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

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Thursday that the use of fossil fuels to power an electric grid in South Africa could prevent sexual assault there.

Speaking at an Axios-sponsored event Thursday, Perry responded to shouted comments from a protester about fossil fuels causing climate change and killing people in poor countries by explaining a conversation he had with a young woman during his trip to South Africa last week.

He said the woman told him electricity would make it easier for her to read and claimed it would take “fossil fuels to push power out” to African villages, but didn’t explain why renewable energy sources couldn’t be used as well.

“A young girl told me to my face, ‘One of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally kill people.’ But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” he said. “When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”

Better lighting doesn’t necessarily decrease the likelihood of sexual assault, according to a study conducted by University College London.

Perry has been an advocate for coal-powered plants and has repeatedly questioned the science behind the role carbon dioxide plays in climate change since he took over the Department of Energy.

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Former FBI Director James Comey made a not-so-subtle reference to a fateful conversation he had with President Donald Trump with the title of his new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.”

The book is set for a May 1 release and will likely detail some never-before-told aspects of his last days at the FBI before he was abruptly fired by Trump not long after Comey confirmed his agency was investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Before the firing, the President apparently told Comey, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Trump denies asking for that pledge. Comey instead said he would always be honest with him. Trump also asked Comey to drop the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey’s testimony before Congress.    

Axios first reported the new title of Comey’s book and the former FBI director tweeted out the article, saying “Lordy I hope there are pictures,” a nostalgic reference to comments he made during his testimony before the Senate.

After Trump heard that Comey had taken copious notes about their meetings, he tweeted that he had “tapes” of their conversations that would contradict Comey’s version of the story.

“Lordy I hope there are tapes,” Comey had said.

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NPR’s CEO and chief legal officer were aware of harassment complaints against its top newsroom editor Michael Oreskes for at least two years, but didn’t do anything about it until reports surfaced this week, a move that has frustrated NPR staff, according to new reports from CNN and The Washington Post.

Oreskes was asked to resign Wednesday after The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the editor had kissed two women and put his tongue in their mouths without their consent during business meetings while he was working at The New York Times in the 1990s. Those women both complained to NPR human resources in October, with one of them saying she felt compelled to speak out because of Oreskes’ position in coverage of the outbreak of allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

NPR itself reported that one of its current reporters had filed a complaint against Oreskes in 2015 for initiating a sexual conversation with her when they were discussing her career.

While CEO Jarl Mohn said in a memo to staff Wednesday that ousting Oreskes was not spurred on by the Post’s reports, employees aren’t buying it. Several female employees have signed a draft petition expressing their concerns over how the process was handled, according to the Post.

“The in-house mood is stunned, shocked, angry,” Susan Stamberg, one of NPR’s founding journalists, told the Post. “We’re trying to talk it through, and figure out effective responses.”

A union that represents NPR employees is considering making a statement on the organization’s handling of the situation and some staffers want the news outlet to hire a firm to conduct an external investigation into the conduct and the response to complaints, according to CNN’s sources.

During an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered” Wednesday, Mohn said Oreskes was put “on notice” after the 2015 complaint and said executives would have had a “very different reaction” to the reports from the two women in October if the incident had happened at NPR.

Current and former employees told the Post that Oreskes’ inappropriate behavior was an open secret within the newsroom and management circles. In recent weeks, senior executives asked Mohn to take action against Oreskes, but he felt he had done his duty and said he asked people to come forward within the organization, but no one did, CNN reported, speaking to several NPR sources.

“There had been rumors circulating around the building here, about his behavior. Rumors and gossip. We can’t act on that. We have to act on facts,” Mohn said in the “All Things Considered” interview.

Oreskes is the latest prominent member of the media to be accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward women who either worked under them or were getting career advice.

There has been an uptick in victims, mostly women, making their allegations of sexual harassment and assault public ever since reports of decades worth of accusations against Weinstein were made public. More than 60 women have come forward with allegations against Weinstein, many of whom are prominent Hollywood actresses.

