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10 things you need to know today: May 18, 2018

Harold Maass
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts violently.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
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Senate confirms Gina Haspel as CIA director

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, despite objections over her role in harsh post-9/11 interrogations critics described as torture. Haspel, previously the CIA deputy director, will be the first woman to lead the agency. She has served in the CIA for three decades, mostly undercover. She was supervisor of a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 when a terrorist suspect was waterboarded there, and some senators expressed misgivings about that and about her role in the destruction of videotapes of the sessions in 2005. Haspel won support from key Democrats by writing this week that the program "did damage to our officers and our standing in the world." [ABC News, NPR]


Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts violently

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, sending ash and debris 30,000 feet into the sky in the biggest recent blast. Authorities warned residents of surrounding parts of the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, that an even bigger eruption could be building. "At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent," the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Kilauea status page. The steam-fueled explosion occurred in the Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea's summit after two weeks of volcanic activity that has sent lava into a neighborhood near the volcano, forcing nearly 2,000 people to evacuate and destroying at least 26 homes. [USA Today]


Trump says report of informant in campaign could be 'bigger than Watergate'

President Trump on Thursday cited a recent National Review report to suggest that the FBI had an "embedded informant" within his presidential campaign, tweeting, "If so, this is bigger than Watergate!" Trump's statement came on the one-year anniversary of his Justice Department's appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. Trump has repeatedly called Mueller's inquiry a "witch hunt." This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, breaking with its House counterpart, said it had no reason to question the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of President Trump over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. [The Associated Press, The Hill]


Mueller's office gives court memo on scope of special counsel investigation

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office told a federal court in Virginia on Thursday that it had filed a sealed but unredacted August 2017 memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spelling out Mueller's mandate. Judge T.S. Ellis two weeks ago told Mueller's team to provide a copy of the memo by this Friday so he could decide whether to dismiss part of a criminal case against Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump's campaign manager. Manafort faces two indictments by Mueller on charges that include money laundering, bank and tax fraud, and failing to register as a foreign agent. Manafort's lawyers are trying to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that they are outside Mueller's authority to investigate Russian election meddling. [Reuters]


Trump administration expected to restrict funding to clinics discussing abortion

The Trump administration is expected to unveil a policy Friday blocking federal funds from family planning clinics that discuss the option of abortion with women or refer them to people who perform the procedure. The Department of Health and Human Services' rule would resurrect a Reagan-era policy requiring "physical separation" and "separate personnel" for abortion providers and other family planning services. Critics called the policy a "gag rule," and court challenges kept it from taking effect until the Clinton administration scrapped it. The policy would mark the latest move by the Trump administration to curb abortion rights and target Planned Parenthood. The new rule is expected to face court challenges. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]


Ebola outbreak threat rises as first urban case reported

An Ebola outbreak in a rural part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread to a major city for the first time, increasing the threat that the number of cases will surge, the World Health Organization reported on Thursday. The current outbreak has killed at least 23 people since the first cases appeared in remote parts of northwestern Equateur Province in early April. One confirmed case now has been reported in the provincial capital of Mbandaka, a city of more than a million people. WHO's emergency committee will meet on Friday to assess the threat. "The challenge will be to stop rapid, explosive expansion of the outbreak in Mbandaka," said Dr. Peter Salama, the agency's deputy director general and leader of its emergency response program. [The New York Times]


Manafort's former son-in-law and business partner enters guilty plea

Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner and the former son-in-law of one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, has reached a plea deal with the Justice Department requiring him to cooperate with federal investigations, Reuters reported Thursday, citing two people with knowledge of the case. Yohai reportedly entered a guilty plea earlier this year on criminal fraud charges regarding real estate loans. Manafort, who faces indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges including bank fraud and tax evasion, invested with Yohai in New York and California real estate deals. The two people familiar with Yohai's case said it was likely he would be called on to help in Mueller's prosecution of Manafort. [Reuters, Politico]


Musk says riders will pay $1 for trips under LA

Elon Musk on Thursday unveiled details for his Loop "personalized mass transit" system that will carry people in pods traveling at 150 miles per hour through a network of tunnels under Los Angeles. He said the project by one of his ventures, The Boring Company, would take people from downtown Los Angeles to Los Angeles International Airport through a vacuum tube in eight minutes, for $1. Musk's company has been digging, or "boring," its first tunnel under Los Angeles after Musk tweeted complaints about LA's traffic many times. "It's the only way we can think of to address the chronic traffic issues in major cities," Musk said at the event. [CNET]


Ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal released from hospital after nerve-agent recovery

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was released from a hospital in southern England on Friday, more than two months after he and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The 66-year-old former double agent's daughter, Yulia, was discharged from the hospital last month, although doctors cautioned that they faced many "unknowns" in their recovery and could still have problems with cognition, mobility, and mental state. Investigators have blamed the attack on Moscow, which denies involvement. Skripal sold secrets to Britain and was convicted and jailed in Russia, then released in a 2010 prisoner swap. Britain's Foreign Ministry issued an April statement claiming that the poisoning "was attempted murder using an illegal chemical weapon that we know Russia possesses." [The Washington Post]


Prince Charles to walk Meghan Markle down the aisle

Prince Charles will walk Meghan Markle down the aisle when she marries his son, Prince Harry, on Saturday, Kensington Palace announced Friday. "The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms. Markle to The Royal Family in this way," the palace said in a statement. A day earlier, Markle confirmed that her father, Thomas Markle, would not be able to travel to the U.K. to attend the royal wedding as planned, due to health problems following heart surgery. "Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding," she said in a statement. "I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health." The royal couple arrived at Windsor Castle on Friday as the military began rehearsals for the wedding. [CNN, TMZ]