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

While pitching potential clients on his access to President Donald Trump last year, Michael Cohen reportedly showed clients photos of himself and Trump and bragged about his access to the President, The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening.

“I’m crushing it,” Cohen reportedly said, according to an associate who spoke to Cohen in the summer of 2017 who spoke with the Post.

Cohen would meet with potential clients like AT&T and Novartis — which reportedly ended up paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars — in his office on the 23rd floor of the Rockefeller Center in New York City last summer. Cohen would reportedly brag about how close he was with Trump and frequently mention that he was still Trump’s personal lawyer, associates told the Post. Cohen even asked people to share news articles that referred to him as Trump’s “fixer.”

It was revealed on Tuesday that several companies paid Cohen’s consulting firm in order to gain insight into the Trump administration, including the American affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration. 

Read the Post’s full story here.

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AT&T said in a statement released Wednesday evening that it had been approached by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators last year and had “cooperated fully” with their requests for information about payments they made to President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

In a message sent to employees on Tuesday, the telecom company explained that Cohen’s firm was just one of several other companies that AT&T had been paying to better understand the new administration.

“When we were contacted by the Special Counsel’s office regarding Michael Cohen, we cooperated fully, providing all information requested in November and December of 2017,” the company said in a written statement provided to Dallas Morning News. “A few weeks later, our consulting contract with Cohen expired at the end of the year. Since then, we have received no additional questions from the Special Counsel’s office and consider the matter closed.”

It was revealed on Tuesday that AT&T was one of several companies to pay Cohen’s consulting firm in order to gain insight into the Trump administration, including the American affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration.

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In his new book “The Restless Wave,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) confirmed and defended his decision to give the controversial Christopher Steele dossier to former FBI director James Comey, saying some of the allegations “had to be investigated” and that he “did what duty demanded.”

“I discharged that obligation, and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell,” McCain wrote in his new book, according to an excerpt published in The Guardian Wednesday.

McCain said he agreed to read a copy of the dossier and found the allegations “disturbing,” but couldn’t verify it, so he put it in a safe in his office and called Comey to set up a meeting.

I went to see him at his earliest convenience, handed him the dossier, explained how it had come into my possession,” he wrote. “I said I didn’t know what to make of it, and I trusted the FBI would examine it carefully and investigate its claims. With that, I thanked the director and left. The entire meeting had probably not lasted longer than ten minutes. I did what duty demanded I do.”

The dossier then went on to become the launching point for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, both by congressional committees and a special counsel, which was appointed after President Trump fired Comey. The dossier includes several salacious claims about Trump’s behavior and interactions with Russian officials. Many of the claims have not been verified.

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The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether Michael Cohen’s banking records were leaked after details about Cohen’s financial records were made public Tuesday, the inspector general’s office confirmed to TPM on Wednesday.

The Washington Post was first to report that the inspector general’s office had opened the investigation into possible leaks of Cohen’s banking information.

Rich Delmar, the counsel to the Treasury Department inspector general, told TPM that in response to New York Times reports on payments that Cohen allegedly received from a Russian oligarch’s U.S. affiliate company, the inspector general is looking into whether Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on Cohen’s banking record had been “improperly disseminated.” Banks are required by law to flag to the Treasury Department any transactions of $10,000 or more that appear abnormal, the Post reported.

Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has long been calling for the release of SARs related to Cohen’s bank transactions, was first to allege on Tuesday that Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg made payments to Cohen through a U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg’s firm. CNN and other news outlets later confirmed the payments to Cohen linked to Vekselberg. The Russian oligarch attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration and was reportedly questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team at a New York airport this year.

Avenatti has expressed particular interest in a SAR regarding Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels just before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an affair with Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Cohen’s bank flagged that transaction as suspicious.

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“Cocaine Mitch” beat Don Blankenship, West Virginia’s controversial Republican Senate primary candidate, at his own game on Tuesday evening.

After Blankenship lost the GOP primary Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) campaign tweeted out a picture of McConnell photoshopped onto a Netflix advertisement for “Narcos,” a show about cocaine drug lord Pablo Escobar. The meme features McConnell’s face superimposed over Escobar’s body, surrounded by white power that’s meant to depict cocaine.

