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

The National Rifle Association will participate in a town hall discussion on gun laws and last week’s Florida school shooting, which will be hosted by CNN on Wednesday evening.

The NRA’s national spokeswoman Dana Loesch will represent the organization at the discussion with parents and students, CNN reported. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), as well as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), have also told CNN they will be in attendance. The discussion will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday.

Loesch said she decided to attend because she’s “always been about more discussion, not less” and she hopes to be able to “offer some solutions as to what people can actually do to prevent these things from happening in the future.”

“I just hope that people are respectful and that it’s a civil discussion,” she told NRA TV. “We’re not going to get anywhere in this country by screaming at people and impugning their characters simply because they believe as they do. … I hope we can be respectful and have a civil debate without anyone screaming murderer at me.”

The town hall comes just one week after a 19-year-old former student allegedly shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The massacre has incensed the students who survived the attack to advocate for tighter gun control laws at a state and national level.

While President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott both turned down the invitation to attend CNN’s discussion, Trump on Tuesday directed the attorney general’s office to look into banning bump-stocks, a device that makes a semi-automatic weapon function like an automatic weapon. This accessory was used in the attack at a concert in Las Vegas last year, when a lone gunman killed 50-plus people.

The NRA has come under scrutiny in the wake of the most recent deadly school shooting, as have the politicians whom the gun owners’ organization supports, like Rubio.

Loesch has made headlines as a controversial figure in the past year when she started making aggressive advertisements for NRA TV, which appear to call for violence against journalists and liberals.

Loesch and the NRA did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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An outspoken high schooler who survived the school shooting in Florida last week called Donald Trump Jr., and those in the far-right peddling conspiracy theories about student activists being “crisis actors,” “unbelievable” and “disgusting” during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday evening.

It’s unbelievable to me that these people are even saying this, and the fact that Donald Trump Jr. liked that post is disgusting to me,” the student, David Hogg, said, referencing reports that Trump Jr. liked some of the tweets propagating the conspiracy theory.

I am so sorry that these people have lost their faith in America,” he said. “I know I certainly haven’t. … I am not a crisis actor, I am somebody who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to have to do that.”

After a former student allegedly shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week, Hogg and many of his surviving classmates were incensed by the massacre and have become vocal advocates for reform of gun control policies at the state and national level.

TPM reported Tuesday on the efforts of far-right groups, like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit, to perpetuate conspiracy theories that the students are paid actors working for far-left, anti-gun groups. True Pundit published a story this week, claiming Hogg and his father, who is a former FBI agent, were working with the mainstream media to prop up the FBI.

“The fact that these people are being critical of me as a witness and personally as a victim to this incident and having to witness this and live through it again and again, it is unbelievable,” Hogg said. “And the fact that some of the students at Stoneman Douglas High School, are showing more maturity and political action than many of our elected officials— its a testament to how disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America.”   

Watch a video of Hogg’s interview with Cooper below:


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A Democrat and former public school teacher flipped a Republican-held seat in the Kentucky state House Tuesday in a district where President Donald Trump won by a 72 percent to 23 percent majority.

The Democrat, Linda Belcher, beat GOP challenger Rebecca Johnson, who is the widow of former Rep. Dan Johnson, who took his own life last year after denying molestation allegations made by a 17-year-old girl from a church where he served as pastor.

Belcher easily defeated Rebecca Johnson by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Belcher had previously served as the representative for Kentucky’s 49th District for two terms, from 2009 to 2012 and from 2014 to 2017, until Dan Johnson won in 2016, The Huffington Post reported. Belcher first ran for the seat in 2009 as a widow, as well, after her husband Rep. Larry Belcher (D) died in a car crash in 2008.

Belcher’s Tuesday victory marks the 37th state legislative seat that Democrats have picked up since Trump was elected.

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An aide to a Republican Florida state lawmaker was fired Tuesday after telling a reporter that two students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were “crisis actors” instead of real students.

Florida Rep. Shawn Harrison (R) announced on Twitter Tuesday evening that his aide, Benjamin Kelly, had been “terminated” from his position as district secretary.

“I am appalled at and strongly denounce his comments about the Parkland students,” he said in the tweet.

The Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R) carried out the firing, according to Politico and a tweet from the state lawmaker.

“On behalf of the entire Florida House, I sincerely apologize to the students targeted and again commend them for their courage through this unspeakable tragedy,” he said in a tweet.

The Tampa Bay Times was first to report on the controversy, after Kelly, the aide, sent Times reporter Alex Leary an email claiming Marjory Stoneman Douglas students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg were not actual students, but actors. Both students have been vocal on national news outlets, calling on lawmakers and the President to address gun control, following the death of 17 people at their high school when a former student attacked the school with an AR-15 last week.

