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

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) was the lawmaker behind a $84,000 taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer, Politico reported Friday.

The settlement was paid to his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who sued Farenthold in 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, Politico reported, citing a lawsuit and unnamed sources. NBC News also confirmed the report.

TPM reported on that lawsuit after it was filed December 2014.

Greene said she was fired after complaining about Farenthold and one of his male staffers, who told her that the congressman had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. She also claimed that Farenthold drank too much and told her inappropriate things about his sex life with his wife.

The suit was dropped after Farenthold and Greene agreed to settle, according to a joint statement that the two wrote at the time, but was never released.

In a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers Friday, House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) said that the Office of Compliance had only paid out a settlement for one sexual harassment complaint in the past five years, at the cost of $84,000, Politico reported.

Neither Farenthold nor Greene’s attorney would confirm or deny they were the parties involved in the $84,000 Office of Compliance settlement, but Greene’s lawyer and Farenthold’s office both shared the joint statement. The statement said the two confirmed they had reached a deal, partially to save taxpayer dollars. Farenthold said the settlement wasn’t indicative of an admission of guilt.

Farenthold “disagrees strongly” with Greene’s claims and “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing,” the statement said. It also said that the two parties couldn’t discuss the agreement.

Farenthold also formally denied the allegations in the lawsuit in February 2015, TPM reported at the time.

The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated the allegations against Farenthold as well, but found that Greene’s complaints were unsubstantiated, according to Politico.

“While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” Farenthold said Friday in the statement.

Farenthold’s settlement with a former staffer is the second publicly known sexual harassment complaint agreement that the Office of Compliance paid on behalf of a member of Congress. ABC News reported Thursday that that same office paid a $100,000 settlement to staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) to settle groping allegations against the congressman.

The Office of Compliance has come under fire in recent weeks after news broke that it had secretly paid more than $17 million in settlements over the past 20 years over misconduct complaints against members of Congress. It’s not known — besides the Massa and Farenthold cases — how many cases were sexual harassment claims.

The House Ethics Committee sent a letter to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for the records of all alleged misconduct claims made against sitting members or employees of the House.    

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The House Ethics Committee has asked the office responsible for paying out settlements to staffers who allege misconduct against lawmakers for records of the complaints made against sitting House members and employees.

In a letter to the Office of Compliance Friday, Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) asked for all records related to claims of “sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or any other practice” prohibited by the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) made against any current “member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer or employee” of the House. The CAA prohibits harassment and discrimination within the House and any actions that have a “disparate impact” on an employee, according to the House code of conduct.

Brooks and Deutch said that the CAA “expressly provides that the Office of Compliance may provide the House and Senate Ethics Committees with access to records of its hearings and decisions” and House rules against “discriminatory conduct” also give the ethics committee authority to review the records.

“In order to effectuate its constitutional and statutory authority with respect to House Rules we request that you promptly provide the committee” with information about the complaints, they wrote.

The Office of Compliance has recently come under fire after it was revealed that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two decades to settle claims against members of Congress. This news that has been met with special scrutiny given the rise in public accusations of misconduct against politicians and many other prominent men in the media and Hollywood.

In recent weeks, sitting Congressmen Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) have been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

Five women have come forward saying Franken groped them and Franken has apologized, but said he won’t resign.

Conyers has been accused of sexual harassment by former staffers, but has denied all the allegations, including an account from one woman whom he paid a $27,00 settlement. He paid that settlement through his congressional office, not the Office of Compliance. His lawyers have also indicated that he won’t resign.

The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave the compliance office the authority to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of the Treasury to settle claims against lawmakers. That $17 million was spent on 264 individual cases, but it’s not known whether all those cases dealt with sexual harassment claims.

The Office of Compliance did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the letter below:


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A congressional office paid young male staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) almost $100,000 to settle groping allegations against the congressman, ABC News reported Thursday.

