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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to throw cold water on some of the President’s vitriolic critique of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, clarifying to the White House press pool that Trump thinks May is “really terrific.”

“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much,” she said in a statement. “As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the U.K.”

Ahead of his visit to London, President Donald Trump gave an exclusive interview to a British tabloid, The Sun. Among his many scathing remarks about May, Trump criticized her handling of Brexit, bragging that May ignored his advice and suggested that her soft stance would “kill” any future chance of an effective trade deal with the U.S.

If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” he told the Sun. “We are cracking down right now on the European Union because they have not treated the United States fairly on trading.”

In the interview, which published while Trump and May were having dinner together, he also suggested that Boris Johnson, who recently resigned as the UK foreign secretary over May’s plan to maintain close trade ties with the EU, would “make a great Prime Minister.”

Among other insults, he said EU leaders were destroying the culture of Europe by accepting millions of immigrants; blamed the London mayor for crime and terrorism in the city; said he felt “unwelcome” in London over the anti-Trump protests and the baby blimp, while insisting that British people love his policies.  

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Shahira Knight, who previously served as a deputy assistant to the President and the deputy director of the National Economic Council, will replace Marc Short as director the legislative affairs, the White House announced Thursday.

Short is set to depart the White House by July 20 to work for a private D.C. consulting firm, Guidepost Strategies, as well as a senior fellow and professor at the University of Virginia’s business school, Politico was first to report.

He’ll join the business school on Aug. 1.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told reporters Thursday that the left “really jumped the sharks” in their efforts to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and gloated that it’s part of the reason he feels good about Republicans chances in the midterm elections.

“You want to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency? This is the agency that gets gangs out of our communities, that helps prevent drugs from going into our schools, that rescues people from human trafficking,” he said. “They want to get rid of this agency? It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen, and they’re tripping over themselves to move too far to the left. They’re out of the mainstream of America and that’s one of the reasons why I feel good about this fall.”

The legislation — to shutter the agency, launch a probe into its agents’ conduct and develop a committee to review how the U.S. should process undocumented immigrants seeking asylum — has not yet been publicly released, but is being propelled by one of Ryan’s Wisconsin colleagues, Rep. Mark Pocan, according to the Washington Post.

“The ICE brand has been so damaged by the President that it can no longer accomplish its original mission,” Pocan told the Post. “Even ICE agents recognize that ICE doesn’t do what it was intended to.”

The movement to abolish the agency has been embraced by liberal activists for months and has only recently garnered mainstream attention as public outrage grows over the separation of migrant families at the border.

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The Trump administration’s director of legislative affairs is leaving the White House later this month to join a private consulting firm in D.C.

Marc Short will join Guidepost Strategies and also plans to teach and serve as a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s business school, Politico reported Thursday. Short, who has been one of the longest serving members of the administration, reportedly plans to leave the White House by July 20.

Short declined to talk to Politico about his departure, but his soon-to-be partner at Guidepost Strategies, Phil Cox, confirmed Short would be joining the team. The legislative director will begin his fellowship at UVA on Aug. 1.

Short’s departure comes at a time when smooth relations with lawmakers is crucial. Trump recently announced his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, which will require Senate confirmation.

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During an impromptu news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested that he could someday become friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said the Kremlin leader, whose country meddled in the 2016 election, is “not my enemy.”

“Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ He’s not my enemy. ‘Is he a friend?’ No, I don’t know him well enough, but the couple of times I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well, you saw that,” Trump told reporters Thursday when asked about his relationship with Putin ahead of their planned summit Monday. “I hope we get along well, I think we’ll get along well, but ultimately he’s a competitor. … Not a question of friend or enemy. He is not my enemy. Hopefully some day, maybe he will be a friend. It could happen.”

Trump also told reporters that he plans to ask Putin about the 2016 Russian election meddling during their meeting, which will include a one-on-one discussion between the two leaders.

He may deny it, it’s one of those things. All I can say is ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again,'” he said. “He may deny it. You will be the first to know.”

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During a free-wheeling, unplanned press conference on Thursday morning following NATO deliberations, President Donald Trump proclaimed success and suggested NATO leaders had agreed to increase their defense spending.

“Everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels that they never thought of before,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their financial commitments substantially.”

Trump did not directly answer questions about whether he had outright threatened to pull out of NATO, but said that he made it clear he was “extremely unhappy” with their financial commitments and “they have now substantially upped their commitment.” Multiple outlets reported that Trump threatened to “do our own thing” or “go it alone” if leaders didn’t up the ante.

But it’s unclear if nations actually agreed to pay a higher percentage of their countries’ gross domestic product. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump told other NATO leaders that he wanted them to increase their defense spending to 4 percent of their GDP. But later on in the press conference Thursday, Trump told reporters that NATO leaders had agreed to reach their goal of paying 2 percent of their nation’s GDP over a “faster” period of time. In 2014, NATO leaders decided each nation would increase their spending to 2 percent by 2024.

“They’re spending at a much faster clip, they’re going up to the 2 percent level,” he said. “Now what you have to understand is some of them have their own parliaments, their own Congresses, they have a lot of things to go through. … They can’t necessarily go in and say this is what we’re going to do, but they’re going back for approvals. Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent. … After we’re at 2 percent we’ll start talking about going higher.”

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Despite reports that President Donald Trump outright threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO over allies’ defense spending, Trump told reporters on Thursday that the group is “more put together” and “coordinated” than it has ever been.

“NATO is more put together right now, is more coordinated and I think there is a better spirit for NATO right now than perhaps they’ve ever had,” he said at an unplanned press conference Thursday. “It’s richer than it ever was, the commitments are made at a higher level than they’ve ever been made and the money to paid out faster, far faster. … This was a fantastic two days, this was a really fantastic — it all came together in the end.”

