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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

Some Republican lawmakers have taken an off-hand comment from South Korean President Moon Jae-in — that President Trump can “take the Nobel prize” for helping broker peace between North and South Korea — to heart.

In a letter sent Wednesday, a group of 18 GOP members of Congress, led by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), nominated Trump for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, citing “his work to end the Korean War, denuclearize the Korean peninsula and bring peace to the region.”

“Since taking office, President Trump has worked tirelessly to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to end its illicit weapons program and bring peace to the region,” the lawmakers said in the letter. “His administration successfully united the international community, including China, to impose one of the most successful international sanctions regimes in history. The sanctions have decimated the North Korean economy and have been largely credited for bringing North Korea to the negotiating table.”

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plan to meet for a summit in North Korea sometime this month or in early June to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea, but Trump himself has said he’s willing to “walk out” if negotiations aren’t successful. While the planned summit is widely considered an historic feat, it comes on the heels of months of an openly fraught relationship between Trump and Kim, that ignited when the two world leaders began trading juvenile insults over Twitter and in comments to the media. 

Read the letter below:

 

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Before working as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen represented clients involved in car crashes.

But, according to a new investigation by Rolling Stone, many of those accidents were staged or deliberate.

While working as a personal-injury lawyer, Cohen represented several clients who staged crashes — or who were not even in the vehicle when a fake accident occurred — to cheat insurance companies out of cash. Some of those clients were reportedly found to be part of broader insurance fraud rings in New York and at least one was charged with criminal insurance fraud while Cohen represented her in a lawsuit. Cohen also  worked for a doctor who, in 2005, was indicted on insurance fraud charges, Rolling Stone reported.

According to the new Rolling Stone report — authored by Seth Hettena, who is set to publish a book on Trump and Russia next week — Cohen was never charged for representing the clients who committed fraudulent acts and he may have not known about the nature of his client’s intentions. It is also unclear whether the fraudulent personal injury cases were part of the documents seized by FBI agents when Cohen’s home, hotel and office were raided last month.

Read Rolling Stones’ full report here.

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President Donald Trump’s team of lawyers all currently lack the security clearance necessary to discuss sensitive issues related to a potential presidential interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

According to two people familiar with the situation who spoke with Bloomberg, Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd — who resigned over disputes with the rest of the legal team about whether Trump should sit for an interview with Mueller — was the only lawyer on the team who had a security clearance.

Jay Sekulow replaced Dowd as the head of the legal team, but is still waiting for his security clearance to be approved, Bloomberg reported. Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who processes requests from Mueller’s team, has a security clearance, but his role dictates that he represents the office of the presidency, not Trump himself. Cobb has not been involved in discussions with Mueller about a potential presidential interview, according to Bloomberg.

If Trump agrees to an interview, his lawyers would need a security clearance to discuss some questions that Mueller plans to ask Trump, namely a meeting that Trump had with Russian officials the day after he fired his former FBI director James Comey. Earlier this week, The New York Times published a list of questions that Trump’s legal team thinks Mueller will ask the President, based on conversations the lawyers had with Mueller’s team.    

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Mueller suggested in a March 5 meeting that he could subpoena Trump to appear before a grand jury if he refused an interview. Before Dowd resigned, Mueller’s prosecutors reportedly made it clear to Trump’s lawyers that Mueller would consider a presidential subpoena if Trump refused to participate in an interview, Dowd told Bloomberg.

Read Bloomberg’s full report here.    

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During a tax policy event in Arizona on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump-pardoned ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.”

“(He’s) a great friend of this President, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law,” he said according to an NBC video clip of the event. “He’s spent a lifetime in law enforcement— Sheriff Joe Arpaio and I’m honored to have you here.” 

The irony of Pence’s comments was lost on the crowd, which met the Vice President’s introduction of Arpaio with cheers and applause. Arpaio is currently running for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) seat in Congress.

Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Donald Trump in August and is currently facing a legal battle to get his record cleared, was convicted of contempt of court for violating court orders that barred his office from discriminatory policing practices.

