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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

At a hearing on the President’s voter fraud panel Wednesday, a federal judge called the commission’s failure to meet transparency requirements ahead of its meetings “incredible,” prompting the commission to apologize.

Last month, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against the panel for its failure to follow federal laws that require all documents and agendas surrounding a presidential advisory committee’s meetings to be made public ahead of time.

At Wednesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Colleen ­Kollar-Kotelly found that the commission only released its agenda and proposed bylaws ahead of its meeting on July 19, but commissioners showed up to the meeting with binders full of reports from the Heritage Foundation that the public had not seen yet, The Washington Post reported.

A list of discussion topics circulated by the panel vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was also not publicly disclosed ahead of time, she said.

She called the panel’s defense that it didn’t know it had to post documents prepared by individual commissioners ahead of meetings “incredible.”

“You didn’t completely live up to the government’s representations,” Kollar-Kotelly reportedly told Justice Department lawyers at Wednesday’s hearing. “I want to know what things are not going to be covered” by the government’s pledges.

The panel’s attorney then apologized for what she called an error by staffers.

It was truly an honest misunderstanding on the part of the commission with respect to its obligations to share information,” attorney Elizabeth Shapiro said. “It was not an attempt to hide anything. It fully intends to be as transparent as possible. ... I wanted to convey our apologies and our sincere regret for that.”

The lawyers’ committee suit is one of seven pending lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s voter fraud panel, which has requested public voter data from all 50 states.

At least 30 states have said they would at least partially comply with the request. Many state leaders have objected to the committee’s request because they view it as an attempt to reveal personal voter information and suppress voting rights.

Trump created the commission after repeatedly claiming that millions voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, causing then-opponent Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote. Commission leaders have consistently denied that Trump’s complaints are why the panel was created.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who represents the state’s 36th Congressional District, revealed during a phone interview with CNN Wednesday that he and his family are “absolutely trapped” in their house in Woodville, Texas.

“I am absolutely trapped in my house. I don’t have a way to get out until we have floodwaters recede here. I’m in my home and we could not get out unless a helicopter plucks me out of here or I get in my boat and launch it,” he said. “But we’re fine, these waters are going to recede hopefully sometime this evening. And we’re doing well.”

He said his house is located behind a creek that serves as a flood stage and it has “completely blocked our exit to get out of here.”

“My family’s here, I’ve got one of my children and my grandchildren with me. … But we’re not worried about it at all. We’re worried about other folks who may have their lives in danger throughout this nine-county district,” he said. “I’m just one of hundreds of thousands of people in this district and across this part of our state that are just being inflicted by this terrible storm, tropical storm and former Hurricane Harvey.”

When host Jim Acosta asked if he needed CNN to send any resources his way, he declined, saying he was sure the water would recede soon.

As a lifelong resident of “this part of the country,” Babin said he’s seen plenty of tornados, hurricane and flood events, but has never seen anything like what Harvey has provoked.  

People from Florida, from all over have pitched in to help us with this huge storm, which covers an unbelievable amount of geographic territory and has such massive population centers that it’s going (to) turn out to be, in my opinion and many others, if not one, but maybe the most expensive natural disaster storms in our history,” he said. 

President Trump’s constant criticism of journalists and the media is a “dangerous” attack on the freedom of the press, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights said Wednesday.

During a news conference in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein spoke about Trump’s recent remarks against the media, from claiming journalists don’t love America at a really in Phoenix to criticizing their coverage of his response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.

Zeid called Trump’s rhetoric “stunning,” Reuters reported.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution, but very much something the United States defended over the years is now under attack from the President,” he said. “It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one.”

Focusing specifically on the news outlets that have been the most frequent focus of Trump’s attacks, like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, Zeid said calling the organizations “‘fake’ does tremendous damage.”

“And to refer to individual journalists in this way, I have to ask the question is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” he said, referencing a recent assault against a reporter from The Guardian who was body slammed by a politician for asking a question.

“The President prides himself as a taboo breaker, indeed his supporters see him as such. But at the time I expressed my feeling that this was grossly irresponsible, because it has consequences, it emboldens those who may think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.I almost feel that the President is driving the bus of humanity and we’re careening down a mountain path. And in taking these measures, at least from a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving.”

Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen on Wednesday defended his church’s decision to not initially open its doors to people affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which dumped record rain on the region.

When the hurricane made landfall over the weekend, the church was closed due to flooding, but online critics expressed frustration with the church and Osteen. Many posted photos that showed very little standing water in the church parking lot.

Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to help make sure you are safe….

Posted by Lakewood Church on Sunday, August 27, 2017

Some criticized Osteen for his decision, given the size of the church and the fact that many other places of worship opened their doors to victims.

Osteen opened Lakewood Church as a shelter on Tuesday and told CBS News that the doors had always been open.

“The city asked us to be a distribution center. … The city runs the shelters, they asked for a distribution center. … We could’ve been a shelter from day one if they needed that,” Osteen said.

He appeared on CNN and said when the storm first came inland there was significant flooding at the church and it would have been a safety risk to house people there.

“We have floodgates right behind me to the right. It was within a foot of that. So, there was a safety issue for the first day or two,” he said. “We’ve been in this community for 60 years. Tropical storm Allison, we housed 3,000 people. We’ve always been open. There’s a big shelter four miles away, the city shelter that has all the dormitories. Once they filled up, people came here. So how this notion got started that we’re not a shelter and not taking people in was a false narrative.” 

After President Donald Trump issued a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the district court judge overseeing the case has approved Arpaio’s request to cancel his sentencing hearing.

But Judge Susan Bolton hasn’t completely thrown out the conviction, Arizona Central reported.

Arpaio was set to face sentencing in October for his criminal contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a court order to stop holding people solely on suspicion of being undocumented.