The settlements were secretly paid by the Office of Compliance after Massa resigned in 2010 amid an ongoing ethics probe into allegations that he sexually harassed some of his staffers, people with direct knowledge of the settlement told ABC.

The office responsible for the payouts has recently come under fire after it was revealed that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two decades to settle sexual misconduct claims against members of Congress. Those revelations, first made public by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), prompted efforts to reform the way sexual misconduct claims are reported and handled in Congress.

Since then, it’s been widely reported that the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave the compliance office the authority to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of the Treasury to settle claims against lawmakers. That $17 million was spent on 264 individual cases, but it’s not known whether all those cases dealt with sexual harassment claims. The compliance office will not release the data and would not confirm or deny to ABC whether it had paid $100,000 in settlements to Massa accusers.

After Massa resigned in 2010, he said that he had engaged inappropriate behavior with some staffers, but none of it was sexual. In an interview with Fox News he admitted he had “groped” and “tickled” one of his staffers.

Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me,” he told Glenn Beck in 2010. “It was my 50th birthday. It was ‘kill the old guy.’ You can take anything out of context.”

Watch the interview with Massa and then-Fox News host Glenn Beck below:

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White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, who the President just appointed as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said taxpayers “should be frightened” by the amount of power he has in this new post.

The structure of the CFPB is fundamentally flawed. The authority I have now as the acting director really should frighten people. You can sit down in a room with three or four people, and say, well, let’s go off and do this, and there is no accountability to Congress,” he said on Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” Thursday.

“I could set the budget pretty much without any input from Congress, in fact, without any input from Congress,” he said. “On one hand people call it independent but the bottom line is it’s simply unaccountable.”

The budget chief said he is “hopeful” he can restructure the agency to make it more accountable to taxpayers and said he wants to “limit as much as we can what the CFPB does to sort of interfere with capitalism and the financial services market.”

Mulvaney’s takeover of the agency had a rocky start.

Outgoing CFPB director Richard Cordray appointed his then-Chief of Staff Leandra English to serve as acting director until the Senate approved a permanent chief for the agency. However, President Donald Trump interfered, appointing Mulvaney to head the bureau until he nominates a new director, which prompted English to file a lawsuit to try to bar Mulvaney’s reign.

Both Mulvaney and English showed up to work on Monday, both claiming to be acting director and causing widespread confusion about authority in the executive agency. On Tuesday, a judge ruled in favor of Trump, making Mulvaney the acting head of the consumer watchdog.   

A lot of folks, including the woman now purporting to be acting director, thought they would be beholden to Obama administration, but if someone else won they would not have to be beholden to them … This is not right, the President of United States, this is an executive agency, has the right to have influence over there, has the right to have their agenda put forward and that’s exactly what were doing at the CFPB,” Mulvaney said.

Watch the interview below:

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An undocumented immigrant, whose case Donald Trump consistently cited as rationale for a border wall during the campaign, was found not guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, a verdict President Trump said was “disgraceful.”

“A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted Thursday night after the jury found Garcia Zarate, a Mexican man who has been deported from the U.S. five times, not guilty of the first degree murder of Steinle.

The young woman was walking on a popular San Francisco pier with her father and a friend when she was shot and killed in July 2015. Zarate’s defense argued he didn’t intentionally shoot Steinle, but rather the gun he found accidentally fired when he picked it up.

Trump called the jury’s decision a “travesty of justice” and tweeted “BUILD THE WALL!” Friday morning. He then took a swift turn, blaming Democrats for being “weak on crime” and claiming they would “pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 elections.”

Trump’s outrage over the verdict is not surprising. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump consistently pointed to the case as proof of the need for his border wall and as rationale for attacking his opponents for supporting sanctuary cities. Before the shooting, Zarate had just completed a federal prison sentence for illegally coming back to the U.S. after being deported and had been transferred to San Francisco to serve time for a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana. He was released a few days later after prosecutors dropped the drug charges and was shielded from deportation because San Francisco is a sanctuary city.