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Former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday defended Democrats and her campaign’s funding of an explosive, but still mostly unverified, dossier that alleged connections between President Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Appearing on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” Clinton claimed that “most serious people” would understand that the dossier was legal opposition research, and much different than allegations that the Trump campaign may have worked with Russians to influence the 2016 election.

I think most serious people understand that,” she said. “This was research started by a Republican donor during the Republican primary, and then when Trump got the nomination for the Republican Party, the people doing it came to my campaign lawyer. … He said ‘yes.’ He’s an experienced lawyer, he knows what the law is, he knows what opposition research is.”

Touching on the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, she called Trump “ambivalent” and said her former opponent “had to know” that people who were working for him were making contact with Russia.

We’ve never had an adversary who attacked us with so few consequences,” Clinton said. “He had to know that people were making outreach to Russians, to the highest levels of the Kremlin, in order to help him, to hurt me, but more importantly to sow this divisiveness.”

She defended herself and the Democratic National Committee further, saying it’s significant that the dossier didn’t come out during the election.

“And what also didn’t come out — which I think is an even bigger problem as I write in the book — is that the American people didn’t even know that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign because of connections with Russia starting in the summer of 2016,” she said. “So I know that voters should have had that information. That’s something that may have influenced some people.”

The dossier, which was first published by BuzzFeed in January, outlines a case for collusion between Trump and the Russians. While the most salacious allegations in the dossier have not been verified by federal investigators, some of the information has been confirmed.

The research was originally funded by a Republican donor during the primaries and the Clinton campaign and the DNC began paying for it after Trump won the primary. 

Watch the interview below:

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On Tuesday, as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked out of the press briefing room amid shouted questions from reporters, one ignored inquiry stood out above the rest.

“Does this administration think that slavery was wrong?”

The question came from April Ryan, a CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. Her question stemmed from comments the White House chief of staff made earlier this week, claiming the Civil War started because of a lack of an ability to come to a comprise. Those remarks from retired Gen. John Kelly ignored the fact that the Civil War began because the North and the South couldn’t come to an agreement on slavery.

Ryan tried to ask the question again on Wednesday, which led to a contentious back-and-forth with Sanders. Ryan initially asked what the White House thinks is the definition of compromise as it relates to slavery and the Civil War.

“Look, I’m not going to get in and relitigate the Civil War. Like I told you yesterday, I think I’ve addressed the concerns that a lot of people had and the questions that you had and I’m not going to relitigate history here.”

Ryan pressed again: “But my question was still lingering when you left, so I’m going to ask the question again,” she said. Sanders cut her off, telling her to not ask it in a way that “you’re apparently accusing me of being.”

Ryan asked, flat out, whether the President and administration believes slavery is wrong. Sanders rolled her eyes.

“And before you answer,” Ryan said. “Mary Frances Berry, historian, said in 1860 there was a compromise. The compromise was to have southern states keep slavery, but the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter that caused the Civil War and because of the Civil War, what happened, the North won—.”

Sanders cut her off.

“I think it’s disgusting and absurd to suggest that anyone inside of this building would support slavery,” she said, moving on to another reporter.

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A top editor at NPR has resigned following complaints of harassment from at least two women.

In a letter to NPR staff, which a spokesperson shared with TPM, CEO Jarl Mohn told staff he had asked for the resignation of senior vice president of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes because of “inappropriate behavior.”

Some have asked me if it took published news reports for us to take action. The answer is that it did not. We have been acting. Some of the steps we took were visible and others weren’t. We have a process in place and we followed that process,” Mohn said in the staff memo. “I know people have asked for more details. The only way to encourage staff to come forward with any issues is to promise their concerns will remain confidential. That constrains us from providing details about personnel matters.”

The Washington Post spoke to two women who said Oreskes abruptly kissed them and stuck his tongue in their mouth without consent, when they met with him seeking career advice. The two alleged incidents occurred in the 1990s when Oreskes worked at The New York Times, the Post reported Tuesday.

