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 lawyer for porn actress Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, said Friday that it is “laughable,” “absurd” and “an insult to the American people” to suggest that President Donald Trump didn’t know about the hush money she was paid through Trump’s personal lawyer in 2016.

Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, suggested to CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Friday that Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is lying when he claims that Trump did not know about the $130,000 Cohen paid Clifford in the “waning days of the 2016 presidential election.” He claimed he and Clifford have “evidence” that will prove that Trump was aware of the arrangement.

Mr. Cohen wants people to believe that he ran off, half-cocked, negotiated a very detailed agreement, with a signature line for his client, arranged this payment, made this payment in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election and all the time his client was in the dark and Mr. Trump knew nothing about it,” Avenatti said Friday. “It is laughable. It’s absurd and the mere suggestion is an insult to the American people.”

Clifford, who reportedly had an affair with Trump in 2006, recently filed a lawsuit against Trump for not signing the non-disclosure agreement that she signed in 2016. According to The Wall Street Journal, the agreement, along with a $130,000 payment from Cohen, was reportedly supposed to block Clifford from discussing the affair, but Clifford and her attorney argue the agreement is null because Trump never signed it. 

Cohen has claimed that the payment was made by his own volition and Trump knew nothing about it. The White House on Wednesday acknowledged that Trump’s lawyers had “won” arbitration relevant to the case in Trump’s favor, which was likely referencing a restraining order Cohen secretly filed against Clifford, NBC was first to report. Trump was reportedly unhappy with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for how she handled questions about the allegations.

Avenatti said he and Clifford just want the “facts to come to light” and the non-disclosure agreement to be voided so that Clifford can share her side of the story.

“When that evidence and those facts come to light, the American people are going to conclude that attorney Cohen and the White House have not shot straight with them on this issue,” he said. “We want her to have her day to speak openly and honestly. We want the truth to be known, let the chips fall where they may.”

Clifford has consistently denied the affair, but in interviews, she has made cryptic comments in response to questions about the allegations. Clifford reportedly took a lie detector test and shared the details of the affair with In Touch Magazine in 2011. The transcript of that interview was published last year, revealing intimate details of her relationship with then-private citizen Trump. 

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During a cabinet meeting on Thursday, President Donald Trump told departing White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn that he “still like(s) him” despite Cohn being a “globalist.” Trump said he has “a feeling you’ll be back,” despite Cohn’s resignation announcement earlier this week.

“He’s been terrific,” Trump said, encouraging a round of applause from the rest of the cabinet members. “He may be a globalist, but I still like him. … You know, in his own ways he’s a nationalist because he loves our country.”

Trump claimed Cohn will leave and “make another couple hundred million” dollars and then he predicts Cohn will likely return to the White House.

“We’ll be here another seven years hopefully and that’s a long time, but I have a feeling you’ll be back,” he said, adding that Cohn would probably not be put back in the same position because “he’s not quite as strong on those tariffs as we want him to be.”

While the White House has claimed that Cohn’s resignation was not because of any one factor, several outlets report that Cohn decided to leave because he and the President don’t see eye-to-eye on Trump’s new tariff proposals. Just hours before Cohn announced his resignation, Trump reportedly asked for his loyalty on the new tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, Bloomberg News reported.

While the term globalist can refer to a person who advocates for economic and foreign policy in relation to developments throughout the rest of the world, the terms is more widely considered an anti-Semitic dog whistle.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his lawsuit against the state of California on Wednesday evening, telling Fox News that “somebody needs to stand up and say no” to the “radical” state for its sanctuary city laws and its officials’ efforts to thwart raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That “somebody” is apparently Sessions, one of the most consistent targets of the President’s Twitter bullying.

“Somebody needs to stand up and say no, you’ve gone too far,” he said in an interview broadcast Wednesday. “You cannot do this, this is not reasonable. It is radical, really. It is an affirmation, if you want to know the truth, of the idea that we should not have immigration laws, that we should have an open border…It is an extreme position that has been taken by some here, a lot of the government agencies here, and we just have to push back.”

The Trump administration filed a lawsuit against the state of California on Tuesday, suing to block the state’s laws that give protections to undocumented people in California. The Justice Department claims the state’s landmark legislation is unconstitutional because it blocks officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.

The lawsuit follows reports that the mayor of Oakland warned her residents about an upcoming raid from ICE last week. California state and local officials have remained defiant of the suit and defensive of their sanctuary city laws.