He said the meetings may have been “tough for a little while,” but said NATO leaders ultimately are “really liking what happened in the last two day.”

 Politico, CNN and several other news outlets reported Thursday that behind closed doors Trump threatened that the U.S. would “do our own thing” if allies refused to increase defense spending.

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President Donald Trump is holding a press conference at the NATO headquarters amid negotiations. Watch live below:

The last time President Donald Trump interacted with some of the United States’ closest allies, he was busy dismissing a joint communique and lambasting Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as “dishonest and very weak.”

Given Trump’s topsy-turvy approach to foreign policy, U.S. allies could be forgiven for holding a guise of apprehension heading into this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium. While allies braced for Trump’s impending outbursts on defense spending, Trump surprised the group of leaders by breaking with his precedent and signing the 23-page NATO declaration.

But in the hours since his overseas romp began, he has already spurred plenty of controversy.   

He suggested Germany is “captive to Russia”

In a fiery-on camera exchange Wednesday — a clip of which Trump tweeted to his own timeline — Trump tore into NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and made a dramatic rebuke of Germany for a pipeline oil deal its brokered with Russia.

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with NATO leaders that was intended to serve as a mild introduction to closed door negotiations. “We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against.”

Here’s a video of the awkward exchange (be sure to keep an eye on Chief of Staff John Kelly’s expression):

German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly took the insult with grace: “I myself experienced that a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany. We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”

Behind closed doors, she told the 28 other NATO leaders about how Russian President Vladimir Putin had been a KGB spy in her own country, according to The Washington Post.

Allies should pay-up, and then some

As predicted, Trump could not resist blistering his colleagues for not yet contributing 2 percent of their nation’s gross domestic product to military defense– a goal that was established in 2014 and was meant to be carried out fully by 2024.

And he took it one step further, taking his closest allies to task over what he views as an imbalanced system that harms the U.S. (the U.S. spent 3.6 percent on defense last year). He called on the other world leaders to increase spending to 4 percent.

President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a statement Wednesday.

Trump found a way to skirt the no-Twitter rule

As the leader of the free world who habitually announces policy and makes news via his personal Twitter account, it’s not surprising that Trump found a way to tweet, even from the confines of a cellphone-banned room where signals are intentionally congested to prevent hacks.

While he was supposed to be in the meeting with the 29 NATO leaders this afternoon, his account sent out a message to U.S. farmers to quash their fears over the trade war that he created. 

As the New York Times notes, it’s unclear whether Trump broke NATO’s no-phone-zone rule or if he had an aide send out the tweet for him. Trump’s social media aide, Dan Scavino, regularly posts tweets on the President’s behalf.

Hey, he warned you

NATO allies could have predicted that Trump would ask to increase ally defense spending if they had decoded his tweets en route to the summit. In true Trump form, he tweeted that the 2 percent contribution was far too low and wondered aloud whether his closest allies would consider reimbursing the U.S. for years of what he perceives to be unbalanced spending. He also saw it it fit to throw in a quick jab at Europe’s (false) trade deficit with the U.S.

Meeting with Putin will be “easier” than facing US allies

The pressure of having his campaign under investigation for colluding with the Russian government to win the 2016 election clearly hasn’t been enough of a roadblock to deter the President from getting cozy with — or praising — Putin. Before boarding the plane to Brussels on Tuesday, Trump confided in reporters that he couldn’t quite label the Russian president as a friend or a foe. He settled on calling him a “competitor,” before admitting that he was most looking forward to his meeting with the Kremlin leader.

“I think Putin may be the easiest of them all,” he said.

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The attorney for former FBI lawyer Lisa Page countered House Republicans’ uproar over her client’s refusal to comply with the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena to testify, calling their “bullying tactics” “unnecessary.”

“There is no basis for claims that Lisa has anything to hide or is unwilling to testify. The record shows otherwise,” Page’s attorney Amy Jeffress said in a statement Wednesday. “Lisa has already cooperated with multiple investigations underway in Congress and at the Department of Justice. She provided more than 36 hours of testimony to DOJ’s Office of Inspector General and has cooperated fully with another congressional committee.”

Jeffress said in a statement Tuesday night that Page would not comply with the GOP’s subpoena to testify on Wednesday because lawmakers had failed to provide Page with enough information on their intended scope of questioning and the FBI had declined to share crucial documents with Page, according to Politico.

Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee responded to the refusal with suspicion on Tuesday evening, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) suggesting Page “has something to hide” and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) calling her refusal “indefensible.”

In her statement on Wednesday, Jeffress said Page has every intention of cooperating with the investigation, but that her client requests to “be treated as other witnesses have under the Committees’ own rules.”

“She has offered to voluntarily appear before the Committees later this month,” Jeffress said. “She simply needs clarification of the scope of the Committee’s interest in interviewing her and access to relevant documents so that she can provide complete and accurate testimony.”

Jeffress said she received word from the Justice Department late Tuesday night that they had granted her request to “review the relevant documents.”

“We are working to arrange that process quickly so that we can move forward with her appearance before the Committees,” she said.   

Page and her anti-Trump texts with another FBI official, Peter Strozk, are at the heart of Republican hysteria over what they claim is political bias at the center of the Russia probe. Strzok has already sat for 11 hours worth of closed door interviews with the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

While Strzok did eventually work as an investigator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — and was removed from the investigation once Mueller found the messages — he was working on the Hillary Clinton email probe at the time he sent the texts to Page about stopping Trump from becoming President.  

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