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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

Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) say Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee questioned White House Communications Director Hope Hicks in a manner that forced her to acknowledge she sometimes tells “white lies” for President Donald Trump.

“It truly was just a setup of this witness, who was trying to be forthright and honest,” Stewart told CNN Friday. “The question was so broad. It was, ‘In any circumstances, regardless of what it might be, have you ever felt any pressure to be deceitful or to be dishonest regarding any subject?’ And she answered it honestly. And that is, anyone in that circumstance, there is none of us in our lives that can say we have always been 100 percent honest.”

On Tuesday, Hicks spent nine hours testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee and reportedly admitted that she occasionally tells “white lies” for Trump.

Stewart also told CNN that Republicans interrupted the Democrats line of questioning to clarify whether Hicks had been untruthful in connection with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and she answered saying “no, absolutely not.”

Rep. Rooney made similar claims on Wednesday, saying the line of questions — which was reportedly led by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) — was “bullshit” and a “trap.”

“They sent her down a rabbit hole that she could not get out of. And it was completely unfair,” Rooney told CBS News. “I think the fair representation is that it was a setup: Use an extremely gratuitously broad question to make her look bad and ignore the rest of the nine hours that we were down there,”

Swalwell countered Rooney’s comments and said it was simply “a question that is asked of every witness every day across America — and most people don’t have a hard time answering it,” he told CBS News.

Hicks resigned from her post at the White House a day after her interview with the House Intelligence Committee, but The New York Times and several other outlets report the decision was not because of the testimony and she’d been planning to leave for some time.

Read CBS’ News account of the back-and-forth over questioning Hicks here.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters Friday that he never considered resigning over the White House’s handling of former aide Rob Porter’s resignation after allegations of abuse surfaced early last month.

“I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over,” he said Friday, according to a White House pool report. “We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning; it was confusing.”

That’s an understatement.

In the same pool spray with reporters Friday, Kelly attempted to outline how the reports of abuse allegations against Porter surfaced, when he first learned of the accusations and when Porter resigned, but his account differs from what’s been reported by TPM and many other news outlets.

Here’s how Kelly laid out the timeline of events:

Kelly said he first learned of one allegation against Porter on Feb. 6 when a reporter contacted the White House for comment about an allegation from one of Porter’s ex-wives related to “some level of emotional abuse.” 

“That was, I want to say, 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” Kelly said. “I talked to Rob, I said, ‘What’s the deal?’ He denied it. He said it’s absolutely untrue.”

Kelly said the first accusation “had to do with a messy divorce” and that there were no photos or mention of physical abuse in the press inquiry that was sent to the White House. Kelly said after he asked Porter about it, Porter agreed to resign; “it was a choice he made,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that it was his “sense” that his statement of support for Porter was put out at that point.

Kelly said he then headed to Capitol Hill for a meeting on DACA and when he returned, the White House received a second press inquiry “that included, I guess, the accusation of physical abuse.” Kelly said that he still did not have knowledge of the “photos” that one of Porter’s wives made public of a black eye she said she received when Porter allegedly punched her in the face.

Kelly said he then accepted Porter’s resignation, at around 7 p.m. and “called the office here and told one of the deputy chiefs of staff he had just resigned, have him in come in the next morning and get read out on some of the things.”

Kelly claimed he did not correct his statement at that time because he thought it was “accurate of my relationship” with Porter.

“The man we all knew, it was an absolute shock” Kelly said. “His religion, his focus on work, etc. It was just a shock to us all. The initial accusation was, messy divorce, ‘he yelled at me a lot.’ He resigned, I put out a statement of support for him, and an hour later find out now there’s a second report still not in the press, still no pictures. Just an inquiry… He had already resigned.”

Kelly said it was accurate that the White House had received “some information” on Porter in March 2017, but that he and White House attorney Don McGahn had not been made aware of it because it was “in the security office’s perspective, only partial information still coming in.” Kelly said the security office received a second “tranche” of information on Porter in July, but that he was still not made aware of it.

Kelly’s explanation of that timeline:

“We received another kind of tranche of things that came over in July. Now they look through it all. They now have what they consider to be a final product from the background investigation. They look through it. They sent it back to the FBI, and the FBI sent back the answer to those questions in late November. I’ve since learned all of this after Chris Wray’s testimony. By December, January, they still had not finished evaluating, the security office, and then (Feb. 6) happened and he resigned. They still not had evaluated his package to make a recommendation one way or the other.”

While Kelly admitted the White House’s response was “confusing,” his account also doesn’t add up with TPM’s timeline of how the resignation came about.

According to FBI Director Wray, the FBI sent the White House a “completed background investigation” on Porter in July 2017, not another “tranche of things” as Kelly claimed. It also contradicts the White House’s claims that the background check on Porter had not yet been completed at the time of his resignation.

