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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

Special counsel Robert Mueller has tapped additional prosecutors to help with the Russia probe as his team of investigators face new court challenges, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

Mueller has selected prosecutors from the Justice Department and the offices of U.S. attorneys, as well as FBI agents to help out, and, as Bloomberg noted, “hand off parts of his investigation eventually.” He’s reportedly tapped investigators from New York, Virginia, Pittsburgh and other places. Mueller already handed off part of the probe — into Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen — to the Southern District of New York.  

Several current and former officials told Bloomberg that the staff expansion has nothing to do with politics and is spurred on by the increasingly unprecedented number of lawsuits against his probe.

Read Bloomberg’s full report here.

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President Donald Trump may have left his Miss Universe days in the dust, but good looks and a glowing personality remain crucial to winning Trump’s favor.

As the President vets candidates who could become his next Supreme Court justice nominee, Trump’s level of comfort with each candidate is a key factor, according to Axios. Citing a White House official, Axios reported that the person that Trump ultimately picks will be “who he feels most comfortable with in a personal setting.”

The candidate and their spouse’s appearance is also important to Trump, Politico reported, citing one person who said it is paramount to Trump that his pick “looks all-American.”

“Beyond the qualifications, what really matters is, does this nominee fit a central casting image for a Supreme Court nominee, as well as his or her spouse,” a Republican close to the White House told Politico. “That’s a big deal. Do they fit the role?”

Trump has said that he plans to announce his Supreme Court pick on Monday and the President has spent the past week interviewing potential candidates.

But Trump reportedly may jump the gun once he decides on the right person, according to Axios.

“When the President has made up his mind, he wants to go,” an aide told Axios, adding that staffers plan to persuade Trump to stick to his original timeline because the announcement would get more media coverage.

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New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, whose records were seized by the Justice Department as part of a leak investigation, has been assigned a new beat in New York and given a mentor following an internal review of the document seizure and her conduct, according to the Times.

In a memo to staff on Tuesday, the Times executive editor Dean Baquet called the federal government’s actions abhorrent and told employees Watkins was being given a “fresh start” given the nature of the DOJ’s “intrusion” into her work.

“As we learn more, it is clear that the government leak investigation was an attempt to interfere with the work of journalists by an administration whose leader has called the media ‘the enemy of the people’ and has pledged an unprecedented crackdown on disclosures about government activities, threatening to undermine reporters’ ability to inform the public,” he wrote.

But, he said, the review also shed light on the ethical line between “private and professional life” for a journalist. Watkins hasn’t written for the Times since a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, James Wolfe, was arrested for lying to the FBI about leaking classified information to journalists. Watkins had previously been in a three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe while she covered the Senate Intelligence Committee for The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed News and Politico, but said she told editors at the time she wasn’t using Wolfe as a source.

The DOJ told Watkins in February that years worth of her phone and email records had been seized by the FBI, but she did not inform the Times about the seizure until her colleagues reported on Wolfe’s arrest last month. Since she joined the Times, Watkins has been covering law enforcement in Washington, D.C.

“We are troubled by Ali’s conduct, particularly while she was employed by other news organizations,” Baquet said. “For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable.”

Baquet called Watkins a talented reporter who made some “poor judgements,” but he placed significant blame on her former editors for allowing her to cover the Senate Intelligence Committee after telling them about the relationship. He said the review found that the Times also dropped the ball in its hiring screenings — Watkins’ disclosed the previous relationship to some editors at the time of her hiring, but not all of the newsroom’s leadership was made aware.

Wolfe has plead not guilty to the federal charges.

Read the Times’ full story here. 

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President Donald Trump used his Twitter account on Tuesday to again mock Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she defended herself against threats over the weekend.

Calling the congresswoman one of the “most corrupt people in politics,” Trump said she was causing voters to “flee” from the Democratic Party.

Trump’s “wounded animal” comments likely reference Waters’ remarks at a protest against his administration’s family separation policy over the weekend. In that address, Waters addressed threats she’s received in recent weeks, telling a crowd of demonstrators that if someone wanted to harm her, they “better shoot straight. There’s nothing like a wounded animal.”

Trump has been attacking Waters for days, ever since she encouraged supporters to continue to protest and even heckle Trump administration officials, especially when they’re out to dinner.   

A spokesperson for Waters did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.  

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President Donald Trump last month sent letters to NATO allies threatening to reduce the number of American troops stationed abroad if they didn’t increase their countries’ defense spending, according to excerpts of the letters shared with The New York Times.

In the letters, Trump told European leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that frustration is growing in Congress and the executive branch over how much the U.S. spends in the defense of European countries.

As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised,” Trump wrote to Merkel. “The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound. This is no longer sustainable for us.”

Trump is particularly vexed with Merkel, according to the Times. His administration is reportedly looking at what a sweeping withdraw of U.S. troops from Germany could look like and the President told Merkel in his letter that she should be more cognizant of her influence over other members of NATO.

“Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model,” he wrote.

The letters to NATO allies have been met with alarm because it’s the first time Trump has threatened a consequence for what he views as inadequate defense spending, according to the Times. However, a White House official told the Times that Trump is committed to sticking with NATO, but wants to allies to “share our common defense burden, and to do more in areas that most affect them.”    