But in the first-degree murder trial against Zarate for the shooting death of Steinle, the judge blocked attorneys from mentioning Zarate’s immigration status or the fact that he was deported back to Mexico five times before coming back across the border, asking the jury to only consider Zarate’s intentions on the night that Steinle was killed, the Associated Press reported.

The verdict outraged not only Trump, but the Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has waged war with sanctuary cities — which bar local police from helping the federal government identify and deport undocumented immigrants — since taking office.

“San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday evening. “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”

Immigration officials said Thursday night that they plan to take Zarate into custody and deport him once his case concludes, the AP reported.

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The Washington Post will no longer publish former public radio broadcaster Garrison Keillor’s column following his firing from Minnesota Public Radio over workplace misconduct allegations, Politico reported Thursday.

Just a day before he was fired, Keillor wrote a column for the Post defending Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), saying the senator shouldn’t resign from Congress despite the mounting allegations that he inappropriately touched at least five women.

The Post told Politico that Keillor violated the newspaper’s transparency policies for opinion writers because he knew he was “under investigation for his workplace behavior” and “should not have written a column on that subject,” editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement given to Politico.

“Or, if he was going to write, he should have told his editors and readers that he was under investigation. Instead he wrote a column defending Sen. Al Franken without any discourse of his own situation,” Hiatt said. “Readers are entitled to a basic level of transparency from the columnist they read in the The Washington Post. … Garrison Keillor failed to meet that standard this week.”

A Washington Post spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

In the column published in the Post on Tuesday, Keillor said calls for Franken to resign were “pure absurdity.”

On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken,” he wrote. “Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.”

Keillor, the longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” was fired on Wednesday for workplace misconduct, after a former coworker accused him of improper behavior. In an email to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Keillor said: “I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

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The White House has developed a plan to push Secretary of State Rex Tillerson out of his post at the State Department and replace him with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo within the next several weeks, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) would reportedly replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Cotton has signaled he would accept the job, according to White House officials who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity.

The plan to oust Tillerson was orchestrated by President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, but it was not clear whether Trump plans to approve the shakeup, according to the Times.

The Associated Press and CNN also confirmed reports that the White House is planning to replace Tillerson with Pompeo.

Trump did not confirm or deny reports of the planned shakeup Thursday. When asked about Tillerson, Trump responded bluntly.

“He’s here, Rex is here,” Trump said to shouted questions from reporters about the secretary of state’s fate.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made similar remarks Thursday, telling reporters that the White House had “no personnel announcements at this time.”

“As the President just said, ‘Rex is here.’ There are no personnel announcements at this time,” she said, via the White House press pool report. “Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration.”

If all goes according to Kelly’s plan, the transition could take place around the new year, making Tillerson’s post in the State Department the shortest tenure ever served by a secretary of state — who didn’t leave because of the election of a new president — in almost 120 years, according to the Times.

The move shouldn’t come as a surprise to White House and State Department insiders who have witnessed the tension between Trump and the former Exxon Mobile CEO, who has become increasingly frustrated with the President over everything from staffing the State Department to Trump’s take on the Iran nuclear deal to his handling of the missile crisis in North Korea.

Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly threatened to resign from his post and called Trump a “moron.”

Trump has in turn claimed he has a higher I.Q. than Tillerson and publicly criticized Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in North Korea, saying the secretary of state is “wasting his time.”

Administration officials initially predicted that the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, would likely be Tillerson’s replacement, but the White House has grown fond of Pompeo and the President has been impressed by his work within the spy agency, according to the Times.

The Times reported that Pompeo has become one of Trump’s most trusted policy advisers as well, as the former three-term Congressman tends to offer advise on issues far outside his reach as CIA director.

A spokesperson for the CIA said the agency has no comment on the reports of Pompeo’s departure.

