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

A group of 70 former U.S. Attorneys sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter on Tuesday morning requesting that Sessions end his “dangerous, expensive”  “zero tolerance” policy, which they claim is “inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served.”

The bipartisan group of former U.S. Attorneys, led by Preet Bharara from the Southern District of New York, argued the policy deviates from previous norms enacted by Republican and Democratic administrations and ignores the past precedent of maintaining a balance between “effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion,” the letter said.

“This balanced approach is especially critical when we are faced with persons seeking entry who may be eligible under established U.S. laws for the protection of asylum, as they flee persecution, horrific violence, or danger in their home countries,” they said.

According to the former prosecutors, the policy — which mandates the arrest of anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally — is a waste of dire resources as well, given the punishment for the misdemeanor offense of illegal border crossing is at most a year in prison.

They also argued that the law doesn’t mandate family separation. Under Sessions’ policy, anyone caught crossing the border is arrested and criminally charged. If they have children, the kids are separated from their parents while the adults meander their way through the immigration court system. The inhumane separation of families has received significant media attention in recent days as Trump administration officials double-down on their defense that the policy should work to deter illegal immigration.

“Collectively, as former United States Attorneys, we have prosecuted tens of thousands of cases involving far more serious crimes than misdemeanor illegal entry offenses. And even in those far more serious cases, decisions involving the separation of children from their parents were made with extraordinary caution, and only after an evaluation of the specific circumstances of a particular case,” the letter said. “Today, by contrast, your Zero Tolerance policy has produced a tragic and unsustainable result, without taking into account each family’s specific circumstances. Under your policy, families and children are greeted with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States, instead of with relief or asylum in the greatest country in the world. Until now, no Republican or Democratic administration, nor any prior Attorney General, has endangered children in order to deter illegal entry.”

Read the full letter here. 

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) called on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign on Monday, citing her track record of enforcing President Donald Trump’s “anti-immigration agenda” and leading the “failed response” to the devastation in Puerto Rico.

Harris also cited a lack of transparency within the department and Nielsen’s routine failure “to provide complete answers to questions from me and my colleagues” on the Homeland Security Committee.

Nielsen has come under increased scrutiny in recent days for her response to media reports on the conditions at immigration processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, border security agents have been given authority to arrest and criminally charge anyone who crosses the border illegally, resulting in thousands of children being separated from their parents.

On Sunday, Nielsen tweeted that the U.S. does not have a family separation policy, only to walk it back Monday by claiming the U.S. “will not apologize” for ripping families apart in order to enforce laws. She followed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, calling on Congress to “change the laws” of immigration and “close the loopholes.”

Read Harris’ full statement below:

“The government should be in the business of keeping families together, not tearing them apart. And the government should have a commitment to transparency and accountability. Under Secretary Nielsen’s tenure, the Department of Homeland Security has a track record of neither. As a result, she must resign.

“During her time as the manager of the government’s third largest agency, the Department has implemented a policy that has separated thousands of children from their families, issued a directive to make it easier to detain pregnant women, tried to use DACA recipients as leverage to achieve the President’s anti-immigrant agenda, failed to address some of the agency’s most pressing management challenges and overseen the continued failed response to tragedy in Puerto Rico.

“As a member of the Homeland Security Committee of the United States Senate for the last 18 months, which has oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, I have asked Secretary Nielsen and other DHS officials to clarify each of these policies, because the American people deserve to know the truth. I have, since March of 2017, repeatedly asked for complete data on the number of children separated and what training and protocol exists for carrying out such separations. In response, the leadership of this department has routinely failed to provide complete answers to questions from me and my colleagues.

“The Department’s lack of transparency under Secretary Nielsen’s leadership combined with her record of misleading statements including yesterday’s denial that the Administration even had a policy of separating children at the border, are disqualifying. We must speak the truth. There is no law that says the Administration has to rip children from their families. This Administration can and must reverse course now and it can and must find new leadership for the Department of Homeland Security.”

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President Donald Trump doubled down on his early morning tweetstorm during a speech before the National Space Council on Monday afternoon, when he vowed that the U.S. “will not be a migrant camp.”

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he said. “It won’t be. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places, we can’t allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch.”

Trump also continued to blame the Democrats for being “obstructionists” and suggested that all the immigration “problems that we’re having” are Democrats’ “fault.”

Early Monday morning, Trump unleashed on Twitter, making similar comments about Democrats, despite the fact that it is his administration that recently enacted a “zero tolerance” policy at the border that has emboldened border security to arrest, criminally charge and take the children from any migrant adult who illegally comes into the U.S.

Both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have been fiercely defensive of their actions; Nielsen said the U.S. would “not apologize” for taking children from illegal border crossers, and Sessions even admitted that the policy was meant as a deterrent.

