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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

During an interview with Fox News radio this week, President Donald Trump invoked his chief of staff’s dead son in his continuing effort to deflect criticism for not calling all the soldiers who have died while he was President.

But Chief of Staff John Kelly said Thursday he told Trump that former President Barack Obama had not called his family when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 not as “criticism,” but to give him counsel about how to handle offering condolences to the families of fallen soldiers when he first took the job.

“He asked me about previous presidents and I said I could tell you that President Obama who was my commander in chief when I was on active duty did not call my family,” he said during a surprise press briefing at the White House Thursday. “That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.”

He said he didn’t think former President George W. Bush called in all cases either, which he said is common, especially “when the casualty rates are very, very high.” He said he believes all president write letters to Gold Star families, though.

Trump started the controversy over how to console families of fallen soldiers on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread frustration from former Obama aides.

When the President finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after the deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump pushed back on those reports, tweeting that Wilson’s comments were “totally fabricated” and claiming he had “proof” that she made it up.

After years of careful silence regarding his successors, former President George W. Bush took some veiled shots at President Donald Trump Thursday in comments condemning bigotry, white nationalism and nativism.

During his headlining speech at the Spirit of Liberty conference in New York, Bush outlined issues he’s seen emerge in America in the past decade, saying today “bigotry seems emboldened” and “our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” than ever before.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” he said.

Likely referencing Trump’s nationalist “America first” approach to global relations, Bush said “we’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism.” Bush touched on the importance of immigration and international trade, both ideals that Trump has taken shots at — his travel ban, limitation of refugees into the U.S. and criticism of NAFTA — since coming into office.

Bush also took a stronger stance on the Russia investigation than Trump ever has, claiming unequivocally that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 election, but also utilized social media to deepen partisan divides in the U.S.

According to intelligence services the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It is conducted across a range of social media platforms,” he said. “We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.”

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation into Russian meddling in the election a witch hunt, and even suggesting on Twitter Thursday that Russia, the FBI or Democrats paid for the unverified dossier about the Trump campaign and Russian collusion.

Bush also fully condemned white supremacy, something Trump refused to do after a woman was killed at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” he said.

Four longtime Democratic National Committee officials have been removed from their posts under the leadership of the committee’s chairman Tom Perez.

The four who were ousted either supported candidates other than Perez for campaign chairman, ran against him or supported former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), NBC News reported Thursday morning.

The ousted officials include Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic chairman who ran against Perez for chairman; as well as Alice Germond, a former party secretary; and Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first transgender member of the DNC. Both Germond and Casbar Siperstein supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) for DNC chair.

James Zogby, who backed Sanders in the Democratic primaries and is the president of the Arab American Institute, was removed from his post as the co-chair of the Resolutions Committee and was kicked off the Executive Committee.

Buckley was pushed out of the Executive Committee and DNC Rules Committee, Casbar Siperstein was removed from the Executive Committee and Germond lost her at-large appointment.

A DNC spokesperson said the changeover in the DNC’s at-large membership was to make the committee’s representation more reflective of the “unprecedented diversity of our party’s coalition.”

NBC also reported that there is an over-representation of former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backers on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which sets the rules for the Democratic presidential primaries. 

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said he thinks he and President Trump “communicate differently” and suggested he might have handled the conversation — and subsequent controversy — with the family of a soldier killed in Niger two weeks ago differently.

“Again, I can’t get into the President’s mind. We communicate differently. I am a doctor, so maybe I am more used to talking about emotions and bad things than other people are,” Cassidy said on CNN Thursday. “That said, in a tough emotional situation, sometimes you just have to cut folks some slack. It’s very difficult. … I’m not sure somebody on the outside looking in can fully understand that.”

When CNN host Chris Cuomo asked directly if he would have responded the same way Trump did when the family claimed they felt disrespected by the President, Cassidy skirted the question.

“You wouldn’t would you?” Cuomo asked.

“Well, I learned long ago in my marriage that it’s better to meet somebody where they are than demand — on the other hand, communication is the root of most conflict in humans,” he said. “And whoever is right or whoever is wrong, I think we have to leave it as poor communication and hope that all can do better.”

Cassidy said he wanted the Pentagon and Congress to get to the bottom of what happened two weeks ago when four U.S. troops were killed in Niger, details of which the White House has been tight lipped about since news of the deaths broke.

