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News brief: student debt relief, Trump investigation, Ukraine military aid

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Millions of student loan borrowers are waking up today still processing this news.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Yeah, President Biden will cancel some or all federal student loan debt for as many as 43 million people, and though the news has been expected for months, it still included a few surprises.

MARTIN: We've got NPR education correspondent Cory Turner with us for all the details. Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So you've been covering all this very closely. Walk us through the basics of this plan and what stood out especially to you.

TURNER: Yeah, so all borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year can qualify for $10,000 in debt cancellation. And some version of that, Rachel, had always been the spine of Biden's floated proposals. What was unexpected was the cancellation doubled to $20,000 for borrowers who received a Pell Grant to attend college. So this plan, unlike previous rumored versions, had a lower-income threshold and is simply more focused on lower-income borrowers. According to the White House, roughly 90% of the benefit will now be going to borrowers who earn less than $75,000 a year.

MARTIN: Is this going to happen automatically for these people?

TURNER: Well, this is the million-dollar question that borrowers are dying to know. My colleague Sequoia Carrillo spoke with one borrower right after the announcement yesterday. Her name is Trianna Downing.

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TRIANNA DOWNING: At first I was, like, dancing. And then I was like, wait - should I log into my account and see if it actually happened? Or do I wait a week and see if it happens?

MARTIN: Right.

TURNER: We actually asked the education secretary, Miguel Cardona, about this last night on All Things Considered, and he recommended borrowers go to studentaid.gov/debtrelief. They'll find a fact sheet there and can sign up for email updates. The challenge here is real, and it is that borrowers will have to fill out some kind of basic form telling the Education Department that they qualify. According to the White House, about 8 million borrowers already have their income information on file, so for these folks, cancellation should be automatic. But for the other roughly 35 million people who should qualify, they're going to have to act to get the help.

MARTIN: OK, so let's talk about reaction from the political side of things. I mean, even members of the president's own party had wanted him to go bigger with this plan, right?

TURNER: Yeah, several liberal members of Congress, as well as the NAACP, had really been hammering Biden for not planning to forgive more than $10,000. And so this move did get some praise, sort of a mixed response yesterday. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley both praised the plan, with Pressley saying, quote, "it'll help millions of people make ends meet." The NAACP, though, offered a lukewarm response, saying, we've got a ways to go.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Republicans have been sort of dead set against this idea all along, in part because they argue that the president simply doesn't have the authority to do something this big. Are they right?

TURNER: Yeah, Representative Virginia Foxx, the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, told NPR in a statement, quote, "taxpayers are forced to pay for a bill they should not owe, and colleges are allowed to continue raising tuition. This is wrong, unfair and irresponsible." And it wouldn't surprise me, Rachel, to see a legal challenge to this move. The administration did release a legal memo trying to explain or justify its actions. The memo says the Heroes Act, which came in the wake of 9/11, gives the ed secretary the power to grant relief from student loans during specific periods, like wartime or, as the memo says, to address the financial harms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. So it'll be interesting to see what happens in the coming days and weeks.

MARTIN: NPR's Cory Turner. Thank you, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome, Rachel.

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MARTIN: All right, the Justice Department faces a deadline today in federal court in Florida.

MARTINEZ: The government has to submit its proposed redactions to the affidavit used to get the warrant for searching former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago club and home.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us with more. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the affidavit would reveal the justification for the warrant that was used to search Mar-a-Lago. Is this going to come out today?

LUCAS: Well, that's unclear. It's unclear, actually, whether the public will see this affidavit at all at this point. What we do know is that by noon Eastern today, the Justice Department has to provide the court in Florida with its proposed redactions to this affidavit. The Justice Department doesn't want any of this affidavit made public. It wants to keep the whole thing sealed. It says that the document contains sensitive information about its ongoing criminal investigation, about government witnesses, about specific investigative steps. And they say that this affidavit is, in essence, a road map to their investigation and that releasing it could undermine that investigation.

So for all those reasons, the government says this affidavit should remain under seal. Media outlets are fighting in court to try to get it released. They say this case is of enormous public interest, and this investigation has already been made public because we all know about it.

MARTIN: Right. So this decision on whether this is released at all lies with the judge who approved the search warrant in the first place. Any clues as to which way he's leaning on this?

