRES: It's something that I struggle with, because I don't want to be hooked up to this machine. There was no reason that I had to, you know? And that's another battle that I deal in mentally. It's a mental battle. But here, lately, it's been the best thing that I can do to help me.

JOHN YANG: It's as much a badge of his service to his country as a decoration or a battle scar. As he fights through a migraine and what he calls brain fog, he describes a Southeast Texas boy's dream come true. LE ROY TORRES: I had already made a decision at a young age that, when I grew up, I wanted to join the Army and also be in the state police. JOHN YANG: In 2007, he swapped his state trooper's uniform for Army fatigues and deployed to Iraq as a second lieutenant in the Reserves. On his first day on the U.S. base in Balad, he noticed something in the air. LE ROY TORRES: When I arrived there, it was a Sunday afternoon. And I remember stepping off the shuttle. And the first — the question, what is that stench in the air? It smelled like burning rubber. MAN: I smell the burn pit down here. JOHN YANG: It was the noxious fumes from burn pits that were used on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of everything from plastic water bottles and batteries to tires, electronic equipment and paint cans.

Jet fuel was sometimes used as an accelerant. Was there ever a time when you were on base that you didn't smell that smell or see the smoke? LE ROY TORRES: Not a time. Every day. Smelt it every day. JOHN YANG: Did it worry you? LE ROY TORRES: Yes, a lot. JOHN YANG: When Torres was honorably discharged in 2008, he was among the hundreds of thousands of service members who returned home with severe health problems believed linked to exposure to burn pits, leaving them with mounting medical bills and battles over veterans' benefits. ROSIE TORRES, Co-Founder, Burn Pits 360: This is the war that followed us home, is what we have we have sort of labeled it.

JOHN YANG: Rosie Torres is Le Roy's wife. ROSIE TORRES: It's the debilitating conditions that I have seen just plague his body, and him cry over things that we just didn't have answers for. And that's heart-wrenching. JOHN YANG: And when he tried to return to his state police job, a right that federal law guarantees returning Reservists and Guard members, Torres says his nightmare compounded. He says he asked for accommodations for his medical condition. Torres and the Texas Department of Public Safety disagree about what happened next, but Torres left the force in 2012. ROSIE TORRES: You should be honored to have these veterans as your employees, right, because, I mean, they went to defend our nation. And who's going to come back and want to feel as if they're disposable? Like, no state agency and no employer, I don't care if you are private, state, should get away with that, period. LE ROY TORRES: I remember where this pit was at. JOHN YANG: Torres wants to sue Texas, but the state argues it cannot be sued without its consent, a longstanding legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. Today, an attorney for the Biden administration told the Supreme Court that blocking Torres' ability to sue jeopardizes national defense.

CHRISTOPHER G. MICHEL, Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General: The Constitution was adopted in large part to stop states from undermining federal efforts to raise a military. This court has never imposed a state-sovereignty-based limitation on the federal powers to raise and support armies or provide and maintain a navy. JOHN YANG: But the Texas solicitor general argued, that's not what the writers of the Constitution meant. JUDD STONE, Texas Solicitor General: There is no evidence that the founding generation saw the power to expose states to private lawsuits as inextricably intertwined with warfare or that the states intended to be sued without their consent by giving Congress the power to raise an army. MARCIA COYLE, "The National Law Journal": This is not the kind of case that will break down along ideological lines, judging by… JOHN YANG: Marcia Coyle is chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal." MARCIA COYLE: The justices are going to be looking at the history, the structure, the text of the Constitution.

What were the founders and framers worried about when they were drafting this? I thought, at first, that Mr. Torres' lawyer was getting the more skeptical questions. But then, when Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone stood up, the justices weren't quite convinced by his arguments. JON STEWART, Comedian/Activist: I met you guys about three years ago. Le Roy, can you describe your experience? JOHN YANG: Le Roy and Rosie Torres are prominent advocates for veterans exposed to burn pits.

In 2009, they created a nonprofit called Burn Pits 360 to press for VA benefits. But Torres almost didn't get to see this day in court. The mental anguish of losing his job and the physical pain of his medical ailments overwhelmed him. LE ROY TORRES: I was struggling. I was struggling that night. And my plan was to end my life that night. And it was very — I didn't want to be a burden anymore. I felt like I was a burden to my wife.

JOHN YANG: His wife and service dog, named Hope, intervened just in time. Torres says he emerged from those dark days by finding new purpose. LE ROY TORRES: This is an opportunity, that I believe it's a God-given opportunity that he's given us, because it's not just about me, but it'll be about thousands of others that will benefit from this, that they will have that right again. JOHN YANG: Now he waits to hear if the justices of the Supreme Court will give him the chance for a state court to hear his suit, an answer that's expected to come by this summer.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Robstown, Texas. JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the most moving moments from Sunday's Oscar ceremony was the award for best supporting actor to Troy Kotsur, making him the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar. The film he appeared in, "CODA," also went on to win the Oscar for best picture.

