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

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and former state attorney general, said the American people and Congress “should feel misled” by revelations that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross owns holdings in a company that has ties to the Russian president’s son-in-law.

During an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, Blumenthal suggested the inspector general for Ross’ department should launch an investigation into why Ross didn’t divest from the company when he was confirmed as head of the Department of Commerce.

“I feel misled and the American people ought to feel misled and the Congress should feel misled because Wilbur Ross came to our committee. He claimed to be divesting and selling all these interests and, in fact, he has retained an ownership stake in a company, Navigator, that does business with this Russian energy giant,” Blumenthal said Monday. “He probably makes more money from shipping gas for Russia than he does as commerce secretary when he goes to negotiate trade agreements.”

The Guardian first reported on Ross’ holdings on Sunday, citing documents from the so-called “Paradise Papers.” Ross has a stake in Navigator shipping company, which has a partnership with Sibur, a Russian gas company owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.

“We ought to have hearings in the Commerce Committee. He came before it and he apparently deliberately concealed these ownership interests,” Blumenthal said. “There ought to be hearings and if he fails to give a convincing and compelling explanation, he should resign because this stake in a company with such close ties to Putin’s son-in-law, a Russian oligarch, subject to sanctions, raises profound questions about whether he can put the nation’s interest above his own.”

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While Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) thinks President Donald Trump has the “right attitude” on fighting the war on terror, he said the Trump administration is following in former President Barack Obama’s footsteps when it comes to handling terror suspects.

The Department of Justice was “woefully unprepared for this moment,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The explanations I got from the Department of Justice about the legal reasoning, made me so mad I could not see straight. They said the reason they didn’t declare the New York guy an enemy combatant, even though he pledged allegiance to ISIL … is because there’s no evidence of command and control. That is ridiculous.”

Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pushed the Trump administration to name Sayfullo Saipov, the man suspected of killing eight in a terror attack in New York City last week, an enemy combatant, which would have allowed the military or CIA to interrogate him without a lawyer. Instead, federal prosecutors filed charges on Nov. 1, placing the suspect in civilian court even though Trump complained about the criminal justice system, calling it a “joke” and “a laughingstock.” He even suggested early on that he’d like to see the suspect placed in Guantanamo Bay or receive capital punishment.

It’s hard to catch a terrorist alive … and when you do you should try to gather intelligence,” Graham said. “I wanted to hold him a longer period of time, let military, CIA interrogate him about what he knows about terrorism, how he got radicalized. He said he was a soldier of the Caliphate, ISIL claimed he was a soldier of the Caliphate. We talked to him one day in the hospital, read him his Miranda Rights, we throw him right in court and can’t get intelligence going forward. … So when it comes to Trump policy, they are using Obama’s playbook and they’ve got a lot of Obama people held over, and I want to see that change.”

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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President Donald Trump’s close relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn’t keep him from publicly voicing his concerns with the country’s trade and manufacturing policies during the first leg of his 12-day visit to Asia.

While speaking to U.S. and Japanese business leaders on Monday morning, Trump praised the two countries’ “cherished” relationship and then switched gears, asking top Japanese auto firms to “try building your car in the United States instead of shipping them over” and then immediately claiming his comments weren’t “rude.”

I also want to recognize the business leaders in the room whose confidence in the United States — they’ve been creating jobs — you have such confidence in the United States, and you’ve been creating jobs for our country for a long, long time,” he said. “Several Japanese automobile industry firms have been really doing a job.  And we love it when you build cars — if you’re a Japanese firm, we love it — try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude. Is that rude? I don’t think so.”

He then pointed out the leaders of Toyota and Mazda, shook their hands and thanked them for investing in a new U.S. manufacturing plant, which he said will create “as many as 4,000 new jobs in the United States.”  

“That’s big stuff. Congratulations,” he said, promising to give approvals “almost immediately” anytime Japanese auto companies decide they want to build new plants in the U.S.

Earlier in his speech, he congratulated Japan on “winning” for “the last many decades” and said the U.S. would do more trade with Japan than it would have if he had stayed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled out of in January.

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A former foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump’s campaign who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, was “stupid” and “had no business” sitting in on the March 2016 foreign policy meeting, according to former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo.

That meeting is under fresh scrutiny after recently unsealed court documents show that’s where George Papadopoulos offered to connect Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He was invited in because at the time the campaign was really reeling from criticism that it had no foreign policy or other advisers,” Caputo said during an interview with MSNBC Friday. “Donald Trump prided himself on running a lean and mean campaign. That group was slap dash put together in a way another campaign wouldn’t do it. Papadopoulos had no business being there.”

Caputo — who earlier this week labeled Papadopoulos a “coffee boy” — questioned why Papadopoulos wasn’t awarded a position with the State Department or on the transition team if he was the “kind of guy that had the credentials that would lead him to be in charge of collusion with Russia.”

When asked why the young foreign policy adviser would suggest that the President should meet with Putin if he didn’t think it would curry favor with Trump, Caputo was quick to shoot Papadopoulos down again.

“I think the term of art is he’s stupid,” he said. “This kid was foolish. He proposed something that nobody had any interest in. If you think that Donald Trump sitting there silently and listening and nodding his head is some kind of ideas that he thought it was a good idea to meet with Putin, you’re exaggerating things.”

Caputo’s latest effort to discredit Papadopoulos falls in line with the response Trump and the White House has taken to news that Papadopoulos was encouraged by campaign supervisors to set up a meeting with Russian officials if feasible. Trump has called Papadopoulos a “liar” and a “low level volunteer,” even though he called him an “excellent guy” when naming him as a member of his foreign policy team in 2016.