LUCAS: Right. The decision here is up to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart. At a hearing last week, he ordered that the government propose its redactions to the affidavit, basically masking sensitive information. And some thought that that signaled that Reinhart was inclined to release at least a redacted version of the affidavit. But since then, in a written order, Reinhart acknowledged that it may be the case that partial redactions in this instance would be so extensive - think of, like, huge chunks of text blacked out - that the document would just become unintelligible, and releasing it in redacted form would be meaningless. For now, the Justice Department will give the judge its proposed redactions. He'll take a look and make a call. We do not know at this point, though, how long that will take.

MARTIN: OK, meanwhile, Ryan, as we've been waiting for this decision on this affidavit, more information has come out about an earlier search - right? - what the National Archives found at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, and that includes highly classified documents, right?

LUCAS: That's right. That's right. This comes from a letter the National Archives sent to Trump's attorney, Evan Corcoran, in May. The archives made this letter public this week after a copy of it leaked. But in the letter, the archive stresses that it negotiated with Trump over the course of 2021 about getting presidential records back from Mar-a-Lago. It says that in the boxes that it recovered from the Florida property back in January of 2022, that there were more than 700 pages of classified documents in there. Some of those had the highest level of classification markings, including special access programs.

MARTIN: Why is that so notable, Ryan?

LUCAS: Well, these are some of the most highly guarded secrets in the U.S. government. One former intelligence official told me this is holy grail-type stuff of intelligence collection, things like CIA human intelligence reports, covert operations stuff. The former official said exposing special access program materials often can put actual lives in danger. The archives makes clear in its letter that the Justice Department and the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies were deeply concerned about the potential damage to national security from the mishandling of these things. This could also help explain why the Justice Department was so concerned when it learned that even more materials remained at Mar-a-Lago and why, ultimately, they decided to conduct a court-authorized search there.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: OK, the Pentagon is ramping up its support of Ukraine in the war against Russia.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, the Defense Department is sending another $3 billion to Ukraine. Here's defense official Colin Kahl describing how that money will be used in part.

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COLIN KAHL: This package is about building enduring strength for Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.

MARTINEZ: That brings total U.S. aid alone to more than $13 billion bucks.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us this morning. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what's in this latest tranche of aid?

BOWMAN: Well, another massive package includes six advanced surface-to-air missile systems designed to shoot down Russian missiles and aircraft. And, Rachel, these sophisticated systems are actually used at the White House to protect it from attack - so top of the line. Also, nearly a quarter-million artillery rounds, tens of thousands of mortar rounds, along with drones. Now, some of this U.S. aid announced yesterday is to help Ukraine months, maybe years, into the future - enduring, as Colin Powell said. Now, another package announced just last week included things for upcoming campaigns - more long-range rocket artillery ammunition, shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, surveillance drones and, interestingly, nearly a hundred armored troop-carrying vehicles, the kind the U.S. forces used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MARTIN: What does that indicate? I mean, what can we observe about the evolution of the war based on the equipment that the U.S. is sending?

BOWMAN: Well, especially the armored vehicles for troops leads analysts to believe that they are meant for an expected counteroffensive by Ukraine against Russian forces. Again, you also have these anti-armor missiles, surveillance drones to pick out Russian targets. And some say this offensive could take place in southern Ukraine, near the city of Kherson, the first city, by the way, to fall to the Russians. Already, Ukraine has destroyed bridges east of the city that were key for Russia to resupply its troops. Russia has been forced to use temporary pontoon bridges, which, of course, are - also could be targeted as well.

And, Rachel, seizing Kherson would be a big win for Ukraine, both symbolically and operationally, because it could further help Ukrainians hold on to a part of its vital Black Sea coast and, also, further threaten Russian forces in Crimea, which was seized by Russia in 2014. Already in Crimea, of course, we've seen some sabotage of Russian positions by Ukrainian partisans.

MARTIN: So, I mean, you nodded at the top to the steadfast commitment of the U.S. to funding the Ukrainians against the Russians, and we heard Colin Kahl say that as well. But, I mean, aren't there some longer-term implications of the U.S. sending so many military supplies to Ukraine? The U.S. can only manufacture a few hundred Javelin missiles a year, right? I mean, how long will it take to replace that stockpile?

BOWMAN: Well, it is something of a concern. Some analysts say the stockpile of those Javelin anti-tank missiles is down by about a third. They've sent in more money in the budget, you know, to help replenish these stocks. It's not a big concern right now, Rachel, but some say, listen; if this war lasts well into next year, it could be a serious problem.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks. We appreciate your reporting on this.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.