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

Vice President Mike Pence offered his full-throated support of President Trump’s most recent crusade — demands for a Justice Department inspector general probe of the FBI’s motivations for hiring an informant to speak to members of his campaign.

During an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, Pence said Trump was “grateful” that the Justice Department had asked the inspector general to investigate whether the informant was dispatched for political reasons and claimed “millions of Americans” would be distraught if that were the case.

“The President is, I think, grateful, that the Department of Justice is going to have the inspector general look into it and determine, and ensure, that there was no surveillance done for political purposes against our campaign,” he said. “I think it would be very troubling to millions of Americans if that took place.”

Over the weekend, Trump seized on reports that a government informant spoke with two Trump campaign officials as a way of probing Russian interference in the election without compromising the vote. He tweeted Sunday a “demand” for the DOJ probe, and the department asked the inspector general to look into it.

Read More →

As president, the famously chatty Donald Trump has been allowed to have at least two cellphones on hand that enable him to take part in his two favorite pass times: talking to friends on the phone and venting on Twitter.

But, according to a new Politico report, Trump has resisted typical security protocol for the devices. Trump regularly ignores advice from his aides about swapping out the phone that he uses to scroll through Twitter and read the news, claiming the convention is “too inconvenient” for him. Aides have encouraged the President to swap out his Twitter cellphone at least once a month, but he repeatedly breaks with precedent and ignores the guidance.

The President has reportedly gone as long as five months without letting security experts examine the device he uses for Twitter, however the call-capable cell is “seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis” a senior West Wing official told Politico. That phone, which Politico described as a “burner” phone, also has a camera and microphone, features deemed too risky for personal cell use under the Obama administration.

The insight into Trump’s cellphone use comes as Chief of Staff John Kelly attempts to crack down on the use of private cellular devices within the West Wing. While pegged as a security move, the new policy is widely seen as a measure to prevent leaking from within the White House. 

Read the full Politico report here. 

Read More →

Tripling down on its efforts to prove that President Donald Trump was only referring to members of the MS-13 gang as “animals” — not all undocumented immigrants — the White House released a statement Monday morning explaining the origins and crimes of the “violent animals of MS-13.”

The statement — titled “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13”—outlines some of the horrific crimes committed by members of the gang in the suburbs of New York City and Washington, D.C. in the past two years. The statement called MS-13 members “animals” nearly 10 times.

During a panel discussion with California officials who oppose the state’s sanctuary immigration policies last week, Trump appeared to refer to immigrants who have been taken out of the country for attempting to illegally enter the U.S. as “bad ” people and “animals.” Trump later clarified — both to reporters and on Twitter — that he was referring to members of the MS-13 gang. Read a transcript of the conversation in question here.

In the new statement, the White House repeatedly referred to the group as “the MS-13 animals” as it outlined the brutal rapes and murders the group is believed to have committed in recent years, as the gang has risen to national notoriety for its violent attacks in the U.S.

MS-13 is a transnational gang that has brought violence, fear, and suffering to American communities,” the statement said. “MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more.

“Recent investigations have revealed MS-13 gang leaders based in El Salvador have been sending representatives into the United States illegally to connect the leaders with local gang members,” the White House continued. “These foreign-based gang leaders direct local members to become even more violent in an effort to control more territory.”

While the reported crimes by the gang are horrific in nature, as Vox News explains, the Trump administration — in its vows to “bring these violent animals to justice” — has used the attacks to perpetuate its narrative of linking illegal immigration with violent crime. 

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Monday gave The Wall Street Journal a virtual pat on the back in a tweet, citing the paper’s two-day-old editorial questioning “where in the world” former President Barack Obama was when his FBI was surveilling “affiliates of a presidential campaign.”

“A very good question!” Trump tweeted.

The WSJ editorial, penned by James Freeman, calls out the media for burying mentions of Obama in its coverage of revelations that a government informant met with two members of Trump’s campaign before the election. Freeman also calls on the former President to provide a public explanation for why his intelligence and law enforcement agencies decided to focus surveillance efforts on a “domestic political campaign.”

Freeman writes:

“By this point it seems clear that Mr. Obama didn’t think much of the theory that Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians. But presumably he learned quite a bit about his government’s efforts to investigate it. It’s not clear what an FBI official meant in 2016 when texting that President Obama ‘wants to know everything we’re doing.’ But we can assume that the President was fairly well-informed about the law enforcement agencies reporting to him. Therefore let’s hear from him in detail the full history of how the government came to investigate the presidential campaign of the party out of power.”

Since the New York Times first reported last week that a secret intelligence source met with the Trump campaign’s foreign policy aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, Trump has become increasingly frustrated with the Russia probe. He called the news last week “bigger than Watergate!” and demanded on Twitter Sunday that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

Read More →

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a muted jab at President Trump and the Russia investigation during a speech at Yale University on Sunday by pulling out a “Russian hat.”