The conviction came after Arpaio was sued for discriminatory practices, with the suit claiming that Arpaio’s department intentionally targeted and detained Latinos living in his county. His office was issued a court order to halt the racially discriminatory traffic stops, but he refused to change the department’s policing tactics.

Arpaio was set to be sentenced for the conviction in October, but was spared from a possible prison sentence with Trump’s pardon. In April, a California court ordered the appointment of a private attorney to oppose Arpaio’s efforts to wipe his criminal record after the Justice Department refused to defend an Arizona court’s decision to block his conviction from getting cleared.

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President Trump’s former doctor, Harold Bornstein, has admitted that he did not write the 2015 letter that painted Trump as the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Trump did.

According to Bornstein, who spoke with CNN Tuesday, Trump “dictated the whole letter” despite denying in the past that Trump was involved in writing the glowing health review.

“I didn’t write that letter,” he told CNN Tuesday. “I just made it up as I went along.”

The Trump campaign released the letter in December 2015. The letter portrayed Trump as someone with “extraordinary” “physical strength and stamina” with an “astonishingly excellent” blood pressure and “excellent” heart health. The letter also claimed Trump had lost 15 pounds in the last year.

“(Trump) dictated the letter and I would tell him what he couldn’t put in there,” Bornstein told CNN Tuesday.

Trump’s former doctor has thrust himself back into the spotlight after revealing to NBC on Tuesday that Trump’s personal body guard, a lawyer with the Trump Organization and another unidentified person raided his office last year and seized Trump’s medical records. He claims the raid happened just days after he told a local media outlet that Trump takes medication to prompt hair growth.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday told reporters that obtaining the President’s medical records was “standard operating procedure” and declined to call the seizure a raid.

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During a meeting with Trump’s legal team last month, special counsel Robert Mueller raised the possibility of a presidential subpoena of Trump if he declined an interview with the special counsel.

According to sources familiar with the encounter who spoke with The Washington Post, Mueller made the suggestion of subpoenaing Trump to appear before a grand jury after Trump’s lawyers insisted that the President wasn’t obligated to speak with Mueller’s team.

Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd — who ultimately resigned after his dispute with the rest of the legal team about whether Trump should sit for an interview with Mueller — was reportedly particularly irked by the special counsel’s warning.

“This isn’t some game,” Dowd said at the time, according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke with the Post. “You are screwing with the work of the President of the United States.”

After the Mach 5 meeting, Mueller’s investigators reportedly provided Trump’s lawyers with more information about the scope of topics they wanted to explore with Trump. From that, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow put together a list of 49 questions that the President may be asked— the document The New York Times obtained earlier this week, according to the Post’s sources. The scale of the questions that Mueller planned to raise with Trump has left the President fuming, according to the Post. Trump and his close advisers are reportedly using the list of inquiries to back up their claims that Mueller overstepped his bounds.

Trump’s legal team is reportedly considering whether to provide Mueller with a written response to his questions.

Read the Post’s full report here.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said the seizure of President Donald Trump’s medical records from his former doctor in February 2017 was “standard operating procedure.”

“As a standard operating procedure for a new President, the White House medical unit took possession of the President’s medical records,” she said in response to questions about NBC’s report on the seizure, which she declined to characterize as a “raid.”

According to Trump’s longtime personal doctor, Harold Bornstein, Trump’s bodyguard, a Trump Organization lawyer and another unidentified man raided his office and took Trump’s medical records last year. According to Bornstein, the seizure happened without documentation or permission.

The raid occurred not long after Bornstein told a local newspaper that Trump took medication that prompted hair growth.

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President Donald Trump again suggested forming a sixth branch of the military — the “space force” — during an event at the White House with West Point students on Tuesday, arguing the new branch may be necessary because the U.S. is “getting very big in space.”

