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

Chief of staff John Kelly reassured White House staffers Friday morning that there were not going to be any personnel changes “at this time,” according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The reassurance came amid reports of a planned staff shakeup and comments from President Donald Trump this week suggesting there “will always be change” in the White House. On Friday, Sanders told reporters about the meeting, in which she said Kelly told staff they “shouldn’t be concerned” about their jobs.

“We should do exactly what we do every day and that’s to come to work and do the very best that we can,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’re focused on and many of us have relayed that to staffers that weren’t part of that meeting.”

NBC News’ Peter Alexander pressed her further, citing Trump’s own comments this week indicating further staff turnover: “We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”

“And he just nominated two new people to part of his cabinet, so we are getting close,” she shot back. “We would like those two individuals to be quickly confirmed and quickly put through that process so they can take a seat at the table, so they can continue to engage with the President on big issues that actually matter to the American people.”

When asked why there was still a need for change more than a year into Trump’s presidency, Sanders said that “policy priorities” guide personnel decisions.

“Look, as we’ve said many times before, you want the right people for the right time,” she said. “As policy priorities change, that means sometimes you’re going to have personnel change. That’s not different for this administration as it has been in any other administration and we’ll continue to add new staff regularly.”

The comments follow Trump’s decision to fire his secretary of state over Twitter earlier this week and amid reports that Trump plans to fire his National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in coming days. The White House has denied those reports. 

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Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has passed away at the age of 88 after sustaining an injury last week, her office announced Friday.

“To have met Louise Slaughter is to have known a force of nature,” her chief of staff Liam Fitzsimmons said in a statement.

The Democrat and Chronicle was first to report the news on Friday morning. 

Slaughter suffered a head injury after a fall last week and had been hospitalized for a concussion, her office said earlier this week.

In her 16th term, Slaughter was one of the longest serving women in the House of Representatives and was first elected to Congress in 1986.

Slaughter was the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee; was a champion of governmental transparency, demonstrated in her advocacy for the passage of the STOCK Act in 2006; and was widely recognized for her work to prevent discrimination in the health insurance market.

Slaughter was also recognized for her women’s rights work. She was the co-chair and founder of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, established the Office of Research on Women’s Health and was the co-author of the Violence Against Women Act, landmark legislation that has helped reduce domestic violence in the U.S.

In 2009, she brought the Affordable Care Act to the House floor for the historic vote.

Details on Slaughter’s funeral arrangements will be announced when they are available, her office said.

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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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