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

President Donald Trump on Thursday said a new report that an unidentified government official met several times with two Trump campaign officials in 2016 could make the Russia investigation “bigger than Watergate!”

That tweet came just minutes after Trump tweeted congratulating America for being in “the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History,” using his exasperated pet name for the probe into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While Trump cited former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy — who was interviewed on “Fox and Friends” Thursday morning — in his tweet, the New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon that “at least one” government informant met with Trump campaign national security advisers Carter Page and George Papadopolous several times during the 2016 campaign.

The meetings were reportedly part of the FBI’s efforts to determine whether Trump’s campaign was colluding with Russia ahead of the election, according to the Times.

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President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has reportedly confided in friends that he’s at his wit’s end with federal investigations into his business dealings, Vanity Fair reported Wednesday.

According to two people familiar with Cohen’s thinking who spoke to Vanity Fair, Cohen is “fuming” over Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti’s release of information about his bank records and has grown weary of all the news coverage surrounding his attempts to sell access to Trump after the 2016 election. Cohen has reportedly confided in friends that he “just can’t take this anymore” and is focused on protecting his family, whom he thinks is suffering because federal investigators want to get to Trump, a friend told Vanity Fair.

Despite his exasperation over the probe, he spends hours every day with his lawyers reading through documents that the government has returned to him after the FBI raided his house, hotel and office last month and has told friends, “I’m not going to roll over.”

Cohen has been bombarded with headlines in recent weeks, ever since the FBI seized documents related to his business dealings and a $130,000 payment he made — and Trump reimbursed — to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago. The barrage continued after Avenatti released information related to payments Cohen received from companies like Novartis and AT&T in 2017. Most of the businesses confirmed they made deals with Cohen in order to gain access to Trump.

Read Vanity Fair’s full report here.

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A man who served as a translator for Michael Cohen while he brokered a deal with Korean Aerospace Industries was recently interviewed by the FBI, signaling federal investigators are interested in the the $150,000 payment Cohen received from the company, according to the Washington Post.

The translator, Mark Ko, who lives in California, told the Post that he had been interviewed by FBI agents about the contract “a few weeks ago,” but would not provide details about the interviews. Ko told the Post that he didn’t know if the agents were members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Korean Aerospace Industries is one of several companies — like AT&T and drug company Novartis — that’s been questioned by federal authorities over its payments to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney after the 2016 election. AT&T and Novartis have both confirmed they went into business with Cohen, through his shadow consulting company Essential Consultants, because Cohen sold them access to Trump and his policy makers.

Novartis paid Cohen $1.2 million over the course of a year and AT&T spent $600,000 to work with Cohen. Both companies have expressed regret for the decision and have ousted top executives over the matter.

The South Korean aerospace company, on the other hand, has defended its contract with Cohen, saying it didn’t know about Cohen’s relationship with Trump and went into business with him to get legal advice on U.S. accounting procedures.

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During his time as vice president of Cambridge Analytica, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon attempted to use the company’s political ad targeting technology to suppress the African American vote, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

“One of the things that provoked me to leave was discussions about ‘voter disengagement’ and the idea of targeting African Americans,” he said during his testimony, according to the Guardian.

Under Bannon’s leadership, the company targeted Facebook posts at African Americans reminding them of comments that Hillary Clinton had made in the 1990s calling young black people “super predators” to try to keep them from voting, according to the Guardian.

Bannon, along with billionaire Robert Mercer, wanted to use the targeted advertisement technology as part of an “arsenal of weapons to fight a culture war,” Wylie said Wednesday. Wylie, who was the first to sound the alarm on Cambridge Analytica’s use of private data from millions of Facebook users, said he had documents to back up his claims.

Read the Guardian’s full report here. 

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday resorted to his usual waffling when asked whether the summit with North Korea was still set, despite threats from leader Kim Jong-Un to pull out.

“We will have to see,” he said, amid shouted questions from reporters during a photo opportunity with the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the Oval Office. “We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens. … Time will tell.”

Earlier this week, Kim threatened to abandon the denuclearization talks if the U.S. continues to push North Korea “into a corner” with unilateral denuclearization demands.

