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

Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) denounced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Thursday evening for saying “konnichiwa” to Japanese-American congresswoman Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) earlier this week.

In a tweet, Hirono, who is also a Japanese-American, called Zinke’s comments “flippant” and “juvenile” and said the “internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter.”

Zinke’s comment came during a House National Resources Committee Thursday hearing when Hanabusa asked him if the National Park Service program that gives grants toward the preservation of Japanese-American confinement camps would be funded this year. Hanabusa is the granddaughter of two internees who were held in one of the confinement camps during World War II.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said, before answering her question. He ultimately agreed to fund the program because he thinks it’s “important” to preserve those historic sites. 

“Nope. Racism is not ok,” Duckworth tweeted a few hours later, linking to an article about the exchange.

The Japanese American Citizens League joined the Democratic lawmakers in their denouncement of Zinke’s comments, which they called “flippant,” “inappropriate” and “lacking the respect he afforded other representatives during the same hearing.” The group said comments like Zinke’s reinforce the need for full funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program.

“The injustice of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans was due to the very racist sentiments unintentionally exhibited in Secretary Zinke’s flippant comment, that Japanese Americans were and are perpetually foreign,” the organization told TPM in a statement Friday. “If anything, Secretary Zinke’s comment clarifies and reinforces the need for full funding of the JACS program. … We urge Congress to continue funding of the JACS program at the same level as years past.”

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Porn actress Stormy Daniels will share proof that she was “physically threatened to stay silent” about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” reportedly set to air March 25, her attorney said Friday.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told CNN and MSNBC Friday morning that it was a “fact” that his client was physically threatened to keep quiet. He said he was “confident” that viewers would come away from the interview believing that Daniels’ side of the story is credible.

I’m not alleging anything. I’m stating a fact,” Avenatti told CNN Friday. “And the fact is that my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump. … The American people are going to weigh her veracity and whether she can be trusted, whether she appears to be credible and whether it happened or not, and they’re going to learn the details surrounding that. We’re going to let them judge for themselves whether she’s being honest.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked if that meant she had “proof” that would reveal how she was threatened and by whom.

“What I’m saying is she’s going to be able to provide very specific details about what happened here,” Avenatti said.

“Including who made the threat?” Cuomo asked.

“I’m confident that the American people, after this interview, are going to come away and have little to no doubt that this woman is credible, she’s telling the truth, and she knows what she’s talking about,” he said.

Daniels allegedly had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006 and was pressured into signing a non-disclosure agreement just before the 2016 election. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000, reportedly meant to keep her silent about the affair. Daniel sued Trump last week, arguing the agreement is null because Trump never signed the NDA.

The White House has denied all the allegations of the affair and has claimed Trump did not have any knowledge of the payments his personal attorney made to Daniels in 2016.

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CBS will likely air its “60 Minutes” interview with porn actress Stormy Daniels on March 25, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke with The Washington Post.

Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, teased the interview last week when he tweeted a picture of Daniels, himself and news anchor Anderson Cooper and tagged “@60Minutes” in the tweet.

But CBS has been silent on an air date amid speculation over whether it would broadcast the interview and how much of the supposed tell-all the network would actually include. The interview is expected to reveal intimate details of Daniels’ alleged sexual affair with President Donald Trump, some of which could be considered embarrassing for the President, as TPM has reported. Earlier this week, CBS said reporters had to do more work on corroborating Daniels’ claims before it aired the episode.

On Sunday, Buzzfeed News reported that Trump’s legal team was considering taking legal action to block the interview from airing. 

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During a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke greeted a fourth-generation Japanese-American congresswoman by saying “konnichiwa,” a traditional midday Japanese greeting.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) on Thursday asked Zinke if he was planning to commit to funding a National Park Service program this year, that gives out grants toward the preservation of confinement camps that Japanese-Americans were held in during World War II. Hanabusa herself is a granddaughter of two internees who were held during World War II.