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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President Donald Trump listened when a campaign adviser floated the idea of arranging a meeting between the then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according a former campaign national security adviser JD Gordon.

“He heard him out,” Gordon told CNN on Thursday of the March 31, 2016 meeting in which foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested the encounter.

Gordon’s account of the meeting falls in line with multiple reports that the President didn’t rule out the suggestion, but he didn’t agree to it either. Then-Alabama senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly shut down the suggestion, according to several reports.

The President himself said he has little memory of the meeting with Papadopoulos, telling reporters Friday that it “took place a long time (ago), don’t remember much about it.”

In October, Papdopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, according to recently unsealed court documents, which also reveal that Papadopoulos told Trump and his advisers that he could help arrange a meeting with the then-candidate and Putin.

Since the Papadopoulos findings from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe came out Monday, Trump and the White House have worked to distance the President from his former foreign policy adviser, with Trump calling him a “low level volunteer,” a “liar” and even a mere “coffee boy.”

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who helped break the Watergate story that led to former President Richard Nixon’s resignation, said the Russia scandal could be “worse than Watergate.”

Carl Bernstein, who reported the story with his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward, made the comments about the “orange haired president” to a crowd of University of Chicago students Wednesday night, calling the current political climate much worse than that of the 1970s, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Just as the Russians in the current instance case tried to undermine our electoral system, here was the President of the United States trying to do the same thing, and if the allegations about Trump are true, that he colluded with Russia, then you have the President again willing to undermine the most basic part of our modern democratic system, which is free elections,” he said.

While Bernstein was quick to advise caution — “we’ve got to see where this goes” — he said regardless of the results of the investigation, Trump’s habits of lying to the public are troubling.

“We also know that we’re dealing with a situation that appears to be a real feeling that is worse than Watergate in many, many ways, in the sense that we have a President of the United States who lies about almost anything,” he said.

Bernstein’s comments follow a seminal moment this week in the sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the foreign power to win. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, among other crimes, some of which occurred while the two were working for the campaign.

Another campaign adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, according to new court documents that were unsealed this week.

h/t The Hill.

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President Donald Trump’s Twitter megaphone was cut off for 11 minutes on Thursday evening.

A customer service employee at Twitter deactivated Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account on their last day, a Twitter spokesperson said after conducting an investigation. Initially the company thought the deactivation had been an error.

The account disappeared at 6:45 p.m. EST on Thursday and users were met with a page that said @realDonaldTrump doesn’t exist.

Twitter users jumped on the news.

The account was back up by 7 p.m., according to The Washington Post.

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted to let his followers know that a “rogue employee” had pulled the plug and claimed “the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact,” possibly commenting on the influence or effectiveness of his Twitter presence.

Many expressed concern about the national security implications of the stunt.

Twitter said it is looking into how a customer service employee was able to deactivate the account, which a former employee told BuzzFeed few people at the company have access to do.

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President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State is “working hard” and “doing his best,” but that doesn’t mean his future in the position is certain.

Appearing on Fox News’ new Laura Ingraham show Thursday night, Trump said there are “some people” within the State Department “that I’m not happy with there,” but praised Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s work ethic. When asked whether Tillerson would be in the White House “for the duration,” Trump gave a clumsy non-answer.

“Well, we will see, I don’t know who’s gonna be — duration? I think the duration — I’ll tell you this, I don’t think any President in nine months has done the job that we’ve done and that includes bills being passed by Congress … I think we’re close to 70 bills, maybe over 70 bills, it’s almost close to a record,” he said, proceeding to pat himself on the back over the approval of his Supreme Court justice nominee and the economy.     

The President’s “we will see” answer about the fate of Tillerson follows recent reports about the pair’s rocky relationship. Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron” and wanted to resign. In response, Trump implied he has a higher IQ than his secretary of state.

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President Donald Trump said he doesn’t lose sleep over the criticism he’s received for vacant posts in his administration, especially within the State Department, because people know he’s “the only one that matters.”

Appearing on Fox News’ Laura Ingraham’s new show Thursday night, Trump said the plethora of open positions won’t impact his “vision” for the administration, suggesting that his goal for the White House is to save money.

“My vision is my vision,” he said. “It’s called cost saving. There is nothing wrong with cost saving. I am a business person. I tell my people when you don’t need to fill spots, don’t fill them.”

But have no fear, “the one that matters is me,” he said.

“I am the only one that matters,” he said.

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President Donald Trump has asked Congress to get rid of the State Department’s Visa Lottery program, the program which the alleged attacker in the New York City attack reportedly used to come to the U.S. legally. 

Speaking to reporters about the House’s tax cut bill, Trump said he had met with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and other lawmakers to talk about immigration reform following Tuesday’s attack.

“I’m calling on Congress to immediately terminate the Visa Lottery program. It’s a disaster for our country. This program grants a visa not only on merit, but applicants are randomly selected in an annual lottery,” he said. “And the people put in that lottery are not that country’s finest. We know the program presents significant vulnerabilities to our national security. It’s a very unsafe program for our country. And we are not going to allow it to happen.”

He also said he wants Congress to end “chain migration” and that he “ultimately” wants a merit based immigration system.

“We can bring people that will help our country, grow our country and be safe for our country,” he said. “We want to select people based on their ability to contribute to our country, not choose people randomly. We have no idea who they are or based on extended family connections. You have people bringing in 24 or 25 people when they come in. We have to end chain migration.”

Trump’s comments on immigration reform come after he blamed Sen. Church Schumer (D-NY) following the terrorist attack in New York City. Schumer championed the legislation back in the 1990s, but the actual legislation passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by a Republican president.

The program is designed to grant visas to immigrants from countries that have low admission rates.

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