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

TOKYO (AP) — Former President Barack Obama said Sunday that negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program are difficult, partly because the country’s isolation minimizes possible leverage, such as trade and travel sanctions against Pyongyang.

“North Korea is an example of a country that is so far out of the international norms and so disconnected with the rest of the world,” Obama told a packed hall in Tokyo.

He stressed that the effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons remains difficult, but said countries working together, including China, South Korea and Japan, to pressure the North is better than nations working alone.

He noted that past U.S. efforts on Iran’s nuclear weapons were more successful because there was more leverage, but that there’s little commerce and travel with North Korea to being with.

“That makes them less subject to these kinds of negotiations,” he said of North Korea.

Obama was speaking at an event sponsored by a Japanese nonprofit group during an Asia-Pacific trip that included earlier stops in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Obama’s work after leaving office has been focused on nurturing young leaders.

Obama, welcomed by a standing ovation, said that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains strong, and that the U.S. is committed to defending Japan.

“North Korea is a real threat,” he said.

“Our view has always been that we would prefer to resolve these issues peacefully,” he said, adding that otherwise “the cost in terms of human life would be significant.”

He acknowledged that progress on a nuclear-free world will likely take a long time as long as Russia and the U.S. can’t agree to reduce their stockpiles.

Obama also reflected on his 2016 visit to Hiroshima, one of two Japanese cities where the U.S. dropped atomic bombs in the closing days of World War II. His visit was the first by an American president.

Almost all American presidents tend to be relatively popular in Japan, which views the U.S. as its most important ally. But many Japanese particularly appreciate Obama’s efforts on denuclearization and remember with fondness his trip to Hiroshima and his message of working toward a world without nuclear weapons.

“It was an extraordinarily powerful moment for me,” Obama recalled.

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President Donald Trump is not completely convinced that seasoned Washington attorney Joseph diGenova and his wife, attorney Victoria Toensing, are the right fit to join his legal team, CNN reported Friday.

While Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow announced Monday that diGenova had been added to Trump’s legal team, a source familiar with the matter told CNN that no one has been officially hired yet. Trump reportedly met with the lawyer couple Thursday and “liked their message,” but wasn’t fully convinced to bring them on the team, CNN reported.

Trump is reportedly concerned about conflicts of interests with Toensing’s other clients. According to the sources who spoke with CNN, Toensing represents clients like Trump-affiliated public relations specialist Mark Corrallo and former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, both of whom have been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller for his investigation into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign.

The news comes as attorney John Dowd resigned Thursday from Trump’s legal team. Dowd reportedly left because of diGenova’s hiring.

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President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1:00 p.m. ET Friday. Watch live below:

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway hinted on Friday that she would consider taking over as White House communications director.

During an interview with “Fox and Friends,” Conway was asked about an article in the Atlantic that said Conway was moving closer toward accepting President Donald Trump’s offer to head the communications shop, a job she has said she’s been offered “many times.”

“I’m here to support the President however he sees is most important,” she said. “I don’t have any personnel announcements at this time. The President controls the timing, tone and content of all those personnel announcements.”

She went on to praise the communications team in the White House and said she would do “whatever is best.”

“My best and highest use here as counselor to the President, that takes on any number of different tasks, and one has been in terms of policy, that’s been my major portfolio here,” she said. “But I think to be effective, communication directors, as we have seen, you also have to know policy, you have to be right in.”

Her mention of the role of policy in the communications shop may be a hint that she’s had a change of heart about the position. In an different interview with “Fox and Friends” earlier this month, Conway said “no,” she wasn’t interested in the job because she “work(s) on policy here at the White House.”

The communications department has been without a director since former head Hope Hicks resigned late last month.

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President Donald Trump on Friday said he is “considering a veto” of Congress’ $1.3 trillion spending bill that finally passed in the Senate around midnight Friday.

In a tweet, Trump cited the lack of a plan in the bill for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which he ended last year — and a partially funded border wall.

The White House on Thursday said Trump would support the bill, despite opposition from conservatives over some of the provisions included in the legislation, like a lack of full funding for Trump’s wall.

Those naysayers may have gotten the President’s ear.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even named in the Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” he said.

If Trump doesn’t sign the bill, which is widely considered a compromise among lawmakers, the government will shut down at midnight.

While the bill does not include a legislative fix for DACA recipients, it does include some funding for border security — $1.6 billion for physical barriers and technology, an amount relatively smaller than what the $25 billion the White House has previously requested.

The spending package passed the House 256-167 on Thursday and cleared the Senate by a 65-32 vote early Friday morning.

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President Donald Trump’s outgoing lawyer John Dowd told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Trump approved of a statement the lawyer released over the weekend, calling for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

“(Trump) thought it was a good statement. And I still do,” Dowd told the Journal on Thursday, just after he resigned from Trump’s personal legal team.

On Saturday, Dowd released a statement, calling on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end Mueller’s Russia probe “in light of recent revelations.” Dowd was referencing news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe for his handling of the bureau’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sessions terminated McCabe just hours before he was set to retire from the FBI, compromising his pension.

Initially, Dowd told reporters that he made the statement on behalf of Trump, but later walked that back, saying he was speaking for himself. Later on Saturday, Trump mirrored Dowd’s remarks, tweeting that the investigation “should never have been started.” 

While Dowd would not publicly say why he resigned on Thursday, people close to the legal team said Dowd was frustrated by Trump’s decision to add attorney Joseph deGenova to his legal team, according to the Journal. Dowd has denied those claims.