Kelly also claimed that he and McGahn did not know about the accusations of abuse because the information had only been shared with the security office, but The Washington Post reported that McGahn was informed in September 2017 that Porter’s security clearance was delayed because of allegations of domestic violence. Both the Post and CNN also reported that Kelly was made aware of the allegations sometime in the fall of 2017. McGahn was informed of new allegations of abuse from one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends in November 2017, according to the Post.

Politico reported in early 2018 that Kelly was told that Porter had been denied a full security clearance because of a 2010 protective order against him.

Kelly’s account of the press inquiries that came into his office also doesn’t line up with what was initially published in the Daily Mail, which was an account by Porter’s second wife Jennifer Willoughby, who described several incidents of physical abuse. Around the same time, the White House issued its statements of support for Porter. Several outlets reported that Kelly believed Porter’s denials at that point and even asked him to stay at the White House.

Kelly was correct in that the photos of Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness’ black eye did not surface until late evening on Feb. 6, after Porter had already privately resigned and after Kelly had released a statement of support for the former aide. Porter’s resignation then was made public on Feb. 7. 

Read TPM’s full timeline of the handling of the Porter resignation here.

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The White House on Friday denied reports that it is preparing to replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster as early as next month.

“Look, General McMaster is not going anywhere,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during an interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday morning. “As the President said yesterday in the Oval Office to a number of people, he thinks he is doing a great job and (is) glad he is here.”

NBC News reported Thursday that Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis were orchestrating the move. CNN reported last week that the Pentagon was quietly searching for a four-star military position in either the Army or Department of Defense for McMaster that could be considered a promotion. The move comes after months of mounting tensions between President Donald Trump and McMaster, according to CNN.

Trump reportedly has issues with McMaster’s personality and considers him condescending and unfriendly, according to a Republican source who spoke with CNN last week. McMaster was pegged for the national security position after Michael Flynn was ousted amid reports that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. about sanctions before Trump was inaugurated and then lied about those conversation to the Vice President.

Despite the White House’s denial of McMaster’s impending ouster, the report follows news that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks resigned and plans to leave the West Wing in the coming weeks. When asked about the “chaos” in the White House on Friday morning, Sanders deflected.

“If this is chaos, I think the American peopler are glad for it,” she said, before citing a laundry list of moves the White House considers to be Trump successes in the past year. “If they want to call it chaos, fine. We call it success and productivity and we will keep plugging along.”

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Fox News Executive Editor and Executive Vice President John Moody, who’s been with the news network since 1996, has retired just one month after the network yanked a controversial column he penned about diversity in the Olympics.

A Fox News spokesperson confirmed Moody’s retirement Friday, telling TPM: “John Moody has retired from Fox News.”

A person close to the situation told CNN that Moody was already planning to retire before the backlash over his column, which slammed the U.S. Olympics for its efforts to attract a diverse group of athletes for the Winter Games. 

“Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’ If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work,” Moody wrote in the column that was deleted after it drew outrage early last month.

A network spokesperson said it was removed from the site because it did not “reflect the views or values” of Fox News.

At the time, a Fox News insider told TPM that the column was published without going through the “proper vetting process” because of Moody’s standing at the company.

“In terms of John Moody, he has zero editorial oversight on any platform, his title is a formality and he hasn’t performed that function for years,” the network insider told TPM last month.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Watch live below:

Fresh off the set of “Celebrity Big Brother,” former White House aide and “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman walked back some of the criticism of President Donald Trump and the White House that she unloaded while starring on the reality TV show.

During an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday evening, Manigault-Newman clarified what she meant when she told a fellow “Big Brother” contestant that she was “haunted” by Trump’s tweets every day.

“He announced major policy issues on Twitter,” she told Colbert. “The transgender ban, for instance, was announced on Twitter. I don’t know that that’s, for someone who is in communication like Hope and myself, that’s not a place you want to find out at 5 in the morning about something that would impact so many people’s lives. You want to find out in a policy briefing from the director of domestic policy about those issues and the subsequent follow up for it, not on Twitter.”

She also claimed that she was referencing immigration policy when she warned “it’s gonna not be okay, it’s not.” When Colbert posed the same question, she said “we will have to wait and see.”

While on “Big Brother” she said that leaving the White House was like leaving a “plantation.” On Colbert, she said she meant the White House was like an “ecosystem” where “people feel oppressed.” 

“Donald Trump was my friend for 15 years,” she said. “Watching him in this position has caused me to be excited and sometimes be very, very concerned.”

