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

President Donald Trump on Monday gave The Wall Street Journal a virtual pat on the back in a tweet, citing the paper’s two-day-old editorial questioning “where in the world” former President Barack Obama was when his FBI was surveilling “affiliates of a presidential campaign.”

“A very good question!” Trump tweeted.

The WSJ editorial, penned by James Freeman, calls out the media for burying mentions of Obama in its coverage of revelations that a government informant met with two members of Trump’s campaign before the election. Freeman also calls on the former President to provide a public explanation for why his intelligence and law enforcement agencies decided to focus surveillance efforts on a “domestic political campaign.”

Freeman writes:

“By this point it seems clear that Mr. Obama didn’t think much of the theory that Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians. But presumably he learned quite a bit about his government’s efforts to investigate it. It’s not clear what an FBI official meant in 2016 when texting that President Obama ‘wants to know everything we’re doing.’ But we can assume that the President was fairly well-informed about the law enforcement agencies reporting to him. Therefore let’s hear from him in detail the full history of how the government came to investigate the presidential campaign of the party out of power.”

Since the New York Times first reported last week that a secret intelligence source met with the Trump campaign’s foreign policy aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, Trump has become increasingly frustrated with the Russia probe. He called the news last week “bigger than Watergate!” and demanded on Twitter Sunday that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

Read More →

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a muted jab at President Trump and the Russia investigation during a speech at Yale University on Sunday by pulling out a “Russian hat.”

As part of the school’s Class Day tradition, students often wear eccentric hats to the ceremony.

“I see, looking out of you, that you are following the tradition of over-the-top hats, so I brought a hat too,” she said. “A Russian hat. Look, I mean, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Watch the hat bit below, which starts at 32:43.


Read More →

The Republican National Committee has paid more than a half million dollars in legal fees for President Trump aides like Hope Hicks as they face inquiries related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Sunday evening.

According to new federal filing reviewed by the Post, the law firm Trout Cacheris & Janis was paid $451,780 by the RNC. Hicks hired Robert Trout, the founder of the firm, as her personal attorney last year, according to reports. At least three lawyers at the firm represent individuals involved in the Senate and House investigations into Russian interference and the Trump campaign and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The Post reported last year that the RNC was using funds slated for election recounts to pay some of the President’s legal fees related to Russia. The RNC has since paid at least half a million and a separate legal defense fund was established in February to help square some of his aides’ other costs.

Read the Post’s full report here. 

Read More →

President Donald Trump is becoming increasingly concerned that his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un could evolve into a political embarrassment, The New York Times reported Sunday.

According to foreign officials and people from the Trump administration who spoke with the Times, Trump was shocked by the statement from North Korea’s head nuclear negotiator last week that indicated total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not going to happen.

The President has reportedly been talking to aides about whether he should move forward with the historic meeting. On Saturday night, he called South Korean President Moon Jae-in — the Washington Post was first to report — to discuss the North’s latest statement and why it was in contradiction with private conversations Moon has had with Kim. Officials told the Times that the call, just three days before Moon was set to travel to Washington, D.C., is a signal of Trump’s unease surrounding the meeting.

According to aides who spoke with the Times, Trump has made no specific indication that he is planning to pull out of the talks, but officials are concerned that Trump has been too publicly eager about the meeting — like his remark that “everyone thinks” he should win a Nobel Peace Prize for the historic summit.

Trump is set to meeting with Kim in Singapore next month.

Read the Times’ full report here.

Read More →

A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and carrying an American flag and packing a pistol on his hip showed up at the scene of Santa Fe High School on Friday where a shooting left at least 10 people dead.

The man told a local NBC affiliate that his first instinct when he heard about the shooting was to “get to the school! Make America great again,” he said, adding he was “offering support.”

“Just ‘God bless you all’ will go a long way right now for a lot of people,” he said.

At least nine students and one teacher were killed when a 17-year-old male student opened fire at the the high school on Friday morning, just before 8 a.m. The suspected shooter and another person of interest are in custody. Police found explosive devices near the high school as well.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Friday offered his condolences to the families of the at least eight people killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas and said school shootings have “been going on too long in our country.”

Trump’s full comments, delivered at the start of a prison reform discussion at the White House:

Thank you very much. Unfortunately I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heart break over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that just took place moments ago. We’re closely monitoring the situation and federal authorities are coordinating with local officials. 

“This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now. We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack to the students, families, teachers, and personnel at Santa Fe High. We’re with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever. 

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others. Everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe. May God heal the injured and may God comfort the wounded and may God be with the victims and with the victims families. Very sad day. Very very sad.”

Watch a video of his remarks below:

Read More →

A private airplane owned by a now-sanctioned Russian billionaire flew to Seychelles one day before a secret meeting between an associate of President Trump — Blackwater founder Erik Prince — and a Russian government ally, according to a NJ Advance Media report Thursday that cited airport flight data.