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Fox News contributor John Bolton, who will become the third national security adviser under President Trump’s administration next month, said he was not expecting Trump to announce his appointment on Thursday.

During a previously scheduled interview on Fox News with Martha MacCallum where he regularly appears as a contributor, Bolton joked that he thinks he still has his cable news gig.

“Well, I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” he said. “I haven’t started there yet, so that demonstrates I think this sort of limbo that I’m in because I didn’t really expect an announcement this afternoon, but it’s obviously a great honor. It’s always an honor to serve our country, and I think, particularly, in these times, internationally, it’s a particular honor. So I’m still sort of getting used to it and I’m sure it will take a little more getting used to.”

Bolton said his job offer “came to a conclusion” on Thursday afternoon when he was spotted at the White House. Bolton will replace H.R. McMaster, who has been national security adviser since Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

Bolton perviously served as the ambassador to the United Nations under the George W. Bush administration and has a sordid history of neoconservative views.

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CNN President Jeff Zucker criticized the journalistic integrity of rival Fox News at a media conference Thursday.

Zucker called Fox “state-run TV” and a “pure propaganda machine,” according to The Hollywood Reporter and journalists covering the event.

There are a handful of good journalists there, but I think they are lost in what is a complete propaganda machine,” he reportedly told the audience at the Future of News conference, hosted by the Financial Times. “The idea that it’s a news channel, I think, is really not the case at all.”

Zucker also reportedly said Fox News “has nothing on” Russia’s state run program TASS Russian News Agency. He added that every cable news channel is “doing well, including Fox News.”

Spokespeople for Fox News and CNN did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment. Fox News reportedly declined an offer to attend the event, according to The Hollywood Reporter. 

Zucker has received criticism for his network’s coverage of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, when CNN would air Trump stump speeches at length.

In a New York Times magazine profile last year, CNN was referred to as the first “major news organization” to give President Donald Trump a platform in the early days of the Republican primaries, a move that was reportedly regularly pushed by Zucker personally.

Adweek reported last week that Fox News has ranked No. 1 in total day viewers for the past 10 weeks and was first in prime time viewership for the past nine weeks. MSNBC came in second place for both categories last week. CNN’s parent company Turner Network ranked No. 2 last week in the key 25 to 54-year-old ratings category — which is the demographic used by networks to sell advertisements — above both Fox News and MSNBC, who came in eighth and ninth place, respectively.    

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House Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions against any attempts by President Trump to oust Sessions from his role.

In a press conference discussing their push to introduce legislation that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from any of Trump’s potential efforts to ax the special counsel, Judiciary Committee Democrats suggested firing Sessions would be just as much an obstruction of justice as discharging Mueller.

“While no one has been a bigger critic of Jeff Sessions than me, nobody,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said, “with all the damage that Sessions has done and may still do to voting rights, to immigrants, to Latinos, to women, to muslims — if Trump fires Sessions in order to rein in the Russia investigation, there would be no choice, but for this committee to go forward with impeachment. … It will leave a lot of Republicans with no choice but to go forward with us.”

The rest of the committee reiterated that sentiment. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said replacing the attorney general would begin the “waterfall” of a “constitutional crisis.”

For the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, the defense of Sessions came alongside a push to introduce legislation that would protect Mueller from Trump’s ire.

The Dems lamented their inability to get language shielding Mueller in the omnibus spending bill set for a vote in the House Thursday.

Democrats also attempted to thrust other provisions into the spending bill, like language that would provide protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, but many of those measures were met with opposition.

Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) said the exclusion of language to protect Mueller in the $1.3 trillion spending bill would just fuel Democrats efforts to keep pushing for Mueller-shielding legislation, which she claims will be necessary to keep Trump, “a narcissist,” from continuing his “pattern” of “reckless disregard for the rule of law.”

Jackson Lee also hinted that the push to protect Mueller may soon prove to be more dire, mentioning “rumoring” that Republican members of the Judiciary Committee may soon make moves that would “shut down” Congress’ Russia investigations.

“I’m sad to say that rumoring, between tonight and tomorrow, are some subpoenas to be issued unilaterally by one party of this committee, and it’s not us, to begin an action on issues that have occurred on individuals who are not in government, per se,” she said.

“And so they want to shut down the Intelligence Committee’s investigation,” she continued. “They want to begin a unilateral investigation on issues that deal with individuals who are no longer in federal government, but they will not look at the President of the United States, who has a history of firing, misleading, calling it a witch hunt and intimidating the deputy attorney general and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” 

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The White House is reportedly going on the offensive over a leak of information from President Donald Trump’s briefing papers during his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday evening, a White House official told the AP that it would be a “fireable offense and likely illegal” for a staffer to leak Trump’s briefing papers to the press. The threat comes after a senior administration official reportedly told the AP that Trump was told not to congratulate Putin on his election victory during a phone call earlier this week. According to the official who spoke with the AP, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” was written in all capital letters on Trump’s briefing papers.

Two other officials told the AP that the White House was now conducting an internal investigation to determine who might have leaked the information.

Trump received criticism from several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), for congratulating Putin on his election when it has been widely reported that the election was rigged in Putin’s favor.

Trump on Wednesday defended his praise of Putin on Twitter by saying former President Barack Obama had done the same thing in 2012.

In private, Trump reportedly has told officials and outside advisers that he thinks the leak was part of a maneuver to undermine him by “the deep state,” AP reported.

The White House told reporters Tuesday that it was important for the U.S. to have a good relationship with Russia and that the U.S. couldn’t control the way other countries held their elections. 

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