While Trump, and notably first lady Melania Trump, have said they don’t want to separate children from their parents, Trump has cited “what’s happening in Europe” as rationale for the tough policies. He demanded on Monday that Democrats need to come to the table and “LAWS NEED TO CHANGE.”

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Conservative commentator Ann Coulter seized on a increasingly routine far-right talking point on Sunday evening by claiming that the migrant children who are being separated from their parents and housed in cages in immigration processing facilities are “child actors.”

During an appearance on Fox News’ “The Next Revolution,” Coulter claimed she read in The New Yorker that immigrant children were being fed “scripts” to make their plight seem more dire and she warned Trump against believing it.

“I would also say one other thing, these child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now: do not fall for it, Mr. President,” she said, as host Steve Holton attempted to cut her off. “I get very nervous about the president getting his news from TV. …  They’re given scripts to read by liberals, according to the New Yorker. Don’t fall for the actor children.”

It is unclear what New Yorker article Coulter was referencing, but The New York Times reported in May that administration officials have claimed that migrant children are being coached on “what to say to make fraudulent claims for asylum,” an argument that advocates have fought, according to the Times.

The casting of traumatized children who are interviewed on cable news as “actors” has become a familiar stance for those in the far-right. David Hogg, one of the student survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, was labeled a “crisis actor” after the shooting and is still facing backlash and harassment for his gun control advocacy efforts.

The conspiracy about Hogg and other survivors being actors paid by left-leaning groups started in the far-right fringes, but eventually worked its way mainstream, when Fox News host Laura Ingraham doubled down on the attacks on Hogg by mocking him for not getting into college.

H/t: Breitbart

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After a weekend of public uproar over the conditions at immigration processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump started the week with an explosive series of tweets that culminated with his seemingly ordering Congress to “CHANGE THE LAWS!”

Trump started his tweetstorm by blaming Democrats for issues within the immigration system  — which has sparked widespread outrage in recent days over a recent uptick in the number of immigrant families being separated at the border — and questioning why Democrats won’t “give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?”

He then asked why there hasn’t been more “outcry” over the brutal violence of the MS-13 gang, which the Trump administration has used to substantiate its claims of widespread violence committed by undocumented immigrants. He later blamed Democrats again for being “weak and ineffective with Boarder (sic) Security and Crime.”

The President then made a series of unsubstantiated claims about the migration of refugees into Germany, claiming that crime in the country has increased and the influx of immigrants has “so strongly and violently changed their culture!”

He went on to suggest that children were being used as pawns by “the worst criminals on earth” to enter the U.S. illegally and then claimed he wanted to protect the U.S. from the crime happening in countries south of the U.S. border.

Uproar over the treatment of children and families who are caught illegally crossing the border increased over the weekend, as journalists tweeted out photos of children sleeping on the floor and people being held in dog kennel-like cages at an immigration processing center in Texas.

That likely prompted Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to tweet that the Trump administration did not have a policy on separating families at the border, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recently enacted “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and bringing criminal charges against anyone caught illegally entering the U.S.

First lady Melania Trump also spoke out over the weekend as well, saying she “hates” to see families separated and called on “both sides” to find a solution.

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President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani clashed with his boss over the weekend on the interpretation of the results of a Justice Department inspector general report released last week.

“Well I don’t think it exonerates him,” Giuliani told ABC News. “In some respects, it dramatically supports his position … that the people who conducted the Hillary probe who were extreme partisan for Hillary and against Trump.”

In his remarks to reporters on Friday, Trump claimed that the IG report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation not only “totally exonerates” him, it also “totally discredits” special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Over the weekend, he tweeted that Comey and “his minions” in the FBI started the “disgraceful Witch Hunt,” his favored monicker for the Russia probe.

The IG report found that while former FBI Director James Comey may have not followed FBI norms in the way he handled the Clinton probe, he was not politically motivated.

But Trump has seized on the report as fodder for his decision to fire Comey last May. Part of Mueller’s investigation in looking into Trump’s handling of the Comey firing and whether he meant to obstruct justice in doing so.

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The head of the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday evening claimed that President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t have a policy of separating families at the border and blamed the media for “misreporting” on the uptick in children being taken away from their parents.

In a series of tweets, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed border patrol agents are operating under the rules enacted by previous administrations — that children will taken from their parents who are seeking asylum if the child is in danger, has no immediate family or if a parent has been arrested.

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” she tweeted.

The U.S. has seen a significant increase in the number of family separations at the border ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May enacted his new “zero tolerance” policy that requires the automatic arrest of any person caught illegally entering the U.S.

Nielsen’s comments even come in contradiction with Trump’s own commentary on the crisis, which has primarily consisted of blaming Democrats.

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The lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti, vowed to join a different legal fight against the Trump administration on Sunday.