The two women spoke to NPR attorneys in October, according to the Post.

NPR reported on the allegations on Tuesday as well — after the Post published it’s piece — and their reporting included a separate account from a current NPR reporter, Rebecca Hersher, who decided to go public with a formal complaint she’d filed against Oreskes.

Her account dates back to October 2015 when she was 26-years-old and working as assistant producer of “Weekend All Things Considered.” She said she had dinner with Oreskes to discuss her career path, but the meeting because uncomfortable when he turned the discussion into a conversation about her personal life, asking about her relationships and sex life. She reported the incident and told NPR she felt satisfied with the organization’s response to her complaints.

NPR placed Oreskes on leave Tuesday in response to the allegations from the women who spoke to The Washington Post, which concluded with Mohn asking for his resignation Wednesday.

“When anyone, but particularly someone in power, violates a policy, acts in ways that are inappropriate, or takes steps that do not contribute to building a positive workplace, it breaks a trust,” Mohn said in the staff memo. “That trust is about looking out for each other, doing the right thing, and acting as one team. It is sacred to me. I am committed to rebuilding trust, and my leadership team is as well.”

Oreskes is the latest prominent member of the media to be accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward women who either worked under them or were getting career advice. Both Leon Weiseltier, a former editor of The New Republic, and the magazine’s current publisher have been accused of inappropriate advances toward female employees. Political journalist Mark Halperin has also had multiple women come forward alleging sexual harassment and assault.

There has been an uptick in victims, mostly women, making their allegations of sexual harassment and assault public ever since reports of decades worth of accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were made public. More than 60 women have come forward with allegations against Weinstein, many of whom are prominent Hollywood actresses.

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Former President Barack Obama is still encouraging people to enroll in an insurance plan under Obamacare, despite efforts by his successor to dismantle the law and destabilize insurance markets.

Obama recorded a video for Get America Covereda new organization formed by Obama-era health officials to publicize Obamacare sign-up information during the enrollment period — on the first day of open enrollment, encouraging people to shop for an insurance plan.

The video, set to cheery music with simple infographics, explains where to go, how to sign up and how much a typical plan costs, comparing the price to something relatable: “That’s cheaper than a lot of cell phone plans,” Obama said.

“And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge you more just for being a woman or for having a preexisting condition. That’s a good thing, it means they have to compete for your business,” the former President said, ending the video with an archetypal Obama message of solidarity.

“Spread the word to make sure everybody knows that it’s time to get covered at because this country works best when we look out for one another,” he said.

The Get American Covered group launched this fall and was founded by Lori Lodes, a former communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Josh Peck, the former chief marketing officer for They said they’re marketing health care enrollment like they advertised it under the Obama administration.

The new video comes after several independent groups have released reports that show Obamacare enrollment for the young and the healthy will drop significantly this year due to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the law and gut outreach spending.

S&P Global Ratings published a report Tuesday that found enrollment will drop by 7 to 13 percent this fall, which could mean between 0.8 and 1.6 million additional people will be uninsured in 2018.

While the Trump administration decided to cut outreach funding budget for enrollment by 90 percent this year, the Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t completely ceased efforts to inform people about the enrollment period. Last week, it shared all the different types of health plans to give people a week to “window shop” a plan. The department is also planning to share the number of sign-ups periodically, is staffing the call center the same as last year and is sharing information about enrollment on social media. 

Those moves come in contrast to Trump’s previous efforts to dismantle the law, like ending cost sharing reduction payments to insurers that help keep costs down for low-income people.

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President Donald Trump joined the chorus of conservative pundits who are blaming the terror attack in New York City Tuesday on a State Department lottery immigration program that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) helped write in 1990.

ABC7 News reported Monday evening that the alleged attacker Sayfullo Saipov came to the U.S. legally from Uzbekistan under a 20-year-old program called the Diversity Visa Lottery, a report that has not yet been confirmed, The Washington Post reported.

In 1990, Schumer championed the legislation, which became part of a larger immigration package that passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by former Republican President George H.W. Bush, according to the Post.

