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

At least 17 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus are demanding that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly apologize for making inaccurate statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) after she stood up for the family of a fallen soldier who felt “disrespected” by President Trump.

General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies. We, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus, proudly stand with Congresswoman Wilson and demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements,” the members wrote in a statement released Sunday.

The demand comes after Wilson told reporters about what Trump said to a grieving widow of one of the soldiers who was killed in Niger earlier this month. According to Wilson — and now even the widow, who has since spoken out — Trump told Myeshia Johnson on Tuesday that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.”

Trump pushed back on Wilson’s claims, tweeting that the congresswoman “fabricated” the story, which lead to several public back-and-forth insults between Trump and Wilson last week.

Kelly, who himself became a Gold Star family member after his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, spoke to reporters Thursday and defended the President. Kelly said he counseled Trump on how to address families of the fallen.

He also lashed out against Wilson for “listening in” on Trump’s call with Johnson and claimed she bragged about securing funding for a new FBI building in Florida — named in honor of two fall agents — at its dedication in 2015. A video of Wilson’s dedication speech released by the South Florida Sun Sentinel confirms that Wilson did not say what Kelly claimed she did.

He needs to apologize. First of all, he was in error, he did not tell the truth. He knows now that he did not tell the truth, even if he thought he had told it, so he owes her an apology,” Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) said on CNN Monday. “Talking about a member of Congress who has done great work, she serves her constituents. She has served at the local level, at the state level and now she’s in Congress, and she’s doing a tremendous job. For him to try to demean her character and her integrity in this way is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) took her frustrations with Kelly one step further, saying the entire White House and administration should issue an apology for Trump’s “wacky insults.”

General Kelly is a Gold Star member and he has the right to speak about his loss and he did eloquently and I’m sure he brought many to tears, but then he had to defend his boss,” she said on CNN. “His boss is President Trump, who has continued to throw wacky insults, and as an African American woman, I’m not going to stand for it, period.”

Jackson Lee said the continued insults from Trump and Kelly “puts everyone in the barrel,” referencing Kelly’s remarks when he called Wilson an “empty barrel.”

“Congresswoman Wilson deserves an apology, the President owes her an apology. The military owes the United States Congress, the House of Representatives, a full classified briefing on the actions of the Africa command in that region. We can’t go any longer without knowing what’s going on,” she said.

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment on whether Kelly intends to apologize. At a press briefing last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it would be “highly inappropriate” to “get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” after reporters asked about the video that contradicts Kelly’s comments. 

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The digital director for President Donald Trump’s campaign will be interviewed on Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal confirmed Monday.

The Senate committees also probing Russian interference — and whether or not the Trump campaign was involved — have not scheduled interview times with Brad Parscale yet, according to the Journal.

Parscale’s web design and digital marketing firm, Giles-Parscale, worked for the Trump campaign for 18 months and was reportedly paid $88 million for its work. Since the election, Parscale helped launch the America First Policies nonprofit and is also working on Trump’s reelection campaign.

Parscale’s testimony could prove insightful for the House investigators as it looks ahead to its interviews with social media giants — Facebook Inc., Google and Twitter Inc. — next month, after reports surfaced in recent weeks that Russian troll farms bought socially and political divisive advertisements on multiple platforms leading up to the election.

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The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of expanding its security fleet for Administrator Scott Pruitt with the hiring of an additional 12 officers, which moves the total number of agents guarding Pruitt to 30, CNN reported Monday.

The move will cost the department an additional $2 million a year, not including training, equipment or travel, according to CNN. No previous EPA chief has received this level of around-the-clock protection, the department’s inspector general told CNN, but Pruitt has reportedly received more death threats than any of his predecessors.

The IG office has investigated 70-plus threats against the EPA chief since he came into office.

“The EPA is a lightning rod. We get threats from both sides of the spectrum,” assistant inspector general Patrick Sullivan told CNN. “Some people believe the EPA is not doing enough to enforce environmental laws, and they’re upset about that. Other people think the EPA is doing too much, vis-à-vis enforcing environmental laws and they’re upset about that.”

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 on building Pruitt a sound-proof “privacy booth” for secure phone calls.

Pruitt already had an unprecedented number of security officers before CNN learned of the new hires. The department reportedly had to pull officers who typically investigate environmental crimes to his security detail.