“We should have those answers,” he said.

Trump started the controversy over appropriate communication with the families of soldiers who die in combat by baselessly claiming at a press conference this week that his predecessors didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers, comments that were widely criticized by Gold Star families and aides of former presidents.

On Wednesday, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) told The Washington Post that Trump told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, that her dead husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Trump later claimed that Wilson “fabricated” his comments and said he had “proof,” which apparently meant there were other people in the room when Trump made the call, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump believes a new poll showing that nearly half of Americans believe the news media is inventing stories about his administration is actually low-balling the issue.

On Wednesday night he tweeted, quoting a poll that Fox News reported on — but was actually published by Politico and Morning Consult — that found “46 percent of Americans think the media is inventing stories about Trump and his administration,” Trump wrote.

“It is actually much worse than this!” he said.

The Politico poll, published Wednesday, found that nearly 50 percent of Americans do, in fact, think that the media fabricates stories about Trump and his administration, while 37 percent don’t. Republicans are more suspicious of the media than any other group, with 76 percent saying they believe in fake news. The group’s distrust of the news is not particularly surprising as the party’s leader, Trump, spends so much time criticizing the media.

Only one in five Democrats have bought into Trump’s media outrage, but 44 percent of independents think the media is making up stories.

The President’s claims on Wednesday are nothing new.

Trump has been diminishing the media since the days of his campaign when he seized on the phrase “fake news.” He’s been particularly irked the past few weeks after NBC News published a story that claimed his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron” and wanted to resign this summer. The President tweeted last week, questioning what could be done to revoke the licenses of broadcast media outlets.

This week, Trump told radio host Chris Plante that he thought journalists would publish more favorable pieces about him after he won the election.

“Actually, dishonesty in the media is one of the things that surprised me the most,” he said Tuesday. “I thought after I won, the media would become much more stable and much more honest. They’ve gone crazy. CNN is a joke. NBC is a total joke. You watch what they report, it bears no relationship to what I’m doing. But the media is absolutely dishonest — and frankly, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

The Politico poll was conducted from Oct. 12 to the 16th and surveyed 1,991 registered voters. The margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points.

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry brushed off the controversy that President Donald Trump started by criticizing the way past presidents treated the families of fallen soldiers, by calling the debate “asinine” and a “waste of time.”

“It even boils down to splitting hairs finer than that — did they actually sign the letter or did they autopen it?” Perry told CBS News Wednesday, referencing a five-year-old dispute over whether former President Barack Obama used an auto-pen to sign condolence letters to families of some Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan.

“I mean that’s how asinine I will suggest to you this whole thing is from my perspective. The Presidents of the United States each have a love for this country,” he said. “They have a love for the young men and women who serve and the families who have lost them. I think anyone who questions that — now do they handle it differently? Yes, and that’s OK.”

Perry reiterated the stance that the White House has taken since Monday, claiming that Trump was trying to say that every President offers condolences to families differently.

“They all reach out in their own way. … From my perspective, I know we live in a 24/7 news cycles and to be splitting hairs on how do we mourn, how do you give comfort, I think is a waste of time, frankly,” Perry told CBS.

Trump ignited the firestorm on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread condemnation from former Obama aides.

When Trump finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after their deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump pushed back on those reports, tweeting that Wilson’s comments were “totally fabricated” and claiming he had “proof” that she made it up. During a White House press briefing Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed the controversy on the media and claimed there were several people in the room, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, who thought Trump’s comments were “respectful.” 

The Jackson, Mississippi public school district board of education voted to change the name of one of its magnet elementary schools — named for the President of the Confederacy during the civil war — in honor of former President Barack Obama.

The name change for the Jefferson Davis Elementary School, which has a student population that is 98 percent black, was announced Tuesday at the district school board meeting, according to the Clarion-Ledger. The school will now be called the Barack Obama Magnet IB.

The PTA wanted to rename the building to “reflect a person who fully represents ideals and public stances consistent with what we want our children to believe about themselves,” PTA President Janelle Jefferson said at the meeting, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

There are two other elementary schools in the district that are named after Confederate leaders, but the school district did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment on the status of those schools’ names.

The Obama name change comes as schools, churches and municipalities across the country drop Confederacy-affiliated labels from their buildings and remove Confederate statues from public spaces.