As part of the school’s Class Day tradition, students often wear eccentric hats to the ceremony.

“I see, looking out of you, that you are following the tradition of over-the-top hats, so I brought a hat too,” she said. “A Russian hat. Look, I mean, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Watch the hat bit below, which starts at 32:43.


Read More →

The Republican National Committee has paid more than a half million dollars in legal fees for President Trump aides like Hope Hicks as they face inquiries related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Sunday evening.

According to new federal filing reviewed by the Post, the law firm Trout Cacheris & Janis was paid $451,780 by the RNC. Hicks hired Robert Trout, the founder of the firm, as her personal attorney last year, according to reports. At least three lawyers at the firm represent individuals involved in the Senate and House investigations into Russian interference and the Trump campaign and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The Post reported last year that the RNC was using funds slated for election recounts to pay some of the President’s legal fees related to Russia. The RNC has since paid at least half a million and a separate legal defense fund was established in February to help square some of his aides’ other costs.

Read the Post’s full report here. 

Read More →

President Donald Trump is becoming increasingly concerned that his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un could evolve into a political embarrassment, The New York Times reported Sunday.

According to foreign officials and people from the Trump administration who spoke with the Times, Trump was shocked by the statement from North Korea’s head nuclear negotiator last week that indicated total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not going to happen.

The President has reportedly been talking to aides about whether he should move forward with the historic meeting. On Saturday night, he called South Korean President Moon Jae-in — the Washington Post was first to report — to discuss the North’s latest statement and why it was in contradiction with private conversations Moon has had with Kim. Officials told the Times that the call, just three days before Moon was set to travel to Washington, D.C., is a signal of Trump’s unease surrounding the meeting.

According to aides who spoke with the Times, Trump has made no specific indication that he is planning to pull out of the talks, but officials are concerned that Trump has been too publicly eager about the meeting — like his remark that “everyone thinks” he should win a Nobel Peace Prize for the historic summit.

Trump is set to meeting with Kim in Singapore next month.

Read the Times’ full report here.

Read More →

A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and carrying an American flag and packing a pistol on his hip showed up at the scene of Santa Fe High School on Friday where a shooting left at least 10 people dead.

The man told a local NBC affiliate that his first instinct when he heard about the shooting was to “get to the school! Make America great again,” he said, adding he was “offering support.”

“Just ‘God bless you all’ will go a long way right now for a lot of people,” he said.

At least nine students and one teacher were killed when a 17-year-old male student opened fire at the the high school on Friday morning, just before 8 a.m. The suspected shooter and another person of interest are in custody. Police found explosive devices near the high school as well.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Friday offered his condolences to the families of the at least eight people killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas and said school shootings have “been going on too long in our country.”

Trump’s full comments, delivered at the start of a prison reform discussion at the White House:

Thank you very much. Unfortunately I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heart break over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that just took place moments ago. We’re closely monitoring the situation and federal authorities are coordinating with local officials. 

“This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now. We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack to the students, families, teachers, and personnel at Santa Fe High. We’re with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever. 

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others. Everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe. May God heal the injured and may God comfort the wounded and may God be with the victims and with the victims families. Very sad day. Very very sad.”

Watch a video of his remarks below:

Read More →

A private airplane owned by a now-sanctioned Russian billionaire flew to Seychelles one day before a secret meeting between an associate of President Trump — Blackwater founder Erik Prince — and a Russian government ally, according to a NJ Advance Media report Thursday that cited airport flight data.

The meeting between Prince, the chief of the sanctioned Russian sovereign investment fund Kirill Dmitriev and adviser to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) George Nader, is reportedly of key interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, as he probes the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nader reportedly has close ties to members of Trump’s inner circle.

The Washington Post reported in March that a witness told Mueller that the January 2017 meeting was held to establish a backchannel of communication between the U.S. and Russia. Prince — who has reportedly been interviewed by Mueller, according to the Daily Beast — testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the meeting last year. He said the 30 minute discussion was held to explore a business venture with “potential customers” from the UAE and that Dmitriev’s expressed a desire to return to normal trade relations between the U.S. and Russia.

According to NJ Advance Media’s report, the aircraft, which is owned by sanctioned Russian billionaire Andrei Skoch, arrived around 4 p.m. on January 10, 2017, just one day before Prince arrived. NJ Advance reporter Erin Banco also confirmed that the six passengers who were on the plane stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, which, according to Prince, is where the meeting was held.

Banco reported that it was unclear whether Skoch — who is included on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list — attended the meeting.

Read NJ Advance Media’s full report here.

Read More →