Friday evening, the White House announced that Trump had granted a pardon for the controversial ex-sheriff who has been a Trump supporter since the early days of his campaign.

On Tuesday, Bolton ordered that Arpaio and the Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, file a memo on why the case should or shouldn’t be thrown out.

She scheduled an oral argument hearing for both sides to make their case on Oct. 4, which is one day before Arpaio was supposed to be sentenced. 

We look forward to the hearing, and hope that the court will make the appropriate ruling,” one of Arpaio’s attorneys, Mark Goldman, said.

The judge’s move comes just one day after Arpaio’s attorneys called out media companies for reporting that the ex-sheriff was convicted of racial profiling. They said the conviction had nothing to do with race.

The Guardian political reporter who was body slammed by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) says the congressman has refused to sit down with him, despite promises to do so during his sentencing hearing for assaulting the journalist.

Reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted a statement Tuesday evening saying Gianforte’s refusal to do the “promised on-the-record interview” with Jacobs is indicative of the congressman’s “pattern of avoiding responsibility for his actions and refusing to live up to the statements made in what I had thought was a sincere apology,” he said.

Just one day before he was elected to the House, Jacobs approached Gianforte to ask him a question about health care. Gianforte body slammed the reporter and broke his glasses. Prosecutors filed an assault charge later that day.

Gianforte’s campaign tried to place the blame on Jacobs initially, but Jacobs’ audiotape recording of the encounter showed the reporter did not provoke him.

Gianforte issued an apology, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management and pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He also told Jacobs he looked forward to sitting down with him, “if and when you’re ready.”

Two months later, that promise still hasn’t been fulfilled, Jacobs said.

“I will continue to strive to turn this incident into something positive. Civil discourse and press freedoms are non-partisan issues and should form the basic foundation of our political system and society. I regret that Congressman Gianforte doesn’t appear to share these values,” he said in his tweeted statement. “When the Congressman is ready to schedule an on-the-record interview with me, I welcome hearing from him. Otherwise, should we meet in the halls of the Capitol, I hope I can approach him without fear of physical assault.”

A spokesperson for Gianforte’s office told The Hill that Jacobs’ claims were not true, saying the office has been working to arrange a meeting between the reporter and the representative.

“We have been honest brokers in our efforts to arrange for Mr. Jacobs to sit down with the congressman, including providing Mr. Jacobs with possible dates and times for a meeting and asking what Montana beers the congressman could bring for Mr. Jacobs when they meet,” the spokesperson said. “Mr. Jacobs has yet to either accept or decline our offer.”

After a briefing with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long during his first visit to the hurricane-stricken state, President Donald Trump addressed an impromptu crowd gathered near a fire station in Corpus Christi.

Trump climbed up on a ladder, grabbed a microphone and an amplifier and thanked the “throng of hundreds” for their applause, according to a White House pool report.

“We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you,” he said. “It’s going well.”

He then remarked on the size of the group gathered.

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said, thanking Abbott and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

“This has been a total cooperative effort. … It’s historic, it’s epic, but I tell you it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything,” he said, holding up the flag of Texas.

According to the pool report, not everyone gathered were Trump supporters. Some held signs that said “Liar, cheat, racist” and “Latinas against Trump.”

During his first visit to flood-stricken Texas on Tuesday, the President will likely not visit any of the “really damaged areas” hit by Hurricane Harvey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday afternoon.

The President indicated he wants to be “very cautious” about not allowing any of his activities to get in the way of search and rescue efforts, she said. The weather will also impact travel plans for the day, she said, and the schedule will be very “fluid.”

After President Donald Trump arrives in Corpus Christi, he and the first lady will meet with Gov. Greg Abbott, his wife and FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long, who are on the ground there.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) will also meet with the President there and will join the group for a “bit of the day,” Sanders said.

The Corpus Christi visit will focus on local response and recovery efforts. When the President arrives in Austin, he will receive a briefing focused on statewide plans.

Secretaries Tom Price, Ben Carson, Administrator Linda McMahon and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke will accompany Trump on the trip and each plans to meet with Abbott’s cabinet counterpart in order to establish communication and “lay the foundation for what we know is going to be a long recovery effort,” she said.

Trump plans to visit the state again on Saturday to different parts of the state, Sanders said. 

Ousted White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Tuesday that the President wants him to support the Trump agenda from “the outside” now.

Gorka claimed he resigned — the White House has said he was removed — because “there are a lot of people” in the White House who don’t agree with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda.

“That’s why I left so we can support the President from the outside because that’s why he was elected and he is not going to give up,” he said on “Fox and Friends.” “The question is are the people around him going to support him? At least the people on the outside like myself, Steve Bannon, we are going to support him to the fullest.”

Gorka said Trump reached out to him on Saturday after the controversial White House aide left the White House.

“He thanked me for my service, and he also said ‘I am sticking to the agenda,’ he is sticking to the agenda. He wants me to help him on the outside, especially in the media, to support him,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Since leaving the White House, Gorka has claimed that the President isn’t being served well by the people surrounding him and criticized National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster for his “Obama administration lens” for failing to describe ISIL in religious terms.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), an ally of President Donald Trump, announced a bid for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

After talking to Mary Grace and our family, many people across Pennsylvania and saying a few prayers, I’ve decided to run for the United States Senate,” he said in a video he posted to Twitter. “I don’t see running for the Senate to represent Pennsylvania as an opportunity. I see it as a responsibility.”

Two other Republican state representatives have announced bids for the seat occupied by incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

An early supporter of Trump, Barletta served on the transition team’s executive committee and was also under consideration to serve as labor secretary in the Trump administration but he declined, saying he could serve the country better in Congress. 

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