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

On Friday, President Donald Trump threw his weight behind the Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Ed Gillespie, tweeting that the Democratic candidate Ralph Northam is “fighting for MS-13 killer gangs and sanctuary cities.”

The Virginia race is the only contested statewide election this year and has been pegged as a test of electoral politics in the Trump era, according to The Washington Post. A Washington Post-Schar School poll released Thursday indicated Northam, the Democrat, lead Gillespie by 53 percent to 40 percent among the voters surveyed.

An endorsement from the President doesn’t indicate an automatic win, as was evidenced during the Republican primary run-off election in Alabama last month.

Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), but the incumbent ended up losing to a controversial conservative and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

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Congressional Democrats are making moves to distance themselves from Harvey Weinstein following reports that the Hollywood elite producer has paid settlements to at least eight women accusing him of sexual harassment.

Four Democratic senators — Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — have committed to donating Weinstein’s campaign contributions back to charity and some said they’d give the funds to domestic violence organizations, the New York Times reported Friday.

Leahy said he’d give back $5,600, Blumenthal and Heinrich said they’d return $5,400 and Warren said she’d donate $5,000. Other Democrats are expected to follow the lead, according to the Times.

Weinstein has been donating funds to liberal candidates for decades, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Since 1990 he’s given more than $1.4 million to several liberal candidates and committees, Variety reported Thursday.

The New York Times was the first to report that the allegations against Weinstein date back more than 30 years.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that she doesn’t think President Donald Trump necessarily wants to see the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate American media outlets, despite Trump tweets to the contrary.

On Thursday morning Trump lashed out on Twitter at the media and the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, asking why the committee isn’t looking into “Fake News Networks in OUR country.”

When asked whether Trump believes that the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate American media organizations Thursday during a White House press briefing, Sanders dialed back from Trump’s remarks.

“I don’t know that that’s the case,” she said. “But I do think that we should call on all media to a higher standard. … I think you have a lot of responsibility and a lot of times false narratives create a bad environment, certainly aren’t helpful to the American people and you have a responsibility to provide and report fair and accurate details. When we don’t, that’s I think, troubling for all of us.”

When asked if Trump values the First Amendment, she said the President is an “incredible advocate” of the freedom of the press, but said “with those freedoms also come responsibilities.”

She then went on to complain about the lack of positive news coverage of the administration and listed all the positive moves Trump has made since entering the White House, claiming those are the things Americans want to hear about.

“Not a lot of the things you cover, not a lot of the petty palace intrigue that you spend your time on. I think we need to move towards a certainly more fair, more accurate and frankly a more responsible news media for the American people,” she said.

Trump’s tweets were apparently in response to a Wednesday NBC report that said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and that he wanted to resign this summer. Both Tillerson and Trump said the report wasn’t true. NBC has stood by its reporting.

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Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee,  on Thursday asked the FBI to review Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s private email accounts to determine whether they shared or stored any classified information on the private server.

The Democratic congressman sent a letter to the FBI after reports from USA Today that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump re-routed their personal email accounts to computers run by the Trump Organization.

The couple reportedly transferred their email accounts less than two days after Cummings and the rest of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent them letters directing them to not relocate or transfer the records on their private email accounts while the committee is investigating the private accounts.

Cummings asked the FBI to review the emails and conduct a probe similar to its investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account.

The ranking member of the oversight committee also sent letters to Kushner and Trump and a preservation request to GoDaddy, which houses the email accounts and servers. He sent a similar letter to the Trump Organization, which is where the private accounts are now housed, according to the letter.

“If these reports are accurate, they raise serious questions about your actions,” Cummings wrote to Trump and Kushner. “Although there may be legitimate reasons for transferring email accounts to different servers, neither you nor anyone from the White House contacted the Committee before you took these steps, despite the fact that you had received our letters before you reportedly took these actions.”

He requested an immediate briefing with the couple and asked them to save all the documents “regardless of whether you may believe they are personal or official.”

Read the letter to the FBI below:

Read the letter to Trump and Kushner below:

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Three Republican members of Congress sent a letter Wednesday to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) requesting the agency “expeditiously” re-evaluate bump stocks to make sure they’re in compliance with federal law.

“If the re-evaluation shows otherwise, we request that you move swiftly to issue appropriate rulings concerning the manufacture, sale, transfer and importation of these mechanisms, as well as any other mechanism that is expressly designed to simulate the automatic fire of a machine-gun,” the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL),  said.

The legislators said they would study options to close any “loopholes that might exist in current statutes governing the regulation of machine-guns.”

Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) signed onto the Kinzinger letter.

The bump stock device, which authorities believe was used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, allows a semi-automatic riffle to fire like an automatic weapon. The House members said re-evaluating the device is a “commonsense” way to respond to the attack that left 58 dead and nearly 500 injured.

