10 things you need to know today: August 21, 2018

Microsoft uncovers more Russian hacking ahead of midterms, UNC protesters topple a Confederate statue, and more

Protestors near the Silent Sam statue
(Image credit: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

1. Microsoft uncovers more Russian hacking ahead of midterms

Microsoft said Tuesday it had uncovered new hacking attempts linked to the Russian government ahead of the midterm elections. The software maker said the hackers created fake internet domains spoofing two U.S. conservative organizations — the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute — as well as others made to look like they belonged to the Senate. The revelation came weeks after Microsoft discovered a similar hacking attempt targeting Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who revealed that Russian hackers had tried to access her computer network. The hacking attempts were similar to those intelligence agencies say Russia used ahead of the 2016 elections to help President Trump and hurt his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

The Associated Press

2. UNC protesters knock down Confederate statue

Protesters toppled a Confederate monument known as Silent Sam at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Monday. The statue, erected in 1913, has been the focus of a growing controversy at the school. About 250 people gathered to call for its removal, saying it was a symbol of white supremacy. University officials had expressed discomfort with keeping such divisive symbols on campus, but argued that they could not remove the statue without going through a process of putting the matter before a panel. A spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said the governor shares the demonstrators' frustration with the "pace of change," but that "violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities." One person was arrested.

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The New York Times

3. Manafort jury fails to reach verdict on third day of deliberations

The jury in Paul Manafort's tax and bank fraud trial on Monday ended its third day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, is facing 18 charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, and money laundering. The jury had its longest day yet, staying until after 6 p.m. in what some had interpreted as a sign it was nearing a decision. The six men and six women on the jury have been reminded on a daily basis by U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis not to listen to media coverage of the trial, so they can avoid hearing things like Trump on Friday calling Manafort a "good person," and saying his trial is a "very sad day."


4. Pope Francis says 'no effort must be spared' to end sexual abuse, cover-ups

Pope Francis said Monday in a letter to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics that "no effort must be spared" to stop sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Francis called for lay Catholics to help root out the problem, and asked for forgiveness for victims' suffering. "We showed no care for the little ones," he wrote. "We abandoned them." Despite his call on all Catholics to participate in confronting the abuse scandal, Francis alone can sanction bishops, and he did not provide specifics on what he plans to do to end cover-ups. "Tell us instead what you are doing to hold them accountable," Marie Collins, a prominent Irish survivor, tweeted. "That is what we want to hear. 'Working on it' is not an acceptable explanation for decades of 'delay.'"

The Associated Press

5. Colorado man charged with murder for deaths of wife, young daughters

Colorado prosecutors on Monday formally charged 33-year-old Chris Watts with the murders of his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their two children — 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. According to court documents, Watts confessed to strangling his wife, but says he "went into a rage" when he caught her strangling their daughters. Watts was "actively involved in an affair with a coworker" before the killings, although he earlier denied the affair to police. Watts reportedly says he told his wife he wanted to separate after she returned from a work trip. He now says she tried to strangle their daughters after that, but for days he had said Shanann and the girls disappeared after he left the house. Their bodies were found on Thursday, days after they went missing.

People The Denver Channel

6. Russia says treatment of spy suspect 'borderline torture'

The Russian Embassy in Washington on Monday accused the U.S. of subjecting Mariia Butina, the 29-year-old Russian national jailed recently on spying charges, to "borderline torture." Butina has denied the charges and Moscow says the arrest was motivated by anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S. The Russian Embassy said U.S. officials were using humiliation and other forms of "psychological pressure" in an attempt to "break" Butina. "We have more and more questions to the U.S. justice system," the statement said. "Should allegations pressed against Maria before the actual trial condemn her to practices that are slightly below torture?" Federal prosecutors convinced a judge that Butina was a flight risk and should be detained until her trial.

CBS News Reuters

7. Melania Trump speaks out against 'destructive' social media posts

First lady Melania Trump warned Monday at a conference on preventing cyberbullying that social media can be used in a "destructive and harmful" manner. She said that these days "social media is an inevitable part of our children's lives," so it is important to use it in "positive ways." Journalists asked the first lady's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, about the juxtaposition of Mrs. Trump's message with President Trump's brutal Twitter attacks against his critics. She said Mrs. Trump is "aware of the criticism, but it will not deter her from doing what she feels is right." On Monday morning, President Trump called Special Counsel Robert Mueller "disgraced and discredited," and he later tweeted that John Brennan was "the worst CIA Director in our country's history."

The Washington Post

8. Trump repeats criticism of Fed rate hikes

President Trump said Monday he was "not thrilled" with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for raising interest rates, which the Fed has done twice this year. Trump nominated Powell last year to replace former Fed Chair Janet Yellen. Trump gave investors the jitters in July when he first publicly criticized the central bank's rate hikes, which are meant to keep the economy from overheating as it picks up steam and the job market gains strength. Trump said the Fed should keep rates lower to boost the economy and strengthen his hand in trade talks. U.S. presidents rarely criticize the Fed, as its independence is widely seen as crucial for the stability of the economy.


9. Michigan health director to face manslaughter trial over Flint deaths

U.S. District Court Judge David Goggins on Monday ordered Michigan's health director, Nick Lyon, to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in connection with two deaths linked to Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area. Some experts have blamed the Legionnaires' outbreak on Flint's tainted water scandal. Lyon will be the highest-ranking official to face criminal charges associated with the city's water crisis. At least 90 cases of Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia, have been reported in Genesee County. Twelve resulted in deaths. More than half of the Legionnaires' patients spent time at McLaren Hospital, which used Flint city water. Lyon has been accused of being too slow to issue an alert about the outbreak, which he knew about months before it was announced in January 2016.

The Associated Press

10. Eagles overtake Michael Jackson for all-time best-selling album

The Eagles' Greatest Hits 1971-1975 album is now the best-selling album of all time, the Recording Industry Association of America announced Monday. The album, which includes Eagles songs "Take It Easy" and "Tequila Sunrise," has sold 38 million copies, surpassing Michael Jackson's Thriller, the longtime record holder. Thriller now holds second place with 33 million copies sold, while The Eagles' 1977 album Hotel California is in third place. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and continues to tour after 47 years together.

The Hollywood Reporter

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.