“Are you committed to continue to grant programs that are identified, I believe, as the Japanese American Confinement Sites grants program which were funded in 2017? Will we see them funded again in 2018?” Hanabusa asked.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke said.

Hanabusa then corrected Zinke, saying she thought it was still morning— “I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that‘s OK,” she said, referencing the phrase for “good morning.”

Zinke paused and then suggested he would fund the program and promised to work with Hanabusa on the issue. 

Watch a clip of the exchange below:

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The parents of Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered in July 2016, said in an interview published Thursday that they felt their son was “murdered again” when Fox News published a since-retracted story linking their son to the hack and release of thousands of DNC emails.

Your son is murdered again, and this time it’s worse than the first time,” Seth Rich’s mother Mary Rich told ABC News. “We lost his body this first time, and the second time we lost his soul. They took more from us with the lies. We want our son’s life, and his soul restored.”

The Rich family on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Fox News, reporter Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky, a Republican donor who occasionally appeared on air. The lawsuit alleges that Zimmerman and Butowsky reached out to the Riches under false pretenses and claimed that they wanted to help solve Seth Rich’s murder, but later painted their son as a criminal and a traitor, according to ABC News.

A Fox News spokesperson told TPM that the network “can’t comment on this pending litigation.”

In July 2016, Seth Rich was shot in the back several times and later died in the hospital. Police said that Rich may have been the victim of a botched robbery, but his murder still remains unsolved. Fox News in May 2017 published a story where it falsely claimed that Seth Rich was murdered because he was involved in the hack and release of thousands of DNC emails in the summer of 2016.

The U.S. intelligence community in October 2016 said that the Russian government was behind the hacks. Fox News retracted the story about Seth Rich just days after it was published, but the family claims the damage was still significant.

Mary Rich told ABC News that her son’s “computer didn’t have anything on it,” and that Fox News “took a rumor and ran with it” and never called the family to check any facts.

What has to come out is the truth, and hopefully when we take it to court, they’ll hear it again, what we’ve told them already,” she said. “I want the people who started the lies, who are responsible for lies to be held accountable. This has got to stop.”

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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Wednesday dove head first into an alt-right conspiracy theory that the students who are advocating for gun control after 17 people were killed at a Florida high school last month are being “used as a tool by these left wing groups.”

Discussing the national day of protest, in which students across the country walked out of their classrooms Wednesday to protest gun violence and demand stricter gun laws, McMaster told South Carolina’s Education TV that it was a “shameful” move by a “left wing group.”

“It appears these school children, innocent school children, are being used as a tool by these left-wing groups to further their own agenda,” he said in a video flagged by CNN. “It is not about the tragedy, it is not about the school children. … This is a tricky move, I believe, by a left-wing group, from the information I’ve seen, to use these children as a tool to further their own means. It sounds like a protest to me. It’s not a memorial, it’s certainly not a prayer service, it’s a political statement by a left-wing group and it’s shameful.”

McMaster isn’t the first Republican to make such claims.

In the days following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, alt-right groups theorized that the students who were vocally advocating for gun reform were paid “crisis actors” and pawns of liberal groups that want to promote gun control.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was quick to squash the validity of those theories, but it didn’t stop the conspiracy from spreading. The President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., appeared to support the claims when he liked a tweet that shared a story that attacked one of the student survivors whose father is a retired FBI agent. 

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President Donald Trump confirmed reports that Larry Kudlow will serve as the next National Economic Council director in a Thursday morning tweet.

“Our country will have many years of great economic and financial success, with low taxes, unparalleled innovation, fair trade and an ever expanding labor force leading the way!” he said.

Kudlow will replace Gary Cohn, who resigned last week after reportedly expressing his opposition to Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Officially, the White House said there was no single factor that led to Cohn’s resignation.