Jeffrey Brown has our look for Canvas, our arts and culture series. JEFFREY BROWN: In "CODA," Troy Kotsur plays Frank Rossi, a deaf fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His wife and son, played by actors Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant, are also deaf. But his daughter, played by Emilia Jones, is not, and the affecting family drama focuses on the tensions in that dynamic. The term CODA stands for child of deaf adults. Kotsur himself, now 53, has been deaf since birth. He's a veteran stage and screen actor, but this is his first moment in the national "Spotlight." In his acceptance speech, he addressed the moment's larger meaning.

TROY KOTSUR, Actor (through interpreter): This is dedicated to the deaf community, the "CODA" community, and the disabled community. This is our moment. JEFFREY BROWN: I spoke to Troy Kotsur and interpreter Justin Maurer earlier today, and started by asking what he meant when he said, "This is our moment." TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): You know, I think, in the outside world, they tend to overlook us. And so when I received the Oscar, I wanted to really dedicate it to the deaf and disabled community, as well as the CODA community, to make them feel good, make them feel seen and recognized. And so I really hope that there'll be more diversity and more storytelling in Hollywood in the future. JEFFREY BROWN: Acting is already a tough life for anybody, right? Give us a sense about life as a deaf actor, the barriers or frustrations you run up against. TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): Well, really, for deaf actors, the biggest frustration or barrier is the communication barrier, because, of course, I can't hear. I don't really use my voice to communicate. I use sign language.

So that's been my barrier to really find a role that would really help them think outside of the box and collapse that box. And with our film "CODA," I mean, we just won three Oscars, best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor. So I think that Hollywood's finally ready to open their hearts and minds to us and really finally be able to tell stories that are empathetic and can shift and transform cultural perspective. So, I think this is such a powerful community moment, that we, as a deaf community, we have really been waiting for this moment for so long. JEFFREY BROWN: I noticed, at the Oscars, you went out of your way to thank the deaf theaters where you had the opportunity to hone your craft as an actor. Tell us why it was so important to you and how it was important. TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): I'm so glad you asked me that question because I was so tempted to name them all during my Oscar speech, but, of course, my time was so limited. I was working for over 35 years developing my craft, working with different directors, actors, writers.

And I worked with several directors again and again, and I learned so much, and I had so many tools in my toolbox that really helped me develop my craft as an actor. And my hope and dream was to be involved in TV and film, but there was more access for me to perform as a deaf actor on the theater stage. And, also, it was great working with and collaborating with so many hearing actors who never had experience working with the deaf actor. You know, when TV and film roles came up, I had the privilege of being able to traverse both worlds, both the stage and TV and film. So it was so nice to have had that variety of experiences. JEFFREY BROWN: You have said that this recognition gives you a new confidence, and I think you said it was the beginning of a new journey. Towards what? What roles do you want to take on? What do you hope to be able to do now? TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): I'm extremely excited for this new chapter in my life.

It's a bit strange, because, in the past, I really had to chase these auditions down. And after these nominations and awards, the tables are turned and they're now giving me these offers and these scripts and these meetings. And so it's been amazing. And so, really, I would love to play a historical deaf figure from the past. We have so many rich stories, really a treasure trove. There was a deaf boxer. There was someone who developed technology for the deaf. And, believe it or not, football, the football huddle was created by the deaf. And so many people are oblivious to our rich treasure trove of history.

So I hope to tell many of these inspiring true stories. JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, let me ask you. "CODA," the movie, gets at some of the tensions between the hearing and deaf, even within one family. What is your hope that people that the hearing community takes from this film? How do we bridge the divisions? TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): Our film is perfect, because I feel like we're finally able to connect the deaf and hearing worlds.

And the character Ruby played by Emilia Jones, she represents the CODA, which is right at the center. So, she is able to communicate in sign language at home and in English with the outside world and is really the bridge to communication between both of them. And most folks don't understand what the life of a CODA, or child of a deaf adult, is like. And, finally, our film shows this real culture. People thought sign language is limited and, oh, poor deaf people. But, no, we are a rich culture. We have rich family life. And hearing people are finally able to witness that on the big screen.

And so you have deaf people that work hard, they have fun, they love their family, and, of course, they go through struggles to change everyone's perspectives. It's not only deaf people, but there's so many commonalities. And it's a universal story. I loved, of course, having vulgar sign language and dropping F-bombs on the big screen too. So, finally, I feel like Hollywood's finally accepting us. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Troy Kotsur, thank you so much. And congratulations again. TROY KOTSUR (through interpreter): Thank you for having me, Jeffrey. It's my honor. Hats off to you.

Have a great day. JUDY WOODRUFF: A big move forward. And that is the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please stay safe, and we'll see you soon.


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