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News Wrap: No Misconduct by Bush Lawyers, Justice Dept. Says

February 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Justice Department has found no misconduct by Bush administration lawyers who authorized harsh interrogations. That word came today in documents provided to Congress. It followed a two-year review of attorneys Jay Bybee, John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury. They wrote memos authorizing water-boarding and other methods used on terror suspects. The Justice finding said they were guilty of poor judgment, but not professional wrongdoing.

The nation’s foreclosure crisis may be easing, at last. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported today fewer people fell behind on home loans at the end of 2009.

And President Obama announced $1.5 billion in housing aid for five hard-hit states. He spoke in Las Vegas, a city with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Government alone can’t solve this problem. And it shouldn’t. But government can make a difference. It can’t stop every foreclosure. And tax dollars shouldn’t be used to reward the very irresponsible lenders an borrowers who helped bring about the housing crisis. But what we can do is help families who have done everything right stay in their homes whenever possible.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The money for the housing aid will come from funds left in TARP, the financial rescue program.

Wall Street had a relatively quiet day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nine points to close at 10402. The Nasdaq rose two points to close near 2244. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained about 3 percent.

While the president is away, conservatives are turning up the heat in Washington. They have been blistering the Obama record at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. A leading House Republican, Mike Pence, charged today that the president is managing over America’s decline. He said, “Get government out of the way and America will come roaring back.”

Others, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have firmly predicted Democrats will lose the House and Senate this fall.

France, Germany, and Russia have issued fresh warnings to Iran over its nuclear program, this a day the U.N. nuclear agency said Iran may be trying to build a nuclear missile. But Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected the criticism. State television showed him touring a new guided missile destroyer, in a show of Iran’s military might.

Investigators in Austin, Texas, picked through wreckage today from a suicide flight. On Thursday, Joseph Stack flew his small plane into a building that housed offices of the Internal Revenue Service. He was killed, along with one person in the building. In a suicide message, Stack railed against the government and said, violence not only is the answer; it is the only answer.

Today, a family spokesman read a statement from Stack’s wife, Sheryl.

RAYFORD WALKER, Stack Family Spokesperson: “Words cannot adequately express my sorrow or the sympathy I feel for everyone affected by this unimaginable tragedy. I want to thank my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, as well as members of my church and others, for their expressions of kindness and generosity in our time of grief.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: The building hit by the small plane was heavily damaged. Investigators say they’re looking into whether the plane carried anything designed to feed the fire.

The chairman and CEO of Toyota will testify before Congress, after all, next week. In Tokyo today, Akio Toyoda reversed his earlier decision to send his top U.S. executive instead. He said he wants to offer a sincere explanation for how the company has handled a rash of safety problems and recalls.

For the record, Toyota is a “NewsHour” underwriter.

Two American missionaries went before a judge in Haiti today. They were questioned about allegations of child kidnapping. Eight other missionaries were released earlier this week, and three of them arrived home last night in Boise, Idaho.

We have a report from Marcia Franklin of Idaho Public Television.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: As they waited for their loved ones, members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, broke out into song.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Then finally, the reunion they had been waiting for.

WOMAN: I love you. I love you.

WOMAN: Wow, you’re taller.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Church members quickly surrounded and embraced the women.

While there was great rejoicing all around, it was tempered with sadness, because of the knowledge that two of their fellow congregants were still being held in Haiti for questioning.

Authorities want to know more about plans Laura Silsby and her assistant, Charisa Coulter, had to bring Haitian children to an orphanage they say they were opening in the Dominican Republic.

CARLA THOMPSON, Central Valley Baptist Church: Our God is a mighty God, and he stood with us every second we were there. And he brought us home. And I want you to continue to pray for Charisa and Laura, because he’s going to bring them home, too.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Pastor Clint Henry of the church says his congregants need at least a few days alone with their families before they will speak in more depth to the media.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The missionaries were held for three weeks in a Haitian jail. Another of their group, a Texas man, said today they were treated well.

A long-running stalemate between black farmers and the federal government is coming to an end. The Agriculture Department announced a payment of $1.25 billion on Thursday. If Congress approves, final damages will be paid under a settlement reached in 1999. Black farmers have charged they were denied federal aid for years due to their race.

Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the program with a preview of what you will find tonight on the NewsHour’s website — but, for now, back to Jim.