The latest security spending increase comes as the agency has announced plans to cut its budget by 30 percent. Like several other members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, Pruitt’s spending on travel has recently come under scrutiny as well because of his frequent trips back home to Oklahoma and his use of charter planes for official travel.

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The White House is sticking by its line that President Donald Trump was respectful during his conversation with the widow of a fallen soldier, whose mother told The Washington Post that she felt “disrespected” by Trump’s remarks.

During the White House press briefing Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “unfortunate” if the family “misunderstood.”

Certainly if the spirit of which those comments were intended was misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate. As the President has said, as General Kelly has said, who I think has a very deep understanding of what that individual would be going through, his comments were very sympathetic, very respectful,” Sanders said. “And that was the spirit in which the President intended them. If they were taken in any other way, that’s certainly an unfortunate thing.” 

The comments follow a week-long firestorm that Trump started on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread condemnation from former Obama aides.

When Trump did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after their deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump and Wilson have been publicly criticizing each other ever since, with Trump calling Wilson a liar and Wilson standing by her characterization of the phone call.

Chief of Staff John Kelly got involved on Thursday, telling reporters he was “stunned” by the fact that Wilson had listened in on the phone call and calling Wilson an “empty barrel.”

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While she admits that the federal response has “stepped up” in Puerto Rico in the past week, the mayor of San Juan is still pleading for help in the hurricane recovery and relief efforts and criticizing federal response efforts.

Appearing on CNN Friday — after the governor of Puerto Rico paid a visit to Washington Thursday to meet with President Donald Trump, who rated the U.S. response in Puerto Rico as a “10” — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz gave a tongue-in-cheek endorsement of Trump’s assessment.

“If it’s a 10 out of a scale of 100, of course, it’s a failing grade,” she said when asked about Trump’s assessment. “FEMA representatives have admitted that they really haven’t been able to canvas most of just — less than 2 percent of the people that have lost their roofs in their homes. FEMA administrators have admitted that they’re still in a recovery side and even though they have stepped up their game, and I have to say that in the last week, they have stepped up their game, it still isn’t enough.”

She said she thinks Trump “lives in an alternative reality world that only he believes the things that he’s saying.” When asked about what rating she would give the federal response she said “one.”

“The administration has been unresponsive. They go back and forth. The President first says Katrina was a real disaster and yesterday says, ‘this is worse than Katrina.’ … There are still place in Puerto Rico where food has not gotten there,” she said.

Cruz and Trump have been at odds for weeks. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Cruz appeared on numerous cable news shows, asking for more resources for relief efforts. Trump took her requests personally and lashed out, criticizing her leadership and blaming Puerto Rico for the devastation they faced on their poor infrastructure and debt.

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A group of Democratic representatives asked Vice President Mike Pence to repay taxpayers for a trip he took to an Indianapolis Colts game that he walked out of when players knelt for the national anthem, a move that President Trump essentially confirmed was a preplanned stunt.

Spearheaded by Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), the Democrats claim the “costly publicity stunt” was “employed by the Trump-Pence reelection campaign for the purpose of soliciting donations” because the campaign quickly used the scene to rally its base.

Additionally, members of Pence’s press pool were advised to stay in their cars and were told there might be an “early departure,” the letter said.

“This strongly suggests that your truncated visit was not a spontaneous act of protest — as you have sought to portray it — but was instead a premeditated act conducted solely for the purpose of generating publicity. In fact, President Trump confirmed as much when he posted on Twitter that he told you beforehand to stage this protest if any players kneeled,” according to the letter, which was signed by Gallego, Lieu, as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Brendan Boyle (D-PA).

Requesting documents about his travel and communications between Pence and the Trump-Pence campaign, the members of Congress said the American people “deserve to know” how many taxpayer dollars were spent on the trip and whether the campaign knew about it ahead of time, “at the very least.”

But, in order to “preserve the integrity” of Pence’s office, the Democrats also urged Pence to reimburse the Department of the Treasury for the full cost of the trip.

“The health of the democracy requires that taxpayer funding is not used for campaign purposes,” they wrote. “Again, given the appearance of serious impropriety in this matter, we request that you instruct the Trump-Pence campaign to immediately reimburse the Treasury for the full cost of your wasteful, unnecessary trip to Indianapolis.” 