In the interview with Fox News, Sessions claimed the state’s laws were harming ICE officers and the “honorable work they do.” 

Most states and jurisdictions around the country help happily, but we cannot allow them to obstruct and block the ability of federal officers to do the job they are lawfully required to do,” he said.

“The governor, by signing the (sanctuary cities) bill, has placed us in the position where we cannot accept this and we have got to challenge it, and I made clear today why we were challenging it, why it is important, and why we’ve got to stop it,” he said referencing comments he made while in Sacramento Wednesday when he called California elected officials “radical extremists.”

In the wake of the lawsuit, President Trump is scheduled to make his first visit to California as President next week.

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President Donald Trump is reportedly upset with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for how she fielded questions from reporters Wednesday about the porn actress he allegedly had an affair with more than 10 years ago, CNN reported Thursday.

According to a source close to the White House who spoke with CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump thinks Sanders gave the Stormy Daniels story “steroids” Wednesday by mentioning that Trump’s attorneys had won arbitration against Daniels — whose actual name is Stephanie Clifford — in Trump’s favor.

NBC News reported Wednesday that Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen had won a “secret” restraining order against Daniels, who is suing Trump because he did not sign the nondisclosure agreement she agreed to in 2016 that barred her from talking about the affair.

Daniels reportedly agreed to a hush payment just days before the 2016 election and Cohen paid her $130,000 out of his own pocket.

Trump and Daniels reportedly had an intimate relationship for more than a year between 2006 and 2007, when Trump and his wife Melania Trump had just had their first child together. Daniels detailed the relationship to In Touch Magazine in 2011, and the transcript of the interview was published late last year. 

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President Donald Trump on Thursday said the United States’ “real friends” who are “fair” on trade, as well as the military, will likely be given an exemption from Trump’s new tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.

“We have to protect and build our steel and aluminum industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and military,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

Trump announced last week that he plans to order new tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He initially claimed the White House would not “back down” on the new measures, even for Mexico, Canada and members of the European Union. Trump later walked that back, saying if the U.S. is able to negotiate a better deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement, there might be room for exemptions for certain countries.

Thursday’s tweet echoes the White House’s sentiment this week — that there might be “carve outs” for countries like Mexico, Canada and some in Europe, for national security purposes.

While the White House claims there is no one factor that led to the resignation of economic adviser Gary Cohn, multiple news outlets report that he resigned over the tariff plan. Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that Trump asked for Cohn’s loyalty on the new tariffs just hours before Cohn offered his resignation.

Like Cohn, Republicans in Congress are uneasy about Trump’s tariff plan, arguing the move could set off a global trade war and could harm the economic momentum ignited by the Republican tax cuts and Trump’s deregulation measures.

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President Donald Trump reportedly asked at least two key witnesses about their interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

According to three people familiar with the conversations who spoke with the Times, Trump reportedly asked an aide to tell White House counsel Don McGahn to issue a statement refuting an article in the Times in January that said McGahn told Mueller investigators that Trump had once asked him to fire Mueller. McGahn did not release a statement contradicting the story and reportedly had to remind Trump that he did, in fact, ask him to dismiss the special counsel.

In another encounter, Trump reportedly grilled his former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus about how his interview with the Mueller team went and asked Priebus if the investigators had been “nice” to him, two people familiar with the conversation told the Times.

Witnesses and lawyers who knew about the President’s inquiries informed Mueller of the conversations, according to the Times. In recent interviews, Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about their interactions with Trump since the probe began.

Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power to aid in those efforts. Mueller is also looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation by firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Trump’s questioning of key witnesses about their conversations with investigators could further spur Mueller’s obstruction inquiries, according to experts who spoke with the Times.

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Despite vowing in December to retire at the end of his term after at least three women accused him of sexual misconduct, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) is now reportedly considering filing for reelection.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement of his retirement, Kihuen defiantly denied the allegations and claimed many Democratic leaders knew about the accusations during his campaign.

According to a Nevada Independent report Wednesday, Kihuen has recently been in contact with donors as well as the local culinary union, which covers casinos, restaurants, hotels and bars, about a potential bid. He has also reportedly been in touch with retired Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) about running again, but it is unclear if Reid was supportive of his potential run. Kihuen has reportedly told donors that he’s been encouraged to seek a second term, according to the Nevada Independent.