“We recognize that it is impossible to prevent tragedy — we cannot stop evil in its many forms, and we cannot gauge the level of hate in someone’s heart,” the letter said. “But we can come together to find commonsense ways in which to blunt the damage these evildoers are able to inflict upon other citizens while ensuring protection of individuals’ civil liberties and rights under the Constitution.”

Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis also indicated he was in support of the request to the ATF, saying Congress is asking for more information “to be educated on the issue and the current law,” he said in a statement sent to The News-Gazette, a local publication.

Read the full letter below:

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Thursday signaled his willingness to “look into” bump stocks, a device that allows a semi-automatic riffle to fire like an automatic riffle.

Authorities believe the gunman in Las Vegas used the bump stock devices to convert his firearm into an automatic weapon when he shot and killed 58 people and wounded nearly 500 concert-goers Sunday.

I didn’t even know what they were until this week and I’m an avid sportsman and so I think we’re quickly coming up to speed with what this is,” Ryan said during an interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt. “Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a long time, apparently this allows you to take a semi automatic and turns it into a fully automatic so clearly thats something that we need to look into.”

On Wednesday Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation that would ban the possession of the devices as well as the selling, importing or manufacturing of them in the U.S.

Several other GOP lawmakers, like Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) have been cautiously optimistic about debating the proposed legislation.

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The inspector general for the Interior Department is looking into the mode of travel Secretary Ryan Zinke used to attend a meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, CNN reported Thursday.

Reuters was first to report on Friday that the inspector general was looking into Zinke’s travel and CNN confirmed that two Democratic members of Congress requested that the IG include the hockey team meeting — which cost taxpayers $12,375 to attend — in its probe.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D- AZ) and Donald McEachin (D-VA) sent a letter to the Interior Department’s inspector general on Monday claiming Zinke could have taken a commercial flight home from Las Vegas if he hadn’t met with the team. They said Zinke doesn’t seem to see an issue with the expensive travel.

“Despite receiving substantial negative press, and despite Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price’s recent resignation over his use of privately chartered flights, Secretary Zinke made clear he will continue to use them,” they wrote.

The Office of Special Counsel has also opened a Hatch Act investigation into Zinke’s meeting with hockey players this summer. Zinke reportedly gave an inspirational speech to the Golden Knights, a team owned by Bill Foley, who was a major donor to Zinke’s campaign when he was running for Congress in 2014, according to CNN.

An Interior Department spokesperson told CNN that the private jet was booked for the meeting with the Golden Knights after no other commercial forms of travel were available. The trip was approved by the department’s ethics office, the spokesperson said.

The probe into Zinke’s travel is the sixth known investigation into how cabinet members are traveling on the taxpayer’s dime.

Read the full letter below:

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President Donald Trump is apparently still reeling from a Wednesday NBC report that said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and that he wanted to resign this summer. Both Tillerson and Trump said the report wasn’t true.

On Twitter Thursday morning, Trump called out the Senate Intelligence Committee, a panel probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and asked why the committee isn’t looking into “Fake News Networks in OUR country.”

After Tillerson held an unscheduled news conference Wednesday morning denying the claims made by NBC, Trump tweeted that the network was “more dishonest than CNN” and said they were a “disgrace to good reporting.”

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President Donald Trump said he was “very honored” by the statement Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made Wednesday morning, denying an NBC story that reported Tillerson called Trump a “moron” and wanted to resign at one point this summer.

“It was fake news. It was a totally phony story,” Trump said responding to questions from reporters during an appearance at University Medical Center in Las Vegas Wednesday. “It was made up. It was made up by NBC, they just made it up. … Total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence.”

In an unscheduled statement to reporters Wednesday morning, Tillerson denied the reports that he wanted to resign or that he had to be talked into returning to Washington by senior White House officials.

He didn’t deny that he called the President a “moron” — “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said — but a State Department spokeswoman told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Tillerson had told her he never called Trump a moron.   

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Facebook took out full page advertisements in the New York Times and the Washington Post Wednesday defending its integrity as a company and promising to not let its platform be used as a tool for election interference in the future.

“We take the trust of the Facebook community seriously,” Facebook wrote in the ads, which were the same in both newspapers. “We will fight any attempt to interfere with elections or civic engagement on Facebook.”

The advertisement outlined “immediate actions” the company is taking to keep foreign adversaries from purchasing political ads on its platform, like making the advertising process more transparent and hiring more than 1,000 people to work on Facebook’s ad review teams. The company also promised it would invest in security, conduct an internal investigation and work on developing partnerships with election commissions to support elections and civic engagement around the world.

The newspaper ads come just after Facebook gave Congress more than 3,000 advertisements that appear to have been bought by a Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency. Congressional investigators are probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

H/t: Fortune

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