“We’re getting very big in space both militarily and for other reasons,” he said, addressing the West Point Military Academy football team as he presented them with the Commander in Chief trophy Tuesday. “We are seriously thinking of the space force and you’ll join the greatest force for peace and justice the world has ever known. You will keep us safe, you will keep up strong, you will keep us free, and thank you for your service.”

Trump has floated the idea of a “space force” in the past. While addressing members of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in March, he said the idea started as a joke, but then he changed his mind.

“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like land, air and sea,” he said earlier this spring. “I said, ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force,’ and I was not really serious. Then I said, ‘what a great idea,’ maybe we’ll have to do that.”

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In a new off-kilter, 30-second campaign spot, West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship vows if elected to fight for the pro-life agenda, create jobs, “end the drug epidemic” and “ditch cocaine Mitch,” referencing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“One of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch cocaine Mitch. When you vote for me, you’re voting for the sake of the kids,”  he said with a smile, while providing no context for the new sobriquet. Politico noted that Blankenship might have been referencing a 2014 report from The Nation that reported drugs were once discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

In a statement released on his Facebook page Tuesday morning, Blankenship confirmed that he was referencing the Nation story about Chao’s family business.

“Mitch McConnell and his family have extensive ties to China,” he wrote. “His father-in-law who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years. The company was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we’ve deemed him ‘Cocaine Mitch.'”

McConnell has made it clear that he is opposed to Blankenship’s bid for Senate, chiefly because of Blankenship’s criminal past. He served a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that killed 29 workers. McConnell and Republican leadership have said they want a less controversial candidate to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in November.   

Monday’s “cocaine” dig is not the first time Blankenship has lobbed attacks at McConnell. During an interview on a West Virginia radio show last week, Blankenship suggested that McConnell has a conflict of interest on foreign relations issues because Chao’s father is a “wealthy Chinaperson.”

Watch Blankenship’s new ad below:

Cocaine Mitch

Mitch McConnell and his family have extensive ties to China. His father-in-law who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years.The company was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we’ve deemed him “Cocaine Mitch.”Despite being a career politician for more than three decades, Mitch has become a millionaire while raising our national debt by 20 trillion dollars. The biggest jump in his wealth came from a multi-million dollar gift to his wife, Elaine Chao’s from her father, i.e. Foremost Maritime. The company uses ships chartered in Liberia, not America or China. Ms. Chao’s father and sister actually joined the board in 2007 and 2008 of something called China State Shipbuilding Corporation, CSSC Holdings, which is a subsidiary of the largest defense contractor in China. McConnell is so indebted to China that he even co-sponsor a Senate bill to remove human rights reporting requirements from free trade deals. Those requirements were put in place after China’s abuses following the protests for freedom we saw worldwide at Tiananmen Square. (S.2277) A new book by Peter Schweizer examines how career politician Mitch McConnell used his elected influence and his wife’s family’s policies to get rich while regular Americans lost a trade war. A trade war that has cost millions their jobs and therefore created idleness and despair, which as we know leads to illegal drug use including cocaine. Cocaine overdose deaths in the United States are rising rapidly as a result.

Posted by Don Blankenship on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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President Donald Trump is irked that copies of special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions for him were, he alleged, leaked to The New York Times.

On Tuesday morning he tweeted that it was “disgraceful” that the questions were revealed and and hurled his usual “witch hunt” insults at Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

About an hour later, he tweeted again pushing back on allegations of obstruction of justice. Mueller’s questions reportedly focus, in part, on White House actions that could be interpreted as obstruction of justice, specifically Trump’s response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

Trump’s tweets decrying the “leaked” questions follow reports from the New York Times that it had obtained a list of questions that Mueller planned to ask Trump if the President agreed to sit down for an interview with the special counsel.

Mueller’s team reportedly read the list of questions to Trump’s lawyers, who then assembled them into a list. That list was shared with the Times by a person outside of Trump’s legal team, the Times reported.

The questions reportedly focus on a range of topics, including Trump’s motivations for firing former FBI director James Comey, his business dealings and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

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