Last month, the episcopal church that Confederate commander Robert E. Lee attended when he was president of Washington and Lee College in Lexington, Virginia even voted to change its name from the Robert E. Lee Memorial Church back to its original title, the Grace Episcopal Church. 

The violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last month intensified the debate over what place Confederate memorials have in society.

At the Charlottesville rally, a group of white nationalists gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Lee. The rally turned violent and ended with a man affiliated with white supremacists allegedly driving his car through a crowd of counter-protesters and killing one person. 

President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed that “they say” he’s done more during his first nine months in the Oval Office “than any President in history.”

Trump has struggled to achieve his legislative agenda, but conservatives, and Trump himself, point to the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court as a major accomplishment for the President.

Speaking to the crowd gathered at the Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting, Trump apologized to the “lobbyists” in the crowd who may lose their jobs because of his efforts to “put more Americans back to work and more lobbyists out of work” by repealing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “so called Clean Power Plan.”

“(We) have ended finally the war on clean, beautiful coal. People are going back to work,” he said. “Over the last nine months we have removed job-killing regulations at a record pace. In fact, in nine months, we have done more, they say, than any President in history.”

It wasn’t clear who “they” are, but Trump claimed there was “more to come,” saying “regulatory reform” is part of his administration’s drive to “drain the swamp.”

“We have statutory guidelines we have to go by — a period of time, but there’s much more to come,” he said. “I believe in regulation but, it has to be limited to what we need. We want clean water, we want clean air. It has to be fair. We also want, by the way, jobs.”

Watch his full speech below:

Continuing his campaign against the Republican elite, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon rallied for Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) front-running challenger Tuesday evening, telling the crowd of rightwing activists that GOP establishment is going to “reap the whirlwind” and “that whirlwind is Kelli Ward.”

Throwing his weight behind Ward, a former state senator, is just one of several moves Bannon vowed to make in his “war” against at least 15 Republicans — who he called the “new aristocracy” — whose seats are up for reelection in 2018.

“It’s an open revolt and it should be. … We’re building a grass-roots army,” Bannon said at Ward’s campaign kickoff, Arizona Central reported. “These people hold you in total contempt. When they attack a Donald Trump and a Dr. Kelli Ward, it’s not Donald Trump and Kelli Ward that they’re trying to shut up. It’s you they’re trying to shut up. … They think you’re a group of morons.”

Last month, the Bannon-supported, controversial former Alabama state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore beat out his incumbent challenger Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — who President Donald Trump endorsed — in the Republican runoff primaries.

Flake is next on Bannon’s attack list.

The one-term senator is considered to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents up for reelection after he refused to endorse or vote for Trump last year and published a book this summer criticizing Republicans for embracing Trump.

Swiss investor and frequent business media commentator Marc Faber thinks the U.S. is a rich country because white people, “and not the blacks,” populated America first.

The Financial Times was first to report on Faber’s comments after it obtained an investors’ newsletter that Faber — also known as “Dr. Doom” — wrote.

“And thank God white people populated America, and not the blacks. Otherwise, the U.S. would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority. I am not a racist, but the reality – no matter how politically incorrect – needs to be spelled out,” Faber said.

When reached by the Financial Times reporter Tuesday, Faber said in an email that he stood by his comments because “this is an undisputable [sic] fact.”

“If stating some historical facts makes me a racist, then I suppose that I am a racist,” he said.

Later Tuesday Faber was asked to resign from the board of Sprott, an asset management company where he served as an independent director on the board since 2010.

Sprott’s CEO Peter Grosskopf told CNBC that the company was “deeply disappointed to hear these remarks” and said he was “shocked” to find out Faber thought that way, prompting the board and executives to ask for his immediate resignation.

A CNBC spokesperson said the news outlet doesn’t intend to book Faber as a business commentator in the future.

Faber’s blatantly racist comments were part of an investor letter in which he discussed recent pressure to remove Confederate statues across the U.S, according to the FT.

Faber said Confederate symbols should be considered “statues of honorable people whose only crime was to defend what all societies had done for more than 5,000 years: keep part of the population enslaved,” according to the Financial Times.

The discussion about removing Confederate monuments was thrust back into the national debate after a group of white nationalists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer. The rally turned violent when a man affiliated with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman.

 

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