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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

Former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush over the weekend put to rest any doubts about the authenticity of the infamous recording in which Donald Trump is heard bragging about groping women.

“He said it. ‘Grab ‘em by the pussy,’ Bush wrote in an editorial published in The New York Times on Sunday.

Of course he said it,” he continued. “And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real. We now know better.”

Bush’s decision to set the record straight comes as the President has reportedly been questioning the authenticity of the “Access Hollywood” tape in recent weeks, floating the idea to aides and at least one U.S. senator that the voice on the tape is not his. That’s hit “a raw nerve” for Bush, who expressed sympathy for the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

“I can only imagine how it has reopened the wounds of the women who came forward with their stories about him, and did not receive enough attention,” he wrote. “This country is currently trying to reconcile itself to years of power abuse and sexual misconduct. Its leader is wantonly poking the bear.”

Bush, who was fired from NBC after the tape surfaced, outlined the allegations Trump accusers Natasha Stoynoff, Rachel Crooks, Jessica Leeds, Jill Harth and Kristin Anderson have made against the President, saying their stories stack up against what he heard Trump say that day on the bus.

“I believe her,” he said. “To these women: I will never know the fear you felt or the frustration of being summarily dismissed and called a liar, but I do know a lot about the anguish of being inexorably linked to Donald Trump. You have my respect and admiration. You are culture warriors at the forefront of necessary change.”

Read the full editorial here.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent out a statement early Saturday calling on freshman Democratic congressman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) to resign after allegations that he sexually harassed a campaign staffer during his 2016 election bid.

A woman who said she worked as his campaign finance director has accused Kihuen of asking her for dates and sex “despite her repeated rejections,” Buzzfeed reported Friday. The woman, who Buzzfeed only called Samantha, said the congressman touched her thighs twice without her consent.

“Across the nation, in every industry, brave women are coming forward to share stories of harassment that must be heard,” Pelosi said in a statement sent to TPM after she spoke with Kihuen. “In Congress, no one should face sexual harassment in order to work in an office or in a campaign. The young woman’s documented account is convincing, and I commend her for the courage it took to come forward. In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign.”

On Friday, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) called on Kihuen to resign as well, saying in a statement shared with Politico that “anyone guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault … should not hold elected office.”

Kihuen told Buzzfeed that he doesn’t “recall any of the circumstances” that the woman identified as Samantha described, but apologized for “anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable.”

Kihuen suggested Friday evening that he does not plan to step down, according to Politico. TPM’s requests for comment from Kihuen’s office were not immediately returned Saturday.

Pelosi has also called on Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign after three women have come forward in recent weeks alleging Conyers asked them for sexual favors or touched them inappropriately while they worked for him.

Last week, he stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, but has maintained that he doesn’t plan to leave Congress. Conyers’ attorney told reporters Friday that Conyers would evaluate his health and determine his future in the next several days. A family spokesperson said Conyers was hospitalized on Thursday for stress-related health issues.

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In an apparent shift from his initial rationale for firing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the President said Saturday that he “had” to fire him a month into his presidency because he not only lied to the Vice President, but also to the FBI.

“He has pled guilty to those lies,” Trump tweeted Saturday “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

The tweet was the most direct response President Donald Trump has given since news broke Friday that Flynn had plead guilty to one charge of lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian officials before Trump was inaugurated. On Saturday morning, he told reporters the White House was “very happy” there was “no collusion” between his campaign and his transition team and the Russians.

But according to charging documents filed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” and another “senior” member of the same team directed Flynn to call Russian officials or counseled Flynn on how to discuss sanctions with the Russians.

The President appears to be changing his reasoning for firing Flynn back in February. At a news conference just days after Flynn was let go, Trump said he ousted him because of “what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple.” Now, President Donald Trump is claiming he knew that Flynn had also lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials before he was inaugurated.

Some experts say that if the President did, in fact, know Flynn had lied to the FBI back in February, his efforts to get former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn and then firing Comey in May could be considered obstruction of justice.

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President Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed the magnitude of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, similar to the stance the White House took on the charge when it was made public Friday.

Speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One Saturday morning to travel to New York City, Trump reiterated three times that the charges show that there was “no collusion” between his campaign or transition team and the Russian government.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” he said, via the White House press pool report. “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy. And frankly last night was one of the big nights. … We’ll see what happens.”

But according to charging documents filed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” and another “senior” member of the same team directed Flynn to call Russian officials or counseled Flynn on how to discuss sanctions with the Russians.

Multiple media outlets reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was the “very senior” member of the team who asked Flynn to call Russia and other countries about a UN Security Council resolution about Israel week’s before the President took office.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Flynn’s Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland was the “senior” official who spoke with Flynn about how to discuss Obama administration sanctions against Russia with a former Russian ambassador to the U.S.

For months, Mueller and a team of investigators have been probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to win.

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A lawyer for Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said the congressman will make a decision in the next several days about his future in Congress, after he has time to assess his health with doctors.

Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed told reporters gathered for a news conference in Michigan Friday afternoon that the congressman’s health would be “paramount” to that decision and said the choice would be Conyers’, “not Washington’s.”

Reed also reiterated that Conyers continues to flatly deny all of the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against him.

Earlier this week, Reed said Conyers had no plans to leave Congress, despite calls to resign from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

When pressed on why Conyers is reviewing his role in Congress if he denies all the allegations, Reed said any decision would be related to Conyers’ health and said it “wouldn’t surprise me if this is the the reason he has stress-related” health problems.

Conyers was hospitalized on Thursday for stress-related health issues, according to a family spokesperson.

Conyers’ evaluation of his health comes amid mounting allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances toward former staffers. Three women have come forward in recent weeks alleging Conyers asked them for sexual favors or touched them inappropriately while they worked for him.

Last week, he stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

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Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) was the lawmaker behind a $84,000 taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer, Politico reported Friday.

The settlement was paid to his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who sued Farenthold in 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, Politico reported, citing a lawsuit and unnamed sources. NBC News also confirmed the report.

TPM reported on that lawsuit after it was filed December 2014.

Greene said she was fired after complaining about Farenthold and one of his male staffers, who told her that the congressman had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. She also claimed that Farenthold drank too much and told her inappropriate things about his sex life with his wife.

The suit was dropped after Farenthold and Greene agreed to settle, according to a joint statement that the two wrote at the time, but was never released.

In a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers Friday, House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) said that the Office of Compliance had only paid out a settlement for one sexual harassment complaint in the past five years, at the cost of $84,000, Politico reported.

Neither Farenthold nor Greene’s attorney would confirm or deny they were the parties involved in the $84,000 Office of Compliance settlement, but Greene’s lawyer and Farenthold’s office both shared the joint statement. The statement said the two confirmed they had reached a deal, partially to save taxpayer dollars. Farenthold said the settlement wasn’t indicative of an admission of guilt.

Farenthold “disagrees strongly” with Greene’s claims and “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing,” the statement said. It also said that the two parties couldn’t discuss the agreement.

Farenthold also formally denied the allegations in the lawsuit in February 2015, TPM reported at the time.

The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated the allegations against Farenthold as well, but found that Greene’s complaints were unsubstantiated, according to Politico.

“While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” Farenthold said Friday in the statement.

Farenthold’s settlement with a former staffer is the second publicly known sexual harassment complaint agreement that the Office of Compliance paid on behalf of a member of Congress. ABC News reported Thursday that that same office paid a $100,000 settlement to staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) to settle groping allegations against the congressman.

The Office of Compliance has come under fire in recent weeks after news broke that it had secretly paid more than $17 million in settlements over the past 20 years over misconduct complaints against members of Congress. It’s not known — besides the Massa and Farenthold cases — how many cases were sexual harassment claims.

The House Ethics Committee sent a letter to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for the records of all alleged misconduct claims made against sitting members or employees of the House.    

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The House Ethics Committee has asked the office responsible for paying out settlements to staffers who allege misconduct against lawmakers for records of the complaints made against sitting House members and employees.

In a letter to the Office of Compliance Friday, Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) asked for all records related to claims of “sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or any other practice” prohibited by the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) made against any current “member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer or employee” of the House. The CAA prohibits harassment and discrimination within the House and any actions that have a “disparate impact” on an employee, according to the House code of conduct.