According to Leary’s tweet, Kelly — from his official Florida state legislature email account — told Leary that “both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis (sic) when they happen.”

Kelly’s conspiracy theory has been widely peddled by far-right conspiracists, like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit, who claim the students organizers have been planted by left-wing anti-gun groups.   

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Amid another national debate about how to respond to mass shootings after a massacre at a Florida high school last week, a top official in Dallas has asked the National Riffle Association to “reconsider coming to Dallas” for its annual exhibition and convention in May.

Dwaine Caraway, the mayor pro tem in Dallas, said that while he is a “believer in the Second Amendment” and is the owner of five guns, he doesn’t want the event in Dallas and said it would likely be met with protest. He asked the organization to come together with lawmakers to “address this madness,” according to a video of the press conference, published by ABC News affiliate ABC13.

“It is a tough call when you ask the NRA to reconsider coming to Dallas, but it is putting all citizens first, and getting them to come to the table and elected officials to come to the table and to address this madness now,” Caraway said during the press conference. “At the end of the day, we need to connect the dots. The NRA needs to step up to the plate, and they need to show leadership. We should not allow people to possess assault rifles and weapons.”

He applauded the students who survived the high school shooting and are speaking out about gun control policy, despite having to “live with these nightmares the rest of their life.”

“If you are ever confronted with a gun of any kind, the AR-15 or just a gun, that is something that you will remember for the rest of your life and these 14, 15 year-old kids, their lives are in tragic shatters,” he said. “While we are worrying about terrorists, we’re living in a terrorist society amongst us Americans today.”

Caraway is just the latest public official to call out the NRA, and the conservative politicians the organization supports, following the shooting at a Florida high school last Wednesday that left 17 people dead. In the aftermath of the attack, Democrats immediately began calling for gun control measures, while Republicans asked for patience until the facts of the attack were known.

 The teens who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been advocating for reform since the attack, with a busload of teens heading to the Florida state legislature Tuesday to meet with lawmakers about gun control policy. 

The NRA is frequently criticized in the aftermath of mass shootings, as the organization is known for funding and awarding ratings to politicians who support legislation that favors gun owners’ rights.   

The 147th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits is scheduled to take place at a Dallas convention center from May 4-6, according to the organization’s website. A spokesperson for the NRA did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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Since Friday, when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump has launched a Twitter campaign against Democrats and former President Barack Obama to shove blame away from his campaign for the interference.

Trump tweeted Monday questioning why Obama, who “was president up to, and beyond, the 2016 election” didn’t “do something about Russian meddling” and continued along that line of criticism into Tuesday morning, when he tweeted thanking his favorite show, “Fox and Friends,” for broadcasting a timeline of Obama’s “failures” “against Russia.”

Trump tweeted a quote that Obama made in October 2016 during a press conference, responding to then-candidate Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud. At the time Obama combatted Trump’s claims, saying “there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s election, in part because they’re so decentralized.”

“I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes,” Obama said in October 2016. The “Fox and Friends” segment Trump referenced also quoted similar remarks from the former president.

Trump seized on Obama’s statement on voter fraud to try to paint his predecessor as a hypocrite and claimed the “whole game changed” when he won the election and the “Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.”

Trump has repeatedly pointed to the Obama administration’s partial knowledge of Russian meddling leading up to the election as proof that Obama “didn’t want to hurt Hillary.”

In October 2016, the intelligence community under Obama accused Russia of hacking into the email servers of “U.S. political organizations.” In December 2016, Obama closed two Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled 35 diplomats in response to the interference. In June, The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration had received intelligence in August 2016 about a Russian President Vladimir Putin led campaign to get Trump elected.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified in June that the Obama administration was hesitant to make a statement about the Russian meddling because of Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

“One of the candidates, as you’ll recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way,” Johnson said in June. “And so we were concerned that by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”

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President Donald Trump and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney set aside their differences on Twitter Monday evening, when the President tweeted a “full support” endorsement of the Republican Utah Senate candidate and Romney embraced the backing.

Trump said Romney would make “a great senator” and “worthy successor” to retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a Trump favorite.

Within minutes, Romney, also the former 2012 Republican presidential nominee, responded, thanking Trump for his support and saying he hopes “over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.”

Relations between the Senate hopeful and the President have not always been so cheery.

In 2016, Trump said Romney “choked like a dog” during his 2012 presidential bid against former President Barack Obama. Romney’s been highly critical in return and has consistently criticized Trump’s fitness for office since he became a serious political contender.

During the 2016 Republican primaries, Romney called Trump a “phony” and joined efforts to block Trump’s GOP nomination at the Republican convention. More recently, Romney criticized Trump’s full-throated embrace of former Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, denounced the President’s response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer and called out Trump on Twitter for the President’s reported “shithole” comments about African nations.

