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

New publicly released emails show Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt may have mislead a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last month when he said that he had an aide, who is a “longtime friend,” help him find an apartment for him and his wife during her “personal time.”

Emails attached to a letter that three Senate Democrats sent to the EPA inspector general show that EPA director of scheduling Millan Hupp — whom Pruitt also improperly gave a massive raise — messaged with a real estate agent during work hours and through her EPA email address. Hupp was introduced to the agent, John Walker of Keller Williams Realty, in July by EPA political appointee Elizabeth Bennett, who told Hupp she would “LOVE working with John” because “he knows everything about Capitol Hill-including both living on it as well as working there.”

The Washington Post first reported on Pruitt using an aide to help him find housing in April. When questioned about the topic at the Senate subcommittee hearing last month Pruitt told lawmakers “it’s my understanding that all activity there was on personal time.”

In a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins on Thursday, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Thomas  Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Elkins to probe whether Pruitt had received an improper gift from Hupp, claiming Pruitt didn’t compensate her for the work and she used official business time to do it.

“There are several regulations designed to prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds and to prevent a supervisor from misusing the time of or accepting an improper gift from a subordinate employee, whose salary is paid by American taxpayers,” the senators said. “Each of these regulations may have been violated by Mr. Pruitt or Ms. Hupp if the information obtained by our offices is correct.”

Read the full letter below:

H/t: WaPo

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Senior administration officials have privately confessed that it’s anyone’s guess what President Donald Trump will eventually decide to do on trade, Politico reported Thursday evening.

That fickleness has led to private infighting between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s senior trade adviser Peter Navarro– a feud that spilled out into public view this week.

Just a few days after Mnuchin declared the trade war with China was “on hold,” the Trump administration announced it would impose trade levies against China and Navarro made critical comments to NPR about Mnuchin. He called Mnuchin’s “on hold” remark an “unfortunate sound bite.” People within the administration considered Navarro’s public rebuke of Mnuchin a fireable offense, but one senior administration official told Politico that they didn’t think Trump would act on it.

The feud between the two officials — combined with Trump’s lack of patience over what he thinks are incessant negotiations on a variety of trade issues — has led to the creation of a trade policy “that’s nearly impossible for anyone to understand or predict,” in Politico’s words.

“(Trump’s) fed up with feeling like the negotiating partners aren’t ever going to give in to his demands,” a former administration official told Politico. “He’s tired of waiting to do big things on trade.”

Read Politico’s full story here.

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Former FBI director James Comey was recently questioned about his former deputy Andrew McCabe by investigators from the Washington, D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, The Washington Post reported.

According to a person familiar with the matter who spoke with the Post, the interview signals that the U.S. Attorney’s Office may believe that McCabe broke the law by misleading federal agents and could be charged with a crime.

The D.C. attorney’s office was directed to probe McCabe after the Justice Department inspector general determined in April that McCabe deceived investigators and Comey about the approval of a media disclosure. DOJ IG Michael Horowitz determined he misled Comey at least four times, three of which were under oath.

McCabe has denied the allegations that he intentionally misguided Comey or investigators and has claimed that Comey knew about the media disclosures. Comey begs to differ and has said he “could well be a witness” against McCabe if charges were brought forward by investigators.

McCabe, whom Trump has used as a punching bag to justify his belief in an anti-Trump bias within the FBI, was fired this spring, just 26 hours before he was set to retire from the agency. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him based on the IG report and advice from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Read the Post’s full story here.

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After publicly admitting that he wishes he had picked someone else to be his attorney general on Wednesday, President Donald Trump continued his months-long diatribe against Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Late Wednesday, Trump tweeted a quote from attorney Joe diGenova calling “the recusal of Jeff Sessions” an “unforced betrayal” of Trump. diGenova made the comments during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Wednesday.

The White House announced earlier this year that diGenova had been hired along with his wife, Victoria Toensing, to work on Trump’s legal team, but the new gigs never materialized because both attorneys had conflicts associated with representing Trump in the Russia investigation.

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In endorsing incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) over his Republican opponent, convicted felon and former Rep. Michael Grimm, President Donald Trump reminded voters about the shambles surrounding a recent Alabama Senate race, which ended with a Democrat winning a Senate seat over a Republican — and accused child molester — for the first time in a quarter-century.

“Very importantly, @RepDonDonovan will win for the Republicans in November … and his opponent will not. Remember Alabama,” he tweeted Wednesday evening.