Colbert then asked her to respond to a list of moves Trump has been widely criticized for, like his comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape; his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; his defense of accused child molester Roy Moore; his attacks on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for being a prisoner of war; calling Mexicans rapists; throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

“Awful, awful, awful, unacceptable, awful, awful, awful, unequivocally unacceptable,” she said in response. “Most of them he shouldn’t have done. … I don’t work for him anymore, nor do I regret trying to be a voice of reason at the table.”

Manigault Newman, who met Trump when she was on “The Apprentice,” hinted after she left the White House that she felt she had been wronged by the circumstances surrounding her departure. After she was fired by Kelly, she reportedly was escorted out of the White House by Secret Service for trying to talk to the President, all reports she denies.

During an interview with “Good Morning America” in December, she said she had “concerns” that led to her resignation, but has since only vaguely hinted at the details.

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Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Chief of Staff John Kelly is to blame for the departure of Hope Hicks, who took over the comms shop after Scaramucci left, and claimed White House “morale is at an all-time low.”

The morale is terrible. The reason why the morale is terrible is because of the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment,” Scaramucci said during an interview with CNN Thursday. “If the current situation and the current culture inside the administration stays exactly the way it is, there’s literally no change, there will be a lot more departures. Morale is at an all-time low and it’s trending lower.”

The Mooch was also highly critical of Kelly’s handling of former White House official Rob Porter’s resignation, who left after allegations of domestic abuse began to surface last month. Kelly reportedly knew that Porter was working under an interim security clearance as the FBI investigated the allegations of abuse, but the White House denies those reports.

“I don’t believe that,” Scaramucci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, referencing the White House defense of Kelly. “I hold the White House chief of staff accountable for that. Because he had the information related to Porter. … He had the information, he tried to cover up the information, he tried to get other people in the White House to cover up the information for him.”

Scaramucci also was irked that Kelly “would allow Hope to date Porter if he’s got that information.” Hicks was reportedly in a relationship with Porter at the time of his departure and she helped craft an initial White House statement in response to the allegations, which came to light after both his ex-wives went public with their stories of Porter’s alleged pattern of anger and abuse. Scaramucci also said he was personally bothered by the fact that Porter was allowed to stay in his post even though Kelly knew about the accusations.

I’ll tell you what I don’t like about it,” he said. “I talked a little bit of smack about two guys that we were trying to get rid of, he fires me in five seconds. These guys are smacking up their wives and he’s trying to find a way to keep them inside the White House.”

Scaramucci was fired after a tumultuous 10 days in the White House. He gave a profanity-laden interview to The New Yorker, where he was derogative and critical of former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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Following scrutiny over his penchant for round-the-clock security and expensive first-class travel, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told CBS Wednesday that there was “change coming” and promised his next flight would be coach, not first class.

During an interview on CBS News’ “The Takeout” podcast, Pruitt reiterated that he had only been flying first-class in recent months because he was facing “unprecedented” threats.

“There’s a change coming, because look the security threat matters,” Pruitt said. “What I’ve told them going forward is this: There is a change occurring, you’re going to accommodate the security threats as they exist, you’re going to accommodate those in all ways, alternate ways, up to and including flying coach, and that is what’s going to happen on my very next flight. So those things are happening right away.”

This week, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent a letter to the EPA asking for Pruitt’s travel records. Pruitt has faced criticism in recent months amid reports that he has taken several first class flights, on short trips up and down the east coast and one to Milan, which cost a total of $43,000.

The EPA claims Pruitt started taking first class flights because he was receiving significant threats. Henry Barnet, the director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico that flying first class helps Pruitt avoid confrontations, like people shouting profanities at him.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking witnesses whether President Donald Trump knew of the hacking of the Democrats’ emails before they were publicly released, NBC News reported Wednesday.

Mueller’s team also reportedly wants to determine whether Trump was involved in the release of the emails. At a campaign event not long before the emails were made public, Trump called on the Russians to hack his opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Investigators are also inquiring about Trump confidante Roger Stone’s relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Atlantic reported Tuesday that Stone and Assange were in communication in October 2016.

In August 2016, Stone tweeted that it would “soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” The Clinton campaign pointed to that tweet and Trump’s campaign rally comments as evidence that the Trump campaign knew the emails had been hacked before they were released.

CNN reported Wednesday that Mueller is also currently asking witnesses about Trump’s business dealings with Russia before he launched his presidential campaign.

Read NBC’s full report here.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to President Donald Trump’s criticism Wednesday, saying his office would work to “ensure that complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”

From CNN:

The rare response to the President’s criticism follows a Trump tweet Wednesday morning, calling Sessions’ decision to direct the Inspector General to probe Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse instead of using DOJ layers “DISGRACEFUL.”

Trump has been unabashedly frustrated with Sessions since the attorney general announced he would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sessions stepped away from probe because he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign.

Sessions was one of the first in Congress to wholeheartedly embrace Trump ahead of the 2016 Republican primary.

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