Brooks and Deutch said that the CAA “expressly provides that the Office of Compliance may provide the House and Senate Ethics Committees with access to records of its hearings and decisions” and House rules against “discriminatory conduct” also give the ethics committee authority to review the records.

“In order to effectuate its constitutional and statutory authority with respect to House Rules we request that you promptly provide the committee” with information about the complaints, they wrote.

The Office of Compliance has recently come under fire after it was revealed that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two decades to settle claims against members of Congress. This news that has been met with special scrutiny given the rise in public accusations of misconduct against politicians and many other prominent men in the media and Hollywood.

In recent weeks, sitting Congressmen Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) have been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

Five women have come forward saying Franken groped them and Franken has apologized, but said he won’t resign.

Conyers has been accused of sexual harassment by former staffers, but has denied all the allegations, including an account from one woman whom he paid a $27,00 settlement. He paid that settlement through his congressional office, not the Office of Compliance. His lawyers have also indicated that he won’t resign.

The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave the compliance office the authority to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of the Treasury to settle claims against lawmakers. That $17 million was spent on 264 individual cases, but it’s not known whether all those cases dealt with sexual harassment claims.

The Office of Compliance did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the letter below:

 

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A congressional office paid young male staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) almost $100,000 to settle groping allegations against the congressman, ABC News reported Thursday.

The settlements were secretly paid by the Office of Compliance after Massa resigned in 2010 amid an ongoing ethics probe into allegations that he sexually harassed some of his staffers, people with direct knowledge of the settlement told ABC.

The office responsible for the payouts has recently come under fire after it was revealed that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two decades to settle sexual misconduct claims against members of Congress. Those revelations, first made public by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), prompted efforts to reform the way sexual misconduct claims are reported and handled in Congress.

Since then, it’s been widely reported that the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave the compliance office the authority to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of the Treasury to settle claims against lawmakers. That $17 million was spent on 264 individual cases, but it’s not known whether all those cases dealt with sexual harassment claims. The compliance office will not release the data and would not confirm or deny to ABC whether it had paid $100,000 in settlements to Massa accusers.

After Massa resigned in 2010, he said that he had engaged inappropriate behavior with some staffers, but none of it was sexual. In an interview with Fox News he admitted he had “groped” and “tickled” one of his staffers.

Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me,” he told Glenn Beck in 2010. “It was my 50th birthday. It was ‘kill the old guy.’ You can take anything out of context.”

Watch the interview with Massa and then-Fox News host Glenn Beck below:

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White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, who the President just appointed as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said taxpayers “should be frightened” by the amount of power he has in this new post.

The structure of the CFPB is fundamentally flawed. The authority I have now as the acting director really should frighten people. You can sit down in a room with three or four people, and say, well, let’s go off and do this, and there is no accountability to Congress,” he said on Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” Thursday.

“I could set the budget pretty much without any input from Congress, in fact, without any input from Congress,” he said. “On one hand people call it independent but the bottom line is it’s simply unaccountable.”

The budget chief said he is “hopeful” he can restructure the agency to make it more accountable to taxpayers and said he wants to “limit as much as we can what the CFPB does to sort of interfere with capitalism and the financial services market.”

Mulvaney’s takeover of the agency had a rocky start.

Outgoing CFPB director Richard Cordray appointed his then-Chief of Staff Leandra English to serve as acting director until the Senate approved a permanent chief for the agency. However, President Donald Trump interfered, appointing Mulvaney to head the bureau until he nominates a new director, which prompted English to file a lawsuit to try to bar Mulvaney’s reign.

Both Mulvaney and English showed up to work on Monday, both claiming to be acting director and causing widespread confusion about authority in the executive agency. On Tuesday, a judge ruled in favor of Trump, making Mulvaney the acting head of the consumer watchdog.   

A lot of folks, including the woman now purporting to be acting director, thought they would be beholden to Obama administration, but if someone else won they would not have to be beholden to them … This is not right, the President of United States, this is an executive agency, has the right to have influence over there, has the right to have their agenda put forward and that’s exactly what were doing at the CFPB,” Mulvaney said.

Watch the interview below:

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