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

President Donald Trump again suggested forming a sixth branch of the military — the “space force” — during an event at the White House with West Point students on Tuesday, arguing the new branch may be necessary because the U.S. is “getting very big in space.”

“We’re getting very big in space both militarily and for other reasons,” he said, addressing the West Point Military Academy football team as he presented them with the Commander in Chief trophy Tuesday. “We are seriously thinking of the space force and you’ll join the greatest force for peace and justice the world has ever known. You will keep us safe, you will keep up strong, you will keep us free, and thank you for your service.”

Trump has floated the idea of a “space force” in the past. While addressing members of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in March, he said the idea started as a joke, but then he changed his mind.

“Space is a war-fighting domain, just like land, air and sea,” he said earlier this spring. “I said, ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force,’ and I was not really serious. Then I said, ‘what a great idea,’ maybe we’ll have to do that.”

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In a new off-kilter, 30-second campaign spot, West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship vows if elected to fight for the pro-life agenda, create jobs, “end the drug epidemic” and “ditch cocaine Mitch,” referencing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“One of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch cocaine Mitch. When you vote for me, you’re voting for the sake of the kids,”  he said with a smile, while providing no context for the new sobriquet. Politico noted that Blankenship might have been referencing a 2014 report from The Nation that reported drugs were once discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

In a statement released on his Facebook page Tuesday morning, Blankenship confirmed that he was referencing the Nation story about Chao’s family business.

“Mitch McConnell and his family have extensive ties to China,” he wrote. “His father-in-law who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years. The company was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we’ve deemed him ‘Cocaine Mitch.'”

McConnell has made it clear that he is opposed to Blankenship’s bid for Senate, chiefly because of Blankenship’s criminal past. He served a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that killed 29 workers. McConnell and Republican leadership have said they want a less controversial candidate to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in November.   

Monday’s “cocaine” dig is not the first time Blankenship has lobbed attacks at McConnell. During an interview on a West Virginia radio show last week, Blankenship suggested that McConnell has a conflict of interest on foreign relations issues because Chao’s father is a “wealthy Chinaperson.”

Watch Blankenship’s new ad below:

Cocaine Mitch

Mitch McConnell and his family have extensive ties to China. His father-in-law who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years.The company was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we’ve deemed him “Cocaine Mitch.”Despite being a career politician for more than three decades, Mitch has become a millionaire while raising our national debt by 20 trillion dollars. The biggest jump in his wealth came from a multi-million dollar gift to his wife, Elaine Chao’s from her father, i.e. Foremost Maritime. The company uses ships chartered in Liberia, not America or China. Ms. Chao’s father and sister actually joined the board in 2007 and 2008 of something called China State Shipbuilding Corporation, CSSC Holdings, which is a subsidiary of the largest defense contractor in China. McConnell is so indebted to China that he even co-sponsor a Senate bill to remove human rights reporting requirements from free trade deals. Those requirements were put in place after China’s abuses following the protests for freedom we saw worldwide at Tiananmen Square. (S.2277) A new book by Peter Schweizer examines how career politician Mitch McConnell used his elected influence and his wife’s family’s policies to get rich while regular Americans lost a trade war. A trade war that has cost millions their jobs and therefore created idleness and despair, which as we know leads to illegal drug use including cocaine. Cocaine overdose deaths in the United States are rising rapidly as a result.

Posted by Don Blankenship on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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President Donald Trump is irked that copies of special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions for him were, he alleged, leaked to The New York Times.

On Tuesday morning he tweeted that it was “disgraceful” that the questions were revealed and and hurled his usual “witch hunt” insults at Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

About an hour later, he tweeted again pushing back on allegations of obstruction of justice. Mueller’s questions reportedly focus, in part, on White House actions that could be interpreted as obstruction of justice, specifically Trump’s response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

Trump’s tweets decrying the “leaked” questions follow reports from the New York Times that it had obtained a list of questions that Mueller planned to ask Trump if the President agreed to sit down for an interview with the special counsel.

Mueller’s team reportedly read the list of questions to Trump’s lawyers, who then assembled them into a list. That list was shared with the Times by a person outside of Trump’s legal team, the Times reported.