Trump latched onto the unverified reports of the alleged attacker’s immigration status, claiming on Twitter that Saipov entered the U.S. through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, “a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” Trump also proclaimed, “We will stop this craziness!”

The President’s tweets were probably spurred on by “Fox and Friends,” his favorite show, because Trump tagged the show in his tweets and started tweeting just minutes after his former aide Sebastian Gorka appeared on “Fox and Friends” to blame Schumer for the attack.

Trump has been an advocate for merit-based immigration system for months. In August, he threw his weight behind the RAISE Act, a bill sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would favor green card applicants who demonstrate skills, education and language ability over relations to people already here. It also sought to cut legal immigration in half over the next decade.

About an hour after Trump tweeted blaming Schumer for the attack, the Senate minority leader responded with a tweet and a lukewarm statement that asked Trump to stop “politicizing and dividing America.”

“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget. I’m calling on the President to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding,” Schumer said.

Under the Diversity Lottery Visa program, the State Department gives 50,000 visas a year, primarily to immigrants from parts of the globe that have low admission rates. Most go to people from African nations, the Washington Post reported.

The program came into effect under the Bill Clinton administration and has been debated for the past decade. In 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined the program was vulnerable to fraud, but former President George W. Bush’s State Department rejected that characterization.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a vocal opponent of the President, responded to Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning, saying the Gang of 8 — a bipartisan group of Senators who attempted, but weren’t able to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 — scrubbed the program as part of its broader reforms bill. Schumer was part of that group.

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NPR has placed its top editor on indefinite leave as the news outlet investigates complaints by two women who said the editor abruptly kissed them while they talked to him about getting a job, The Washington Post reported.

At the time of the alleged incidents, NPR’s Michael Oreskes — the senior vice president of news and editorial director — was working at the New York Times. The two women were both journalists when the alleged incidents occurred in the 1990s. They shared similar stories with the Post, claiming Oreskes met with them about career prospects and kissed them on the lips without their permission and stuck his tongue in their mouths.

The two women spoke with NPR’s attorney in October. A spokesperson for the news outlet told the Post that it takes “these kinds of allegations very seriously” and said the organization always reviews the matter “promptly” and takes steps to “assure a safe, comfortable and productive work environment.”

Oreskes is the latest prominent member of the media to be accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward women who either worked under them or were getting career advice. Both Leon Weiseltier a former editor of The New Republic and the outlet’s current publisher have been accused of sexual harassment toward female employees. Political journalist Mark Halperin has also had multiple women come forward alleging harassment and assault.

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The White House blamed the media for pushing a “racially charged and divided White House” narrative on Tuesday, in response to questions about an interview chief of staff John Kelly gave Monday evening in which he said the Civil War stemmed from a “lack of an ability to compromise.”

When NBC’s Hallie Jackson asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the White House acknowledges that Kelly’s “compromise” comments were “deeply offensive to some folks” — because the two sides fought over whether slavery should be legal during the Civil War —  Sanders said “no.”

Following the White House’s line — as it relates to the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments — Sanders said just “because you don’t like history doesn’t mean that you can erase it and pretend it didn’t happen.”

“To try to create something and push a narrative that simply doesn’t exist, is just frankly outrageous and absurd. I think the fact that we keep trying to drive, the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of racially charged and divided White House,” she said. “Frankly the only people I see stoking political racism right now are the people in the groups that are running ads like the one you saw taking place in Virginia earlier this week. That’s the type of thing that I think really is a problem.

Sanders is likely referencing an advertisement put out by a group called Latino Victory this week, to criticize Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. The video shows minority children running away from a white man driving a pickup truck with a Confederate flag on it.

Kelly also said there were “men and women of good faith on both sides” who made their stand during the Civil War, rhetoric that’s uncannily similar to remarks President Donald Trump made about there being good people on “many sides” of a protest at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

A woman died when a man affiliated with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter protesters. The rally was held in that city to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

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