Cotton has remained an important Trump ally within the Senate. Cotton, along with Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), introduced legislation in August that would overhaul the immigration system to a more “merit based” model. Trump publicly threw his weight behind the plan, which, among many things, would favor green card applications for immigrants who can speak English.

Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt Tabler told TPM “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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An Army veteran, who met Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) when he performed in Kuwait during a 2003 USO tour, has come forward saying Franken groped her breast when the two took a photo together, CNN reported.

Stephanie Kemplin, who is now 41, is the fifth woman who has come forward to accuse the senator of alleged inappropriate touching or sexual misconduct in recent weeks, and the second to say the incident took place during a USO tour.

Kemplin told CNN she got in line to take a photo with Franken. When he put his arm around her for the picture, he allegedly cupped her right breast, she told CNN.

“He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,” she told CNN. “I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side. … I remember clenching up and how you just feel flushed. And I remember thinking — ‘Is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going move his hand?’ He never moved his hand.”

She said Franken kept his hand there for long enough that “he should have known if it was an accident.”

“I’m very confident saying that,” she said, adding that she shifted her body to move his hand before the picture was taken. CNN obtained a copy of the photo.

She said she recalls feeling stunned and unable to process what happened.

“I was in a war zone. … You were on a USO tour, are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own. I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture,” she said of the photo of herself. She was 27 at the time of the alleged incident.

A spokesperson for Franken’s office repeated a line the senator has offered after similar allegations of misconduct have surfaced — that Franken takes “thousands of photos and has met tens of thoughts of people and has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.”

The spokesperson told CNN that Franken intends to continue to cooperate with the Senate Ethics Committee investigation, which was launched at Franken’s request after an LA radio host came forward, alleging Franken aggressively kissed her during a rehearsal for a performance on a USO tour. She also alleged that Franken groped her while she was sleeping during the trip home from the tour.

Since the radio host Leeann Tweeden came forward, three more women have gone public with claims that Franken groped them when they took photos with him. Franken has apologized to Tweeden and the other women who have come forward, but he has combatted parts of their stories. At a news conference, Franken said all the accusations have been “a shock” for him.

“It’s been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed,” he said.   

Kemplin said at the time she felt “put on the spot” and questioned whether she should tell someone, but ultimately decided to not tell any fellow soldiers. She did, however, tell her sister and her ex-boyfriend about the incident, both of whom told CNN they remember Kemplin recounting what happened. She said she felt she needed to come forward after other women made claims because the alleged groping was particularly shocking for her at the time. Weeks earlier she said she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier, an incident CNN was able to confirm through military documents.

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The mayor of London is calling on Britain’s prime minister to cancel any official visits from President Donald Trump and to ask Trump to delete anti-Islam videos he shared on Twitter Wednesday.

“As the mayor of this great diverse city, I have previously called on Theresa May to cancel her ill-judged offer of a state visit to President Trump. After this latest incident, it is increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement posted on Twitter Thursday.

“The prime minister of our country should be using any influence she and her government claim to have with the President and his administration to ask him to delete these tweets and to apologise to the British people,” he continued.

On Wednesday, Trump shared three unverified anti-Muslim videos on Twitter that were posted by Jayda Fransen, a leader of the far-right fringe group Britain First. Fransen was recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment. The videos — which have been mostly debunked — supposedly show acts of violence that Fransen claimed was ignited by Muslims.

Khan, who is Muslim, said the President had used his influential Twitter account to “promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country” and said that many see the President’s actions as a “betrayal” of the relationship between the two countries.

“It beggars belief that the President of our closest ally doesn’t see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that make Britain so great,” he said.

The group Britain First is known for combatting what it calls the “Islamization” of Britain and has also campaigned against the building of new mosques. The group has also launched several unsuccessful political campaigns.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “wrong” for Trump to share the inflammatory videos. Trump responded Wednesday night, telling May to focus the “Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom” instead of criticizing him. The White House claims the videos, while possibly fake, represent the “real threat” to national security that the President is concerned about.

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