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 started the week painting himself as just another helpless bystander to Congress’ failure to act on frail immigration policy and the inhumane practice of separation of families detained at the border.

But by mid-day Wednesday, he decided he’d rather be the hero.

For close aides and people who have known Trump for decades, the President’s bizarre reversal on who could fix the crisis at the border came as no surprise, according to Politico. In just 24 hours, Trump went from blaming Democrats for his own administration’s family separation policy, to declaring that “I alone can fix it.”

“Don’t worry, the Republicans, and your President, will fix it!” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

As soon as reports surfaced that Trump planned to sign an executive order to end family separation, Trump’s allies started spinning the narrative in Trump’s favor. In an effort to depict Trump as the “liberator of detained children,” in Politico’s words, one former administration official told Politico that Trump was merely “doing the right thing.”

“It’s also him realizing that he certainly can’t rely on Congress,” the former official told Politico. “And so I think this is a big positive for him. He fixes yet another problem.”   

By the time he signed the executive order — which allows the government to detain immigrant families together, rather than in separate facilities, while also seeking to roll back measures designed to protect immigrant children from excessive detention — Trump was counting the about-face as a personal triumph.

“I feel very strongly about it, I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it,” he said at the signing.

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Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer and fixer for President Donald Trump, resigned from his position on the Republican National Committee’s finance arm, ABC News reported Wednesday.

According to sources close to the RNC and a copy of the letter obtained by ABC, Cohen said special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and the investigation into his financial dealings were preventing him from doing the work he needed to do as deputy finance chair of the finance committee.

“This important role requires the full time attention and dedication of each member. Given the ongoing Mueller and SDNY investigations, that simply is impossible for me to do,” he reportedly wrote in the letter addressed to RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

In the letter, Cohen also attempted to detach himself from Trump for the first time, reportedly calling the separation of families at the U.S. border “heart wrenching.”‘

“As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart wrenching,” Cohen wrote, according to ABC.  “While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips.”

Just this week, Cohen hired a new lawyer to represent him in the Southern District of New York’s criminal probe into Cohen’s potential finance crimes. The FBI raided Cohen’s home, hotel and office in April, obtaining financial and business documents, including records related to a $130,000 payment he made to porn actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election.

Cohen has not yet been charged of any crimes, but is reportedly concerned that he will be arrested soon.

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Controversial New York Republican House candidate Michael Grimm compared the audio recording of children in distress crying for their parents inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility to upset children who were just dropped off at daycare.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate,” he told NY 1 on Tuesday. “But what people are forgetting — they just want to listen to those tapes — I can take you to any nursery and you’re going to hear the same exact things as a mother leaves to go to work and has to leave her child at day care. You’re going to hear those same exact things.”

He later added that the kids — who have been separated from their recently arrested parents — now have access to things like “flat screen TVs, pool tables, foosball.”

“They have things they have never even seen before in their country,” he said. “Right now, the Trump administration is obeying the law. A child comes across our borders unaccompanied, we take care of that child. The few thousands of children being separated by their families — the Trump administration’s interpretation of the law is that’s what they are required to do.”

Grimm’s comments — comparing a voluntary daycare to an immigrant detention center — come amid widespread uproar over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has fueled a significant uptick in the number of children being separated from their parents after the adults are arrested and criminally charged for crossing the border. Under previous administrations, children were detained in immigrant detention centers with their parents.

Grimm, who left Congress in 2015 after he plead guilty to tax fraud and served seven months in prison, is facing Republican Rep. Dan Donovan in the upcoming Republican primary to represent Staten Island.

While Grimm’s Tuesday comments were appalling, Donovan also seized on a conservative talking point that the kids are being “taken care of.”

“They are horrible images, but the United States has taken good care of those children. So many of those — ten thousand of those children — are sent across the border unaccompanied. We’ve taken care of those children,” Donovan said.

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A prominent Republican strategist, who worked on the campaigns of former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), renounced the Republican Party early Wednesday morning, citing his revulsion to President Donald Trump and the administration’s family separation policy as the final straw.

Steve Schmidt, who is a political analyst for MSNBC and has been regularly vocal about his distaste for Trump, said he now plans to vote independently and align himself with Democrats. He called that party the “only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies.”

With Trump at the helm, Schmidt said the GOP has become “corrupt, indecent and immoral,” with the exception of just a few Republican governors. He decried GOP leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), invoking the spirit of Republican darling President Ronald Reagan, who he said would be “ashamed” of the Party for remaining complacent while “this corrupt government establishes internment camps for babies.”

“Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values,” he said.

Read the full tweet thread below:

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The Texas non-profit organization hired to care for the immigrant children who are detained and separated from their parents will be paid almost half a billion dollars this year by the Trump administration, according to Bloomberg’s assessment of government data.

The group, Southwest Key Programs, will be paid more than $458 million in fiscal year 2018. Southwest operates 12 detention facilities in Texas, the largest scope of any non-profit or agency paid with grants by the Department of Health and Human Services to care for the migrant youth, according to Bloomberg.    

The federal government intends to spend $943 million already this year to detain and house the children, a number that nearly exceeds what was spent in all of fiscal year 2017, which ended in September — $958 million.

Additionally, an NBC News report found that it costs far more to hold children in these new “tent city” facilities than it would cost if the kids and parents were housed together. The new tent facilities have been thrown together in reaction to the significant uptick in the number of children who have been separated from their parents in recent weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new “zero tolerance” border crossing policy was instated.