Pence’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the letter below:

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As part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s complete overhaul of its website to “to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt,” the agency scrubbed a number of climate change related web resources from its site, according to a new report.

An EPA website that was previously called the “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments” was recently replaced with a new site that only provides energy resources for governments, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative said in a report released Friday.

A screen shot from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative of the former climate and energy resources website’s front page and the current energy resources webpage.

On April 28, the EPA removed several webpages dealing with climate change from public view. The new energy resources site — which launched in July — is the first webpage that has been returned since then. At least 15 mentions of the words “climate change” were removed in the transition and the website overall was cut from 380 pages to about 175, according to the report.

Among the many climate-related resources excluded from the new site is information about the risks of climate change and a tool that helps state officials curb carbon emissions. The former front page of the website mentioned the word “climate” 17 times, but is not mentioned at all in the new “Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments” site.

The former website is still accessible through the Jan. 19 snapshot of the EPA website, which archived all the information the agency made available under former President Barack Obama’s administration, but not on the official government site.

An EPA spokesman told The New York Times the Obama-era climate pages have been archived and can be found by searching the EPA archive website.

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A federal judge shot down Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s request to have his criminal conviction wiped from his record on Thursday, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

Judge Susan Bolton told Arpaio that President Trump couldn’t erase the conviction, even though she has already dismissed Arpaio’s contempt of court case after President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August.

“The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial record-keeping,” she said. “The pardon undoubtedly spared (the) defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, revise the historical facts of this case.”

Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court in July for racially profiling against Latinos while serving as county sheriff in Maricopa County in Arizona. Arpaio was an early Trump supporter and the President said he was treated “unbelievably unfairly.

Trump pardoned the former sheriff on Aug. 25. Before the pardon, Arpaio was planning to appeal the conviction, which his attorney said he thinks he would have won. 

Arpaio is set on getting the conviction removed from his record and filed a notice of appeal Thursday in the U.S. district court in Arizona.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) poked fun at his colleagues in the Senate, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the media during a speech at a New York Catholic charity event Thursday night.

But the President was the butt of nearly every joke.

“Please, enough. You should like the Cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room,” Ryan said as he took the stage at the  the 72nd Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner.

He then referenced his typical line to the media — that he doesn’t respond to the President’s tweets — during his roasting routine, saying the first thing he does each morning is “scroll Twitter.”

“Every morning, I wake up in my office and scroll Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend that I didn’t see later,” he said.

The dinner, which invites “New York liberals” and “Wall Street CEOs” — whom Ryan said he hadn’t “seen this many” of in the same room since “my last visit to the White House” — together for charity, is especially popular during presidential elections. Last year, President Donald Trump and then-candidate Hillary Clinton were asked to speak.

“I know last year at this dinner Donald Trump offended some people with his comments, which I know his comments, according to critics, went too far. Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and that his comments were offensive. … Well, thank God he’s learned his lesson,” he said.

Ryan proved his penchant for keeping up with the mainstream news, taking jabs at Christie for his infamous beach visit and suggested Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to say “oxymoron” when he reportedly called the President a “moron” this summer.

“The truth is, the press absolutely misunderstands and never records the big accomplishments of the White House,” Ryan said. “Look at all the new jobs the President has created — just among the White House staff.”

Watch the full speech below:

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During an interview with Fox News radio this week, President Donald Trump invoked his chief of staff’s dead son in his continuing effort to deflect criticism for not calling all the soldiers who have died while he was President.

But Chief of Staff John Kelly said Thursday he told Trump that former President Barack Obama had not called his family when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 not as “criticism,” but to give him counsel about how to handle offering condolences to the families of fallen soldiers when he first took the job.

“He asked me about previous presidents and I said I could tell you that President Obama who was my commander in chief when I was on active duty did not call my family,” he said during a surprise press briefing at the White House Thursday. “That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.”

He said he didn’t think former President George W. Bush called in all cases either, which he said is common, especially “when the casualty rates are very, very high.” He said he believes all president write letters to Gold Star families, though.

Trump started the controversy over how to console families of fallen soldiers on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread frustration from former Obama aides.

When the President finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after the deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump pushed back on those reports, tweeting that Wilson’s comments were “totally fabricated” and claiming he had “proof” that she made it up.

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