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Several Republican senators are mulling whether they should change the definition of national security to cramp President Donald Trump’s habit of imposing trade tariffs on U.S. allies, Politico reported.

Those senators reportedly think Trump has abused his authority on steel and aluminum tariffs and are discussing whether they should combat Trump’s justification of the new tariffs as a matter of national security.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), fear Trump is sabotaging his own economic gains and are pushing for legislation that would abate Trump’s ability to take action on trade. According to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Politico, those Republicans are looking at at least five different modifications that could be made to the law that controls national security tariffs.

“I’d like to kill ‘em,” Hatch reportedly said, referencing Trump’s tariffs.

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President Donald Trump issued a proclamation ordering American flags be lowered in honor of those killed in a shooting at an Annapolis, Maryland newspaper last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told TPM early Tuesday.

“Last night, as soon as the President heard about the request from the Mayor he ordered the flags to be lowered and a proclamation is going out momentarily,” she said. “I spoke with the mayor last night and again this morning to let him know the President’s decision.”

Trump issued the proclamation just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, ordering that the flag be flown at half-staff until sunset.

“Our nation shares the sorrow of those affected by the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland,” he wrote. “Americans across the country are united in calling upon God to be with the victims and to bring aid and comfort to their families and friends.”

The announcement comes on the heels of reports that Trump initially declined a request from the city’s mayor to lower flags to half staff in honor of the victims.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Mayor Gavin Buckley submitted a formal request to the White House over the weekend to lower flags in honor of the five employees of the Capital Gazette who were killed in a mass shooting at the newspaper last week, but it was originally declined.

Buckley said he had hoped lowering the flags would keep the attack at the center of national attention and was “disappointed” by the initial decision.  

“Obviously, I’m disappointed, you know? … Is there a cutoff for tragedy?” Buckley told the Baltimore Sun before Trump ultimately ordered the flags to be flown at half-staff. “This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”

The governor of Maryland had already ordered that flags in the state be lowered from Friday until Monday.

Trump has ordered American flags be lowered to half-staff for nearly every fatal mass shooting that’s received national attention since coming into office, including the attacks at U.S. schools in recent months.

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A former aide who worked for Roger Stone during the 2016 campaign has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators, the New York Times reported Thursday. 

The aide is Andrew Miller, a libertarian who helped arrange media interviews for Stone during the campaign, according to the Times and Stone press releases with Miller listed as the media contact.

A lawyer named Paul Kamenar filed a motion on Thursday on behalf of a client subpoenaed by Mueller arguing the special counsel’s appointment was “unconstitutional, according to the Times. The motion did not name Miller.

Stone has become a focus of Mueller’s probe in recent weeks after it was revealed that he met with a Russian national during the campaign who asked for money in exchange for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post was first to report on the meeting between Stone and the Russian, Henry Greenberg. Stone has argued that he didn’t tell congressional investigators about his meeting with Greenberg because he didn’t remember it.

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

Miller did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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An unabashedly racist Republican candidate in a North Carolina state house race — whose website contains vile conspiracy theories about African Americans, Jewish people and former President Barack Obama — has been dropped by the state Republican Party.

“Based on recent behavior and previous statements, the North Carolina Republican Party is unable and unwilling to support the Republican nominated candidate for North Carolina House District 48,” GOP chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement to the local News and Record Tuesday about candidate Russell Walker. “The NCGOP along with our local parties in Hoke, Scotland and Robeson Counties will be spending our time and resources supporting Republican candidates that better reflect the values of our party.”

Among the racist remarks on his website, Walker claims that God is a racist and that Jewish people are descendants of the devil.  

“What is wrong with being a white supremacist? God is a racist and a white supremacist,” Walker wrote on his website. “Someone or group has to be supreme and that group is the whites of the world … someone or something has to be inferior … In all history in sub-Saharan Africa, no two-story building or a waterproof boat was ever made.”

Walker reportedly aligns with “Christian Identity” theology, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Christian Identity is an irrational sect of Christianity that follows wildly anti-semitic and racist interpretations of Christian scripture and argues primarily that Jewish people are descendants of Eve and Satan.   

Walker also claims on his website that women are the “weaker sex” because they are “more willing than men to accept non Israelites … in the voting booth and in bed.”

“This is the weak link in our society and the Caucasian race is declining and on its way to extinction because of it,” he said.

Walker’s views are so repugnant that the local News-Journal had to stop printing his letters to the editor. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Walker now regularly protests outside the newspaper’s office with a sign that says “God is racist” and “What is wrong with being racist.”

Walker did not respond to TPM’s phone call or Facebook message requesting comment.

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Former President Barack Obama is expected to hit the campaign trail this fall to advocate for Democratic candidates running for the House, Senate and in gubernatorial races, CNBC reported late Wednesday.

According to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNBC, Obama will operate off the guidance of Democratic leadership — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

No timeline or specific locations have been decided on yet, but two sources familiar with the Obama team’s plan told CNBC that he will start in September.

In recent weeks, Obama has been criticized for remaining relatively silent on President Donald Trump’s attempts to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy, particularly on issues related to the Trump administration’s immigrant family separation policy.

Read CNBC’s full report here.  

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