The Democratic House member has until next Friday to decide whether the file.

Former Rep. Steven Horsford announced he would run for Kihuen’s seat after Kihuen said he would not seek reelection. The culinary union is reportedly going to continue backing Horsford, even if Kihuen throws in his hat, according to The Nevada Independent.

After several high-level Democrats — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — called on Kihuen to resign when allegations of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct surfaced, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation on Dec. 15. A day later, Kihuen said he would not seek reelection, despite his consistent denial of all the accusations.

At least three women have come forward, claiming Kihuen harassed them for dates and sex despite their repeated rejections. One woman told Buzzfeed News she left her job working for Kihuen’s campaign because he repeatedly harassed her and allegedly touched her thighs without her consent twice.

A spokesperson for Kihuen and Pelosi did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comments.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough on Wednesday got into a heated discussion about the intricacies of the Second Amendment and the constitutionality of owning a weapon like an AR-15.

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about the “lethality” of an AR-15, Cruz argued that such firearms are only perceived as more deadly because they are “scary-looking.”

“The lethality of an AR-15 is indistinguishable from many deer rifles,” he claimed.

“So deer rifles are just as lethal? If somebody takes a deer rifle into a high school in Parkland, that that deer rifle is going to be just as lethal as an AR-15?” Scarborough asked.

“Going after the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, it doesn’t work,” Cruz fired back.

In response, Scarborough cited Cruz’s argument in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, where Cruz represented 31 states and opposed a ban on handgun possession.

Heller was about a semi-automatic handgun which the Supreme Court said the Second Amendment protected and the District of Columbia couldn’t ban,” Cruz said.

“But you know, though, that every American doesn’t have a constitutional Second Amendment right to carry an AR-15. Yes or no?” Scarborough replied.

“I’m not going to debate that,” Cruz replied, and then cited his own history of litigation before the Supreme Court, adding of Scarborough: “I recognize that’s not what you do.”

“Wait. I don’t need you to lecture me on what the Supreme Court does and what it doesn’t do,” Scarborough, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a lawyer before becoming a journalist, fired back.

He accused Cruz of talking down to him, and continued, over Cruz’s interjections, “Even a dumb country lawyer like me understands that an AR-15, today, is not recognized as a Constitutional right of Americans under the Second Amendment.”

Watch the full exchange below:

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President Donald Trump demanded Director of National Economic Council Gary Cohn be supportive of his new tariffs on steel and aluminum during a meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday, just hours before Cohn resigned, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

According to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg, Cohn would not agree to fully support Trump’s new proposals. The White House announced his resignation just hours later.

During the Oval Office meeting Tuesday, Trump asked for an update on the legal paperwork associated with making the tariffs –a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — official. He also discussed the timing of when he could sign the new order and asked everyone in the room if they were “all on the same team,” according to Bloomberg’s reporting.

Trump reportedly asked Cohn specifically if he was going to be supportive of the tariffs and Cohn didn’t answer, according to the sources who spoke with Bloomberg. One person familiar with Cohn told Bloomberg that Trump did not demand loyalty during the meeting. That person said also that Cohn is actually supportive of tough tariffs on China, but not against Canada, Mexico or the European Union, according to Bloomberg.

The New York Times first reported Cohn’s resignation on Tuesday evening. Sources told the Times that there was “no single factor” behind Cohn’s departure.

Cohn reportedly considered resigning in August over Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official will return to work on Wednesday after he was suspended for two weeks following reports that he pushed conspiracy theories on social media during the 2016 election, Politico reported.

An HHS spokesperson told Politico that Jon Cordova, the HHS principal deputy assistant secretary for administration, had “expressed sincere and deep apology” for the things he posted on social media and claimed that Cordova “allowed the heat of the political campaign” to undermine “his better judgment.”

“While he continues to work at HHS, Mr. Cordova – along with all department employees – will be expected to demonstrate a full commitment to inclusiveness and respect for all Americans that we serve,” the spokesperson told Politico, adding that none of the conspiracy theories were shared during his time at HHS.

CNN was first to report on Cordova’s posts that spread false stories about former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Some of the stories Cordova — who was a Trump campaign staffer at the time — shared, pushed theories that Cruz was involved with prostitutes and that Gold Star father Khizr Khan was a “Muslim plant” working with the Clinton campaign, according to CNN.

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