The questions reportedly focus on a range of topics, including Trump’s motivations for firing former FBI director James Comey, his business dealings and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

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Vice President Mike Pence’s doctor directed a top Pence aide to warn Chief of Staff John Kelly about Ronny Jackson’s behavior last fall, CNN reported.

According to internal memos obtained by CNN, Jackson — White House physician and President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs who withdrew his nomination last week — intervened in a medical issue involving Second Lady Karen Pence in September, a move her physician thought was inappropriate and an abuse of his authority.

In the memo, the Pences’ doctor also said he thought Jackson’s involvement in the medical matter was a potential violation of federal privacy rights because Jackson reportedly briefed White House staff about the matter and shared details about the incident with other medical providers, CNN reported.

The Pences’ doctor — who was not named in the report — confronted Jackson about the situation. Jackson reportedly attempted to intimidate the Vice President’s doctor and was so angry about the encounter that he made the Pences’ doctor feel “uncomfortable,” according to CNN.

The Pences’ physician wrote that Jackson used an “accusatory” and “unprofessional” tone that was “aggressive” at times. The doctor said the September incident was part of a pattern of “intimidating” behavior on Jackson’s part that pushed him to consider resigning.

Karen Pence was also reportedly concerned about the breach of privacy that occurred when Jackson stepped in, and she reportedly asked her doctor to have her husband’s top aide, Nick Ayers, talk to Kelly about the incident. Kelly was reportedly aware of the matter from that point forward, according to CNN.

Jackson withdrew his nomination to run the VA last week after allegations surfaced that he created a hostile work environment in the White House medical unit, had issues with “excessive drinking” on the job and improperly dispensed medication. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee delayed Jackson’s confirmation hearing last Tuesday while it reviewed the allegations, which were brought forward by at least 20 current and former military personnel.

Read CNN’s full report here.

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The conservative House Freedom Caucus has drafted articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The document will reportedly serve as a “last resort option” if the Justice Department fails to respond to congressional requests for documents related to the Russia probe and other federal investigations, like the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, according to the Post.

The effort has been led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), a Trump ally who confirmed the existence of the document and told the Post that many of his conservative colleagues are at at their wits end with Rosenstein and what they see as the Justice Department dragging its feet in the release of documents.

“My frustrations about our inability to respond to simple requests could warrant further action,” he told the Post.

The draft document, obtained by the Post, outlines the the group’s ire over Rosenstein’s handling of the surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The main complaints in the first three articles of impeachment specifically relate to the use of the Christopher Steele dossier to obtain a FISA court warrant to surveil Page.

The document also claims that Rosenstein “knowingly provided misleading statements” to Congress about the work the federal government did to probe Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to the Post.

Read the Post report here.

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said the “best thing for me is to keep quiet” about reports that President Donald Trump called African nations “shitholes” during an bipartisan Oval Office meeting on immigration with lawmakers back in January.

“Well, I’m very careful with what the press says about others than myself,” Buhari said during a joint press conference with Trump on Monday, responding to a question about his response to Trump’s reported derogatory remarks about African countries. “I’m not sure about, you know, the validity or whether than allegation against the President was true or not. So the best thing for me is to keep quiet.”

After a short pause, Trump said the two presidents had not discussed the alleged remarks, before claiming that “some countries” are “in very bad shape.”

We didn’t discuss it,” he said. “And you do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in. But we didn’t discuss it because the President knows me and he knows where I’m coming from. And I appreciate that. We did not discuss it.”

Reports of Trump’s comments about Haiti and African nations sparked global furor, with many U.S. diplomats being summoned by their host nations to clarify Trump’s comments.

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The former White House chief ethics lawyer under the George W. Bush administration on Monday announced his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, formerly held by Al Franken (D-MN).

Richard Painter, a longtime Republican, recently filed to run as a Democrat for the seat occupied by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), the Star Tribune was first to report. Smith was appointed by the Minnesota governor to serve out the remainder of Franken’s term after he resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

According to the Star Tribune and a tweet from Painter’s Twitter account — Painter For Minnesota — Painter announced his bid at a news conference on Monday morning. Painter already had a campaign website live, Painter For U.S. Senate, before he made the announcement, in which he vowed to not take money from Super PACs.

In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Painter explained why he “QUIT” the Republican party, due in large part to President Donald Trump’s “reckless trade war,” as well as his “attacks on the freedom of the press and of religion, on the judiciary and on his own Justice Department.”