The meeting between Prince, the chief of the sanctioned Russian sovereign investment fund Kirill Dmitriev and adviser to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) George Nader, is reportedly of key interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, as he probes the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nader reportedly has close ties to members of Trump’s inner circle.

The Washington Post reported in March that a witness told Mueller that the January 2017 meeting was held to establish a backchannel of communication between the U.S. and Russia. Prince — who has reportedly been interviewed by Mueller, according to the Daily Beast — testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the meeting last year. He said the 30 minute discussion was held to explore a business venture with “potential customers” from the UAE and that Dmitriev’s expressed a desire to return to normal trade relations between the U.S. and Russia.

According to NJ Advance Media’s report, the aircraft, which is owned by sanctioned Russian billionaire Andrei Skoch, arrived around 4 p.m. on January 10, 2017, just one day before Prince arrived. NJ Advance reporter Erin Banco also confirmed that the six passengers who were on the plane stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, which, according to Prince, is where the meeting was held.

Banco reported that it was unclear whether Skoch — who is included on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list — attended the meeting.

Read NJ Advance Media’s full report here.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Friday continued his constant tirade against the media, claiming news outlets got his reference to undocumented immigrants as “animals” “purposely wrong” and said the media was “begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories.”

Trump also tried to clarify his comments on Thursday and said he was referring to members of the MS-13 gang, not all undocumented immigrants.

“When the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals. And guess what, I always will,” he told a reporter while he met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

But, as TPM has reported, Trump did not specify in his original remark during a “California Sanctuary State Roundtable” on Wednesday that he was talking about violent gang members.

While Trump has continuously attacked the media for years, he tends to pick and choose when he believes media reports. Since the New York Times reported Wednesday that a government informant met with members of his campaign, Trump and Republican allies have seized on the story as evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is illegitimate.

Read More →

After a junior White House aide’s morbid comments about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were leaked to the press two weeks ago, the White House has reportedly replaced its daily communications meetings with something smaller and is mulling shrinking the size of the communications teams, according to reports from The New York Times and CNN.

According to several former and current West Wing aides who spoke with the Times, Trump has become increasing vexed with his communications team in recent months and has complained that he has “the biggest team, and yet gets ‘the worst press.'”

That frustration came to a head when it was leaked that White House special assistant Kelly Sadler, who works on the communications team, mocked McCain for “dying.” The divulgence prompted officials to reduce the number of staff who attend daily communications meetings and further sowed suspicion and distrust within the White House, according to the Times.

The reduction in staff at communications meetings was one of several precautionary measures taken to combat President Donald Trump’s feeling of being undermined by his staff, according to a senior official who spoke with the Times. White House staff are not allowed to bring their personal cellphones into the West Wing and hall monitors have begun scanning the hallways and offices for prohibited phones.

In one recent incident, officials clamped down on staffers after it was revealed that an aide was recording his conversations with Trump to impress friends, several people familiar with the incident told the Times.

According to two officials with knowledge of the matter who spoke with CNN, the plans to reduce the size of the communications team should happen in coming weeks. Staffers won’t be fired outright, but rather pushed out slowly or reassigned to other departments, CNN reported. The move was prompted by the Sadler leak and the objective is to reduce the number of leaks coming from the communications team and restructure the press shop.

Read More →

As President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, both in the media and on Capitol Hill, swell their efforts to unveil the identity of an unnamed FBI source who reportedly met with Trump campaign officials as a government informant in 2016, the FBI is taking steps to protect that person if their identity is revealed, The Washington Post reported.

According to unnamed sources familiar with intelligence operations, in the past two weeks the FBI has worked to protect other investigations that person has worked on and is attempting to shield associates of the informant if his or her identity is revealed.

The FBI source is reportedly a U.S. citizen who has provided the FBI and the CIA with information in the past. The person has reportedly helped with the Russia investigation both before and after special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to probe the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the election, according to the Post.

Members of Trump’s inner circle and conservatives in the media have seized on reports of the informant — first reported by the New York Times on Wednesday — as evidence of a baseless claim that the former administration attempted to “spy” on Trump’s campaign. Trump tweeted on Thursday that if the reports turned out to be true, it would divulge a level of corruption “bigger than Watergate.”

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Post that the revelations make Mueller’s probe “completely illegitimate.” Other Trump allies claim unveiling details about the informant and his or her work for the FBI could help them get rid of Mueller or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“The prior government did it, but the present government, for some reason I can’t figure out, is covering it up,” he told the Post.

The reports follow weeks long efforts by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) to get information about the FBI source, as well as the basis and scope of the Russia probe. FBI officials have refused to divulge certain information in order to protect the person’s safety.

Read More →