“Thanks for playing, Don,” the meme said, referencing Blankenship, who has attacked McConnell repeatedly in recent weeks, most notably giving him the moniker “cocaine Mitch.”

After his third place finish in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary on Tuesday evening, Blankenship mused whether he’d gone too far in some of his attacks against McConnell, who poured an aggressive amount of cash into the primary race to keep Blankenship from winning. McConnell has been vocal about his opposition to the controversial candidate, who served a one-year sentence in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that killed 29 workers.

Blankenship responded to McConnell’s opposition with a series of odd and racially charged insults, like calling McConnell’s father-in-law a “China person.” In a campaign ad released last week, Blankenship gave McConnell his “cocaine Mitch” nickname and vowed to “ditch Mitch” if he were elected to the Senate. The drug dig was in reference to a 2014 report in The Nation about drugs that were discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

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Freshly sworn-in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return to the U.S. early Thursday morning with three Americans who were being held in captivity in North Korea, according to a tweet from the President and reports from several news outlets.

President Trump said the “three wonderful gentlemen” seem to be “in good health.” Pompeo was in North Korea to help prepare for the upcoming summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during which the two leaders plan to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The captives were returned as an apparent gesture of goodwill on Kim’s part ahead of the summit, according to the Washington Post.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning questioned whether he should “take away credentials” for the “fake news” media who publish negative stories about his administration.

In the same Wednesday morning tweet he also suggested any “negative” news about him was actually “fake.”

The tweet came nearly two hours after President’s favorite show “Fox and Friends” reported that the majority of media coverage about Trump was negative.

Screenshot of “Fox and Friends” on May 9, 2018.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump blocked certain news outlets from covering his press conferences — like the Washington Post — and has said in the past that he “should” revoke The New York Times’ credentials.

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Senior FBI and national intelligence officials warned the White House last week that the documents House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has requested could endanger a U.S. citizen who shared intelligence with the FBI and the CIA, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

According to multiple people familiar with the discussions who spoke with the Post, White House officials, as well as President Donald Trump, agreed to side with the Justice Department in its decision to not release some of the information sought by Nunes. It was not clear whether Trump was made aware that some of the information developed by that intelligence source was shared with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to the Post.

Nunes, in turn, has become increasingly agitated, publicly claiming that the Justice Department is attempting to “evade congressional oversight while leaking information to The Washington Post ostensibly about classified meetings.”

According to the Post, intelligence officials are hesitant to share even a redacted version of the document for fear it could expose the source. Conservative Republicans have seized on the document refusal to shed light on their claims of bias, overreach and misuse of surveillance powers within the Justice Department.

Nunes and his committee have requested several documents related to the Russia probe and other federal investigations, like the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Last month, the House Freedom Caucus drafted articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to use as a last-ditch attempt to obtain the records. Over the weekend, Nunes suggested he may try to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt for refusing to comply with the request.

Read the Post’s full story here.

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Republican Ohio State Sen. Troy Balderson pulled off a slim victory over a local township trustee in the state’s 12th Congressional District GOP primary Tuesday evening.

Balderson — who was backed by GOP establishment groups and the former lawmaker who held the seat up until January — finished out the race with 29 percent of the vote, compared to Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan’s 28 percent. The race between them unfolded as a traditional Republican proxy war, with Leneghan gaining support from conservative groups like the House Freedom Fund.

Balderson will face Democrat Danny O’Connor, the Franklin County Recorder, in an August special election for former Rep. Pat Tiberi’s (R-OH) seat. O’Connor won 41 percent of the vote in the seven-way Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Voters in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District voted for candidates to face off in two elections later this year — the Aug. 7 special election for the remainder of Tiberi’s term and the general election in November. Voters chose Balderson and O’Connor for both races.

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President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal at the White House at 2 p.m. EST Tuesday.

The New York Times reported Tuesday morning that Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron he will pull out of the agreement.

Watch live below:

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