Trump told reporters Tuesday that he was “very strongly” considering Kudlow for the position. The Washington Post and CNBC were first to report Wednesday that Kudlow would replace Cohn. Kudlow, currently a CNBC financial analyst, was an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign. He also worked in the Ronald Reagan administration as an economic policy adviser. Kudlow has also previously expressed his opposition to the new tariffs and has been vocal about breaking with Trump on other issues.

When Trump offered Kudlow the job, he reportedly told Kudlow that his staff wasn’t aware that he was offering him the job, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Per WSJ:

At one point during their call Tuesday, Mr. Kudlow said the president seemed to revel in the fact that his staff didn’t know they were discussing the job. The president told him, “‘No one else knows that you and I are having this conversation.’ I loved it,” said Mr. Kudlow. “He is who he is.”

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During a fundraising speech in Missouri Wednesday night, President Donald Trump reportedly told supporters that he made up a trade claim in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to audio of the event obtained by The Washington Post.

Trump reportedly called Trudeau a “nice guy, good looking guy” and admitted that he told Trudeau that Canada has a trade deficit with the U.S., even though he had no idea whether that was actually accurate.

Read the transcript of the audio from the event, per the Post:

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.

“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’

‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”

The U.S. actually has a trade surplus with Canada, according to the Post. Trump on Thursday morning attempted to clarify his comments on Twitter, but claimed the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada. 

The Wednesday night admission is particularly startling given Trump’s announcement last week that the U.S. would implement tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. He also called the North American Free Trade Agreement a disaster and claimed key allies like the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea were taking advantage of the U.S.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is currently reviewing a request to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who has been on a leave of absence from the bureau since January and is set to officially retire on Sunday.

According to people inside the Justice Department who spoke to The New York Times, McCabe is expected to be fired before the end of the work week, though no official decision has been made yet.

The Justice Department inspector general is probing McCabe’s decision to allow members of the FBI to speak with reporters about its probe into the Clinton Foundation in 2016. According to The New York Times, the IG office has found that McCabe was not forthcoming during the review and the report findings ignited an FBI disciplinary process that recommended McCabe be fired.

Sessions will get to decide whether to accept the recommendation, a move that would threaten his ability to collect a pension after his 21-year career with the FBI, according to the Times.

McCabe took a leave of absence in January following reports that President Donald Trump and Sessions tried to pressure FBI Director Chris Wray to fire McCabe. Wray reportedly threatened to resign if he was forced to fire the deputy director.

As TPM and the Times reported in January, the forthcoming report from the IG fueled McCabe’s decision to leave the bureau before his retirement in March.

The IG was probing a variety of different moves made by the FBI during its investigations during the 2016 election, including its handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and whether McCabe should’ve recused himself from the investigation, given his wife ran as a Democrat for public office in 2015. Trump has repeatedly bullied McCabe and that perceived conflict of interest on Twitter.

Read the rest of the Times report here. 

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CNN host Chris Cuomo will leave his early morning “New Day” show to host “Cuomo Prime Time” in the 9 p.m. EST hour, starting sometime this spring, according to CNN.

Cuomo hosted a show in the primetime slot for a week last summer and spent most of the month of January balancing “Cuomo Prime Time” with “New Day,” which runs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST. CNN’s 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. co-anchor John Berman will join “New Day” co-host Alisyn Camerota for the early morning shift. The exact date of the change has not been decided yet, according to CNN.

The move will put Cuomo in direct competition with Fox News’ Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, both of whom pulled in more than 600,000 25 to 54-year-old viewers a piece last month. Currently CNN airs “AC360” during the 9 p.m. EST hour, which averaged about 386,000 viewers in the 25 to 54 year-old demographic in February, CNN reported.

In a tweet, Cuomo confirmed the new show, saying he hopes to “talk TO people more and ABOUT them less.”

Cuomo, whose father Mario Cuomo was the former governor of New York and his brother Andrew Cuomo is the current governor, has been the co-anchor of “New Day” since 2014.

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