While both candidates have attempted to paint themselves as friends of Trump in the Staten Island and Brooklyn district, Trump likely wants to steer clear of Grimm, as he attempts to make a resurgence after serving seven months in prison for a federal tax fraud conviction.

Despite Trump’s glowing endorsement of Donovan as someone who “voted for Tax Cuts and is helping me to Make America Great Again,” Donovan actually opposed the Republican tax reform measure and voted against it in every form, according to Politico. The congressman even told the media at one point that he couldn’t support the legislation because it was a “tax hike on the people I represent.”

In the Alabama Republican Senate primaries for Attorney General Jeff Sessions former seat, Trump endorsed incumbent candidate Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who lost the GOP nomination to Roy Moore.

While the White House was hesitant to embrace Moore — who was twice unseated as the state chief justice, had a history of making controversial statements and was accused by several women of sexual misconduct when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s — Trump eventually gave him his full-throated support ahead of the election which ended in a shocking victory for Democrat now-Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

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The White House reportedly includes former aides to President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on its email blasts asking President Trump allies to help promote the White House’s talking points, according to Politico.

Politico caught the blunder thanks to White House aide Kelly Sadler — known for making a morbid joke about Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “dying” — who forgot to blind copy the recipients of an email about the White House’s game plan for Iran.

The email asked recipients — many of whom are influential in the foreign policy sphere, but highly critical of Trump, like Jeffrey Lewis, a left-leaning expert on nuclear weapons — to help boost the White House’s policy and messaging. But many included in the email blasts, like Lewis, told Politico they were perplexed as to why they would be included on such a communiqué.

The White House told Politico that the list, reportedly compiled by the State Department, includes policy wonks on all ends of the spectrum in order to ensure “influencers” understand the Trump administration’s perspective.

Read Politico’s full report here. 

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After Donald Trump was elected as then-President Barack Obama’s successor, Obama processed the news with short dashes of anger and self reflection, according to a New York Times review of longtime Obama adviser Benjamin Rhodes’ new book.

“What if we were wrong,” Obama reportedly asked aides after reading a column about the gap between liberals and middle America conservatives. “Maybe we pushed too far. … Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”

In the days following the 2016 election, Obama attempted to cheer up his crestfallen staff. He sent Rhodes a note saying “There are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the earth,” the former deputy national security adviser recalls. But Obama’s tone with staff fluctuated between optimism and irritability, Rhodes wrote.

At one point Obama told staff that “maybe” Trump is “what people want.”

“I’ve got the economy set up well for him,” Rhodes remembers Obama saying. “No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.”

During Trump’s first visit to the White House after the election, Rhodes said the President-elect was hellbent on maneuvering the conversation back to himself and his popularity at campaign rallies. He reportedly admitted that he knew that he and Obama could draw a big crowd, but that Hillary Clinton could not, per the Times.

Read the Times’ full report here. 

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday called Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet “inappropriate” and said “no one is defending” the comments before reading a prepared statement calling out media personalities for not apologizing to the White House for attacks on President Donald Trump.

“The President is simply calling out the media bias, no one is defending what she said,” Sanders said. “The President is the President of all Americans and he’s focused on doing what is best for our country.”

In response to news that ABC had cancelled the “Roseanne” reboot and called the Obama administration officials whom Barr attacked — Valerie Jarrett — to apologize for Barr’s tweet, Trump made the debacle about him.

In a smug tweet, Trump questioned why the CEO of Disney (which owns ABC) had not called him to apologize for all the “HORRIBLE” things ABC had said about him.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday. Watch live below:

Less than 24 hours after one of President Donald Trump’s favorite ABC shows was canceled, the President offered his two-cents on the “Roseanne” racism scandal via Twitter on Wednesday.

In an less-than-subtly smug tweet, Trump mused about why Disney CEO Bob Iger (Disney is the parent company of ABC) took the time to call former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to apologize for the racist comments ABC star Roseanne Barr tweeted about her, but never apologized to him for the “HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC.” It’s unclear what “statements” Trump is referencing in the tweet, but it likely relates to ABC News’ coverage of his presidency.

“Maybe I just didn’t get the call?” he asked.

While ever the Barr enthusiast, Trump did not appear to defend her or her comments about Jarrett that led to the demise of her show.

Early Tuesday morning, Barr responded to a Twitter thread about the Obama administration with a racist comment about Jarrett: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,”

Barr apologized for the tweet about Jarrett’s “looks,” but her reboot, highly rated show on ABC was cancelled hours later. Barr has since asked her followers not to defend her remarks, while asserting that she didn’t know Jarrett was black and claiming she was “Ambien tweeting” when she made the remarks.

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