Before moving into the White House, Trump considered Romney for secretary of state, but eventually tapped former Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson for the gig. Critics speculated Trump was simply trying to humiliate Romney with the courtship.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 29: (L to R) President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney dine at Jean Georges restaurant, November 29, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When asked about the status of their relationship before Trump tweeted his endorsement Monday, Romney told the Associated Press that they had talked on the phone in recent months and that the two had “a cordial and respectful relationship.”   

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President Donald Trump will attend his first dinner with journalists at the Gridiron Club on March 3 this year after chastising the nation’s top media outlets consistently throughout his first year in office.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement Monday confirming Trump’s plans to attend the prestigious journalism club’s annual dinner, but said the President has not yet made a decision about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“Several people have inquired about the President’s participation in Gridiron and WHCA dinner — the President is planning to attend the gridiron dinner, but no decision has been made regarding the WHCA dinner at this time,” Sanders said in her statement. “Will keep you posted when there is an update.”

Last year, Trump skipped both the Gridiron and the Correspondents Association’s dinner. He announced the decision on Twitter last year: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” he tweeted.

Trump was the first president since Ronald Reagan to skip the annual affair. Reagan had to take a rain check in 1981 because he was recovering in the hospital from an assassination attempt.

Trump has been increasingly hostile toward the media since taking office and during his campaign. He regularly uses his Twitter platform to castigate individual journalists and cry “Fake News” about reporting that does not paint him in a favorable light. Trump released a list of “Fake News Award” winners on the Republican National Committee’s website in January. The “awards” were primarily a list of mistakes that were promptly corrected or retracted by news outlets.

While in Davos, Switzerland last month at the global economic summit, some of Trump’s complaints about the “fake news” media were met with boos and hisses from the crowd.

H/t: Axios. 

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While on an unofficial business trip to promote the Trump family’s real estate projects in India this week, Donald Trump Jr. plans to give a speech on foreign policy at a summit attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The speech, entitled “Reshaping India Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation,” will be delivered at a global business summit on Friday evening, The Washington Post reported. Modi will reportedly give a speech on “Preparing India for the Future” at the same event.

Trump Jr. also plans to spend part of the trip meeting with investors and business leaders, as well as attending an advertised $38,000-per-ticket “conversation and dinner” event with Trump Tower Delhi National Capital Region buyers, according to the Post.

Trump Jr. will also to travel to Mumbai to attend a presentation at the new Trump Tower there, a project that will be developed by a firm owned by a state legislator from Modi’s political party. An employee of the development firm, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, said part of the deal for the new Trump Tower was that then-private citizen Donald Trump would visit and do promotions there every couple of years. The election changed that, he said.

“Ideally we’d have preferred Ivanka,” the employee told the Post. “She has a better public image. But it makes sense for Donald Trump Jr. to do it.”

Mixing meetings with investors with a speech on foreign policy in the same trip raises ethical concerns that President Trump vowed to avoid upon entering the Oval Office. Before inauguration, Trump pledged his company would make no new foreign investments and said he would donate any of his company’s profits from foreign governments to the Treasury Department. As head of the Trump organization while his father is in office, Trump Jr. is reportedly not properly tracking those profits.

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The Pentagon is considering soliciting donations to fund the President’s requested military parade, which could cost between $3 million and $50 million, according to preliminary estimates from a defense official who spoke with CNN. 

Because there is currently no money set aside for a parade in the military budget, the Pentagon would likely use those private donations to offset the cost of the non-military components of the event, according to CNN. Budget director Mick Mulvaney said Wednesday that he estimates the parade could cost between $10 million to $30 million.

Defense officials are also concerned about the lack of available troops to attend a parade, CNN reported. A large-scale parade would require weeks of planning and the transportation of equipment, like tanks, to Washington, D.C. days ahead of time in order to prepare, according to the official who spoke with CNN.

The Army has prepared five different parade options for President Trump to consider: “small, medium, heavy, hybrid and a multimedia display,” according to CNN.

The small or medium option would include troops that are stationed in Washington, D.C. in ceremonial units and equipment that’s located nearby in Maryland and Virginia. The heavy option would require bringing in active duty troops, according to the official who spoke with CNN.

Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis has previously said his department is preparing options for Trump, but this is the first glimpse at what those choices could entail.

After attending France’s Bastille Day parade during a visit last year, Trump reportedly told aides he wanted a similar parade and suggested publicly that it could be held on the Fourth of July. Pentagon officials are weighing holding the event on Veterans Day in November, according to CNN, but there’s been no official word on if or when the parade will occur.

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