Tweeting that he was “entering this fight,” Avenatti said the recent uptick in the separation of migrant children from their parents — who unlawfully cross the U.S. border — was “not my America.” He also encouraged anyone who knew of a parent who had been separated from a child to contact him.

“This outrageous conduct must be brought to an immediate end,” he tweeted.

Avenatti is currently representing Daniels in her legal battles against President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who paid Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Trump a decade ago.

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Roger Stone, a longtime confidante to President Donald Trump, told ABC News Sunday that he failed to tell congressional investigators about his meeting with a Russian official during the 2016 campaign because “I just didn’t remember.”

“2016 was a pretty busy year,” Stone told ABC. “I don’t think a failure of memory constitutes a perjury.”

Stone said he “never discussed” his meeting with Henry Greenberg — who asked Stone for $2 million in exchange for damaging information on Hillary Clinton — with Trump or anyone in the campaign, despite having exchanged texts with Trump communications staffer Michael Caputo about the meeting.

“I flatly rejected this proposal as ludicrous and frankly forgot about it,” he told ABC.

The Washington Post was first to report on Sunday about the meeting between Stone and Greenberg. Both Caputo and Stone’s attorneys have sent letters to the House Intelligence Committee asking to correct their clients’ testimony in response to questions about whether they were offered damaging information about Clinton.

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For those tracking our weekly list of VIPs and their unscrupulous behavior, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt could handily qualify as our Duke of the Week every Saturday.

It’s not only that the man tasked with safeguarding the environment isn’t clear on whether carbon dioxide  is causing climate change — before heading the EPA, he spent his time attacking the agency. And now he’s using his tenure as administrator to make it easier for his buddies in Big Oil to pollute.

That aside, Pruitt is also comically high maintenance, and has repeatedly used his department’s staff to help him meet his lavish personal needs.

For the past several months, Pruitt has been plagued with media coverage unveiling on a near-daily basis his unprecedentedly poor behavior as a member of a President’s cabinet. In his first year as administrator, he’s spent more than $100,000 to feed his appetite for luxury travel, while simultaneously tossing an easy $3.5 million on his round-the-clock security detail, which has seemingly accompanied him everywhere, from college basketball games to the Rose Bowl to a family trip to Disney World.

(His defense, that he’s faced a historic number of death threats, is false. People just yelled curse words at him in the airport a few times.)

On top of their guard-dog duties, he also apparently required his security detail to drive him from one Ritz Carlton to the next while he scoured the hotels for his favorite brand of lotion. He even made agents retrieve his dry cleaning.

Other items in a nowhere-near-exhaustive list of unethical behavior:

  • For months last year, he rented a condo from an energy lobbyist at an economy price while concurrently meeting with said lobbyist and approving the expansion of a pipeline connected to said lobbyist and lying about his contacts with said lobbyist.
  • He used a loophole in order to give two of his favorite staffers — who’ve been around since his Oklahoma days — massive raises, even after the White House shot down his request to swell their salaries by tens of thousands of dollars.
  • He directed his drivers to use sirens to unlawfully cut through D.C. traffic so he could get to his fancy dinner reservations on time and then targeted a career staffer who confronted him about it.
  • He spent at least $3,000 at a Washington, D.C. boutique, ordering personalized fountain pens and leather-bound journals emblazoned with his signature.
  • He asked his top aide, Millan Hupp — who is reportedly finally calling it quits — to go house hunting for him, buy plane tickets for his personal travel, set up meetings with Chick-fil-A executives to discuss his wife becoming a chicken shop franchisee, and fulfill other absurd requests, like obtaining a used mattress from a Trump Hotel.

In just this past week, the Washington Post reported that the Chick-fil-A request for Marlyn Pruitt wasn’t a one-off; Pruitt routinely asked his department aides and big time Republican donors to find his wife a job.

While conservatives have been keen on Pruitt because the thought of losing him — and his penchant for dismantling every regulation the Obama administration enacted to protect the only planet we have left — is too much to bear, their abiding love may have started to dissolve this week.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, peeved by reports that he was using his Cabinet position to work as a headhunter for his wife, tweeted that Pruitt has “GOTTA GO.” Fellow Republican and Oklahoman, Sen. James Inhofe, the Senate’s climate change denier in chief, said he would like a word with the administrator about his “spending and management decisions.” His deregulatory allies are even turning on him. In a campaign-style TV ad, the American Future Fund — a dark money group funded by conservative megadonors including the Koch brothers — called Pruitt a “swamp monster” who is “embarrassing President Trump.” Even Trump, an ardent supporter of Pruitt’s deregulatory prowess, admitted on Friday he’s “not happy about certain things” Pruitt has done.

For behavior so shady that even this cast of right-wing pundits and environmental villains can’t manage to get behind it, Pruitt is our Duke of the Week.

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