Painter currently works as a corporate law professor at the University of Minnesota and is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump on cable news and on Twitter. Painter told the Star Tribune last month that he was forming an exploratory committee for a potential run, but was unsure whether he would remain a Republican.

“I need to think about whether there’s a place for me” in the GOP, he said last month, according to the Star Tribune, saying he would be “considering all options.” He also told the Star Tribune that he is a “centrist in many ways.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith, his former lieutenant governor after Franken resigned, with the hope that she would be the front-running Democrat vying for the seat.

Franken resigned in January after weeks of reports of sexual harassment and multiple women coming forward alleging Franken groped them during photo ops.

Karin Housley, a state senator, is the only Republican who’s announced a bid for open seat.

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In an effort to overhaul its internal manual for federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice recently removed sections on the “need for free press and public trial” among several other edits, Buzzfeed News reported Sunday.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein led the charge to update the manual, which traditionally provides policies and guidance on DOJ legal work, and hadn’t seen a major update since 1997, according to Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed tracked the online changes to the manual through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

In the manual’s “media contacts policy” section, a subsection titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial” was deleted. According to Buzzfeed’s review of the manual, that section, which has been in the manual since 1988, said:

“Likewise, careful weight must be given in each case to the constitutional requirements of a free press and public trials as well as the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused. Further, recognition should be given to the needs of public safety, the apprehension of fugitives, and the rights of the public to be informed on matters that can affect enactment or enforcement of public laws or the development or change of public policy.”

Parts of the rest of the media contacts section was edited to include new language about determining whether to release information to the public, including weighing the “right of the public to have access to information” with other factors, according to Buzzfeed.

The manual also includes new sections about topics that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been vocal about— including the illegality of sharing classified information and reporting any media contacts about DOJ related matters.

Read Buzzfeed’s full report here. 

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, who was critical of President Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, met with Trump to tell him she was loyal to his agenda before she was hired, The Washington Post reported.

According to several people with knowledge of the meeting who spoke to the Post, Trump’s advisers knew that Sessions would only be able to hire Flores if she reassured Trump that she agreed with his agenda. She also reportedly told Trump she would be honored to serve him, according to the Post.

The revelation came as part of a Post report on Trump’s demands for loyalty throughout his presidency, most notably his reported request for allegiance from former FBI James Comey before he was fired. Trump also reportedly asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was “on (his) team.”      

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Longtime NBC News journalist Tom Brokaw is rebutting allegations that he sexually harassed and tried to forcibly kiss a former colleague in the 1990s. He sent a lengthy letter to his former colleagues aggressively denying the accusations.

According to the letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter, Brokaw characterized the allegations as a “drive by shooting” on the part of Linda Vester, the former NBC correspondent who recently detailed her accusations to the Washington Post and Variety. He claimed Vester had a grudge against NBC News because she “failed in her pursuit of stardom” and called out the Post and Variety for being given “the run” by Vester.

I am not a perfect person. I’ve made mistakes, personally and professionally. But as I write this at dawn on the morning after a drive by shooting by Vester, the Washington Post and Variety, I am stunned by the free ride given a woman with a grudge against NBC News, no distinctive credentials or issue passions while at Fox,” he wrote. “Strip away all of the hyperbole and what has she achieved? What was her goal? Hard to believe it wasn’t much more Look At Me than Me: Too.”

Vester detailed to the Washington Post and Variety allegations that Brokaw sexually harassed her and attempted to forcibly kiss her at least two times in the 1990s. Brokaw has denied the allegations and attempted to counter each of her claims in the letter he sent to NBC colleagues.

As I remember, she was at one end of a sofa, I was at the other,” he wrote. “It was late and I had been up for 24 hours. As I got up to leave I may have leaned over for a perfunctory goodnight kiss but my memory is that it happened at the door – on the cheek. No clenching her neck. That move she so vividly describes is NOT WHO I AM. Not in high school, college or thereafter.”

A Catholic university has already replaced Brokaw as its commencement speaker, after Brokaw backed out when the allegations surfaced. Vester told the Post she came forward because she felt NBC failed to properly investigate harassment claims at the company after “Today” show star Matt Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct and alleged assault.

Read the full letter here. 

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