Watch Trump below:

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Tuesday that she did not threaten to resign after President Donald Trump reportedly scolded her in front of stafers last week about an increase in illegal immigration.

“I have not resigned,” she said in response to reporters’ questions as she left a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, according to Politico. “I didn’t threaten to resign.”

The Department of Homeland Security has previously denied that Nielsen mulled resigning, despite reports from several news outlets. In her initial statements to the media, Nielsen wouldn’t confirm or deny that she had considered leaving the administration.

The New York Times was first to report last week that Nielsen was “close” to resigning after Trump yelled at her in front of colleagues about his stance that undocumented immigrant children should be separated from their parents when they cross into the U.S. illegally.

According to the Times, Nielsen “told associates after the meeting that she should not continue in the job if the President did not view her as effective.”

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will look into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts, according to a recently released letter obtained by Politico.

The inspector general plans to probe whether the department is properly saving email records and properly searching all of its email accounts in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Politico reported. The letter confirming the investigation was released by two Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. That committee’s chairman, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) has expressed concerns over Pruitt’s use of private email accounts, which previous heads of the EPA have done for daily communication with staff, according to Politico.

The new investigation brings the total number of federal probes into Pruitt’s conduct — related to his first-class travel, use of around-the-clock security, raises for his closest aides and the cheap housing he got from an energy lobbyist — to 12.

Trump has remained publicly supportive of Pruitt, despite the consistent flood of scandals plaguing Pruitt and his department.

Read the letter confirming the investigation below:

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A top executive at Swiss drug making company Novartis is retiring from the company over the $1.2 million it paid to a shadow company owned by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. 

Novartis’ general counsel Felix Ehrat will be replaced on June 1 by Shannon Thyme Klinger, who currently works as the company’s chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, according to the WSJ.

Over the course of the last year, Novartis paid Cohen about $100,000 a month to gain insight into the Trump administration’s health policy plans, namely its efforts related to the Affordable Care Act. The company said recently that it realized after its first meeting with Cohen that Trump’s personal lawyer would not be helpful in garnering influence and stopped working with him, but continued to pay out the remainder of the contract.

The Novartis ouster comes as AT&T forced its top Washington, D.C. executive into retirement last week, following fallout from revelations that the telecom giant paid Cohen $600,000 last year. In the statement announcing Bob Quinn’s retirement, AT&T called the agreement a “big mistake.”

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The Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating the now-inoperative Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign and came under scrutiny for harvesting private data from millions of Facebook users, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

According to an American official and people familiar with the investigation who spoke with the Times, the DOJ and FBI in recent weeks have tried to question former employees and banks with which the company did business.

The investigation is reportedly in its early stages and investigators primarily want to get a handle on Cambridge Analytica’s business practices. The probe in the U.S. is focused mainly on the company’s finances and how it was able to gather and use personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users, according to the Times. The DOJ has also contacted Facebook as part of the probe, according to the U.S. official who spoke with the Times.

Earlier this month, the company said it would declare bankruptcy.

Read the New York Times’ full report here.

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As Ecuador funded a multi-million dollar effort to protect Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his stay in the country’s London embassy, Assange returned the favor by hacking into the embassy’s communications system, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

According to a new Guardian report outlining the details of the spy operation designed to protect Assange, the Wikileaks founder’s hack allowed him to intercept professional and personal communications of the embassy staff and set up his own satellite internet. The Ecuadorian embassy was warned of Assange’s behavior in 2014 by a surveillance company that was hired to film Assange’s interaction with visitors. 

Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition by the Swedish government, where he was wanted for sexual assault. Those charges were dropped in May 2017, according to the Guardian. Assange is still living at the embassy because he is wanted for jumping bail in the United Kingdom, but longtime loyalist Rafael Correa, who was Ecuadorian president from 2007 to 2017, recently said Assange’s days of protection are “numbered.”

Assange is also hiding out to avoid the U.S. government extraditing and charging him with crimes related to his 2010 Wikileaks case, when he published a series of leaks of classified military information provided by Chelsea Manning. 

Read the Guardian’s full report here. 

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