According to an HHS official who spoke with NBC, it costs an average of $775 per person per day to hold the children in the tents, while it only costs $298 per person, per day to keep the families together. The cost increase associated with the “tent cities” is primarily due to air conditioning, security and staffing expenses, according to NBC. The more permanent shelters for just children, like the ones operated by Southwest, cost an average of $256 a day.  

Prior to “zero tolerance,” families were detained together in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center for no more than 20 days. Families were then released and given ankle monitors until their court dates. Now, every adult caught illegally entering the U.S. is arrested, criminally charged and children are placed in a separate shelter.

According to NBC and Bloomberg, HHS is holding at least 12,000 immigrant children in detention facilities currently, 3,000 of whom were separated from their parents since Trump came into office. Others entered the U.S. on their own. On average, immigrant children stay in the custody of HHS for two months before being released to foster care or to live with a relative.

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President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager-turned cable hype man Corey Lewandowski dismissed the story of a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother at the border even though her father is a legal U.S. resident.

During an appearance on Fox News Tuesday, Zac Petkanas, who used to be a senior adviser for the DNC, shared the story of the child to illustrate some of the inhumane treatment of families taking place at the southern border.

“Womp womp,” Lewandowski responded, a retort reflective of the views of several within the Trump administration — like Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who have been equally dismissive of the trauma associated with family separation and more concerned with deterring illegal immigration.

“How dare you? How dare you? How absolutely dare you?” Petkansas responded, shouting over Lewandowski.

Lewandowski said “you can pick anything you want” to justify border crossings, but said it was a necessary result of illegally crossing the border (which is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison).

Despite admitting on air that he was referencing that story and others like it with his “womp womp”remark, Lewandowski later tweeted that he was mocking “a liberal who attempted to politicize children as opposed to discussing the real issue.”

Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and criminally charging anyone who crosses the border illegally has led to an uptick in the separation of children and parents. Children are taken from their parents and placed in temporary detention centers while their parents are detained and forced to meander the immigration court system.

H/t: CNN

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President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen wants the President to foot his mounting legal fees, including those associated with the hiring of his new lawyer, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

According to people familiar with the matter who spoke with the WSJ, Cohen has been grumbling to associates in recent months that he’s frustrated Trump hasn’t even offered to cover some of his expenses, which he says are “bankrupting” him. Cohen reportedly has told friends that he thinks Trump owes him some support, given his ongoing loyalty to Trump and the Trump Organization spanning over the course of a decade.

Several outlets reported on Tuesday that Cohen hired a new lawyer — Guy Petrillo — to represent him in the Southern District of New York’s criminal probe into his business dealings. Several news outlets reported last week that Cohen was planning to break with his legal team, partially due to Cohen’s payment issues.

Trump’s family has paid for a portion of Cohen’s legal expenses after his house, hotel and office were raided by the FBI in April, including costs associated with reviewing the records that were nabbed in the raid. The Trump campaign has also paid at least $230,000 of Cohen’s legal expenses, but only those related to his representation in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election, not the separate criminal probe.

Read WSJ’s full report here.

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Conservative commentator Ann Coulter doubled down on her theory that the immigrant children who have been separated from their parents and held in detention facilities are actors who “need to improve their scripts.”

Coulter was stopped by TMZ in New York City on Tuesday and asked if she had heard the audio that was leaked of children crying for their parents after being separated by border patrol agents.

“Yes, I think they need to improve their scripts, they’re saying ‘mommy and daddy,’ maybe you want to put it in Spanish next time,” she said.

She also suggested that if the parents didn’t want to be separated from their children they should “stay in Mexico” and criticized the group of first ladies who have come out in opposition to the new “zero tolerance” policy that’s enabling the massive family separations at the border.

“Thank god first ladies are elected officials,” she said. “It is a serious issue, they’re trying to wreck our country through a political stunt.”

On Monday, Coulter told Fox News that the children who have been ripped from their parents and, at times, housed in cages while their parents are detained for illegally crossing the border, are “child actors.” She also warned President Donald Trump that he shouldn’t “fall for it.”

Watch the video via TMZ below:

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President Donald Trump’s campaign manager for the 2020 presidential election tweeted Tuesday that it’s “time to fire” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and end special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Citing the Justice Department’s inspector general report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation as “the truth to end it all,” Brad Parscale said “you can’t obstruct something that was phony against you.”

Parscale, who worked as a digital media director on the 2016 campaign that’s under investigation, appears to be seizing on a Trump talking point that the DOJ IG report released last week “totally exonerates” the President of any wrongdoing associated with Mueller’s probe.

The IG report, in part, concluded that while former FBI director James Comey broke from precedent in his handling of the Clinton investigation, he was not politically motivated in doing so. The report was critical of Comey, which Trump allies have used to fortify Trump and his decision to fire Comey last year.

Among other things, Mueller is looking into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey. While he has since claimed the Russia probe had nothing to do with Comey’s firing, Trump openly admitted days afterward that the firing was related to the “Russia thing.”

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are expected to announce that the U.S. is leaving the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday evening, Bloomberg News reported.

According to two people familiar with the matter who spoke with Bloomberg, the decision will be announced at the State Department at 5 p.m. and is largely based on U.S. officials’ perception that the council is biased against Israel.

The council began its latest session on Monday by criticizing President Donald Trump for his “unconscionable” immigration policies and treatment of migrant children and families.

Haley has criticized the council — founded in 2006 — in the past for hypocrisy and has said the group is engaged in a “relentless, pathological campaign” against Israel.

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