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

An undocumented immigrant, whose case Donald Trump consistently cited as rationale for a border wall during the campaign, was found not guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, a verdict President Trump said was “disgraceful.”

“A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted Thursday night after the jury found Garcia Zarate, a Mexican man who has been deported from the U.S. five times, not guilty of the first degree murder of Steinle.

The young woman was walking on a popular San Francisco pier with her father and a friend when she was shot and killed in July 2015. Zarate’s defense argued he didn’t intentionally shoot Steinle, but rather the gun he found accidentally fired when he picked it up.

Trump called the jury’s decision a “travesty of justice” and tweeted “BUILD THE WALL!” Friday morning. He then took a swift turn, blaming Democrats for being “weak on crime” and claiming they would “pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 elections.”

Trump’s outrage over the verdict is not surprising. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump consistently pointed to the case as proof of the need for his border wall and as rationale for attacking his opponents for supporting sanctuary cities. Before the shooting, Zarate had just completed a federal prison sentence for illegally coming back to the U.S. after being deported and had been transferred to San Francisco to serve time for a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana. He was released a few days later after prosecutors dropped the drug charges and was shielded from deportation because San Francisco is a sanctuary city.

But in the first-degree murder trial against Zarate for the shooting death of Steinle, the judge blocked attorneys from mentioning Zarate’s immigration status or the fact that he was deported back to Mexico five times before coming back across the border, asking the jury to only consider Zarate’s intentions on the night that Steinle was killed, the Associated Press reported.

The verdict outraged not only Trump, but the Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has waged war with sanctuary cities — which bar local police from helping the federal government identify and deport undocumented immigrants — since taking office.

“San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday evening. “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”

Immigration officials said Thursday night that they plan to take Zarate into custody and deport him once his case concludes, the AP reported.

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The Washington Post will no longer publish former public radio broadcaster Garrison Keillor’s column following his firing from Minnesota Public Radio over workplace misconduct allegations, Politico reported Thursday.

Just a day before he was fired, Keillor wrote a column for the Post defending Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), saying the senator shouldn’t resign from Congress despite the mounting allegations that he inappropriately touched at least five women.

The Post told Politico that Keillor violated the newspaper’s transparency policies for opinion writers because he knew he was “under investigation for his workplace behavior” and “should not have written a column on that subject,” editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said in a statement given to Politico.

“Or, if he was going to write, he should have told his editors and readers that he was under investigation. Instead he wrote a column defending Sen. Al Franken without any discourse of his own situation,” Hiatt said. “Readers are entitled to a basic level of transparency from the columnist they read in the The Washington Post. … Garrison Keillor failed to meet that standard this week.”

A Washington Post spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

In the column published in the Post on Tuesday, Keillor said calls for Franken to resign were “pure absurdity.”

On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken,” he wrote. “Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.”

Keillor, the longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” was fired on Wednesday for workplace misconduct, after a former coworker accused him of improper behavior. In an email to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Keillor said: “I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

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The White House has developed a plan to push Secretary of State Rex Tillerson out of his post at the State Department and replace him with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo within the next several weeks, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) would reportedly replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Cotton has signaled he would accept the job, according to White House officials who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity.

The plan to oust Tillerson was orchestrated by President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, but it was not clear whether Trump plans to approve the shakeup, according to the Times.

The Associated Press and CNN also confirmed reports that the White House is planning to replace Tillerson with Pompeo.

Trump did not confirm or deny reports of the planned shakeup Thursday. When asked about Tillerson, Trump responded bluntly.

“He’s here, Rex is here,” Trump said to shouted questions from reporters about the secretary of state’s fate.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made similar remarks Thursday, telling reporters that the White House had “no personnel announcements at this time.”

“As the President just said, ‘Rex is here.’ There are no personnel announcements at this time,” she said, via the White House press pool report. “Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration.”

If all goes according to Kelly’s plan, the transition could take place around the new year, making Tillerson’s post in the State Department the shortest tenure ever served by a secretary of state — who didn’t leave because of the election of a new president — in almost 120 years, according to the Times.

The move shouldn’t come as a surprise to White House and State Department insiders who have witnessed the tension between Trump and the former Exxon Mobile CEO, who has become increasingly frustrated with the President over everything from staffing the State Department to Trump’s take on the Iran nuclear deal to his handling of the missile crisis in North Korea.

Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly threatened to resign from his post and called Trump a “moron.”

Trump has in turn claimed he has a higher I.Q. than Tillerson and publicly criticized Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in North Korea, saying the secretary of state is “wasting his time.”

Administration officials initially predicted that the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, would likely be Tillerson’s replacement, but the White House has grown fond of Pompeo and the President has been impressed by his work within the spy agency, according to the Times.

The Times reported that Pompeo has become one of Trump’s most trusted policy advisers as well, as the former three-term Congressman tends to offer advise on issues far outside his reach as CIA director.

A spokesperson for the CIA said the agency has no comment on the reports of Pompeo’s departure.

Cotton has remained an important Trump ally within the Senate. Cotton, along with Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), introduced legislation in August that would overhaul the immigration system to a more “merit based” model. Trump publicly threw his weight behind the plan, which, among many things, would favor green card applications for immigrants who can speak English.

Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt Tabler told TPM “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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An Army veteran, who met Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) when he performed in Kuwait during a 2003 USO tour, has come forward saying Franken groped her breast when the two took a photo together, CNN reported.

Stephanie Kemplin, who is now 41, is the fifth woman who has come forward to accuse the senator of alleged inappropriate touching or sexual misconduct in recent weeks, and the second to say the incident took place during a USO tour.

Kemplin told CNN she got in line to take a photo with Franken. When he put his arm around her for the picture, he allegedly cupped her right breast, she told CNN.

“He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,” she told CNN. “I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side. … I remember clenching up and how you just feel flushed. And I remember thinking — ‘Is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going move his hand?’ He never moved his hand.”

She said Franken kept his hand there for long enough that “he should have known if it was an accident.”

“I’m very confident saying that,” she said, adding that she shifted her body to move his hand before the picture was taken. CNN obtained a copy of the photo.

She said she recalls feeling stunned and unable to process what happened.

“I was in a war zone. … You were on a USO tour, are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own. I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture,” she said of the photo of herself. She was 27 at the time of the alleged incident.

A spokesperson for Franken’s office repeated a line the senator has offered after similar allegations of misconduct have surfaced — that Franken takes “thousands of photos and has met tens of thoughts of people and has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.”

The spokesperson told CNN that Franken intends to continue to cooperate with the Senate Ethics Committee investigation, which was launched at Franken’s request after an LA radio host came forward, alleging Franken aggressively kissed her during a rehearsal for a performance on a USO tour. She also alleged that Franken groped her while she was sleeping during the trip home from the tour.

Since the radio host Leeann Tweeden came forward, three more women have gone public with claims that Franken groped them when they took photos with him. Franken has apologized to Tweeden and the other women who have come forward, but he has combatted parts of their stories. At a news conference, Franken said all the accusations have been “a shock” for him.

“It’s been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed,” he said.   

Kemplin said at the time she felt “put on the spot” and questioned whether she should tell someone, but ultimately decided to not tell any fellow soldiers. She did, however, tell her sister and her ex-boyfriend about the incident, both of whom told CNN they remember Kemplin recounting what happened. She said she felt she needed to come forward after other women made claims because the alleged groping was particularly shocking for her at the time. Weeks earlier she said she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier, an incident CNN was able to confirm through military documents.

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The mayor of London is calling on Britain’s prime minister to cancel any official visits from President Donald Trump and to ask Trump to delete anti-Islam videos he shared on Twitter Wednesday.

“As the mayor of this great diverse city, I have previously called on Theresa May to cancel her ill-judged offer of a state visit to President Trump. After this latest incident, it is increasingly clear that any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement posted on Twitter Thursday.

“The prime minister of our country should be using any influence she and her government claim to have with the President and his administration to ask him to delete these tweets and to apologise to the British people,” he continued.

On Wednesday, Trump shared three unverified anti-Muslim videos on Twitter that were posted by Jayda Fransen, a leader of the far-right fringe group Britain First. Fransen was recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment. The videos — which have been mostly debunked — supposedly show acts of violence that Fransen claimed was ignited by Muslims.

Khan, who is Muslim, said the President had used his influential Twitter account to “promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country” and said that many see the President’s actions as a “betrayal” of the relationship between the two countries.

“It beggars belief that the President of our closest ally doesn’t see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that make Britain so great,” he said.

The group Britain First is known for combatting what it calls the “Islamization” of Britain and has also campaigned against the building of new mosques. The group has also launched several unsuccessful political campaigns.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “wrong” for Trump to share the inflammatory videos. Trump responded Wednesday night, telling May to focus the “Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom” instead of criticizing him. The White House claims the videos, while possibly fake, represent the “real threat” to national security that the President is concerned about.

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President Donald Trump told the British prime minister that she should focus on combatting “Radical Islamic Terrorism” in the United Kingdom, instead of criticizing him.

“We are doing just fine!” he said in a tweet.

Trump’s tweets are likely in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement on Wednesday, in which her spokesperson said it was “wrong” for Trump to retweet anti-Islamic videos on Twitter that were originally shared by a leader of a British far-right political group, Britain First.

Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions,” the spokesperson said. “They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right. It is wrong for the President to have done this.”

Early Wednesday morning, Trump shared three unverified anti-Muslim videos on Twitter that were originally posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy head of Britain First who was recently convicted of religiously aggravated harassment. The videos supposedly show violence that Fransen claimed in her tweets was ignited by Muslims. Two of the three videos have been largely debunked.

The group Britain First is known for combatting what it calls the “Islamization” of Britain and has also campaigned against the building of new mosques. The group has also launched several unsuccessful political campaigns.

Outside the tweet to May — which Trump originally posted with the wrong Twitter handle for the Prime Minister — Trump hasn’t publicly commented on why he shared the videos.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said it doesn’t necessarily matter if the videos were real, but said “the threat is real, and that’s what the President is talking about, is the need for national security, the need for military spending, and those are very really things, there’s nothing fake about that.”

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While President Donald Trump has been careful to not explicitly endorse Alabama Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore, the White House is weighing its options to help the embattled candidate get elected, according to a new report.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump is “not planning any trip to Alabama at this time,” but the White House is mulling whether to unleash a series of robo-calls, emails and text messages, three people familiar with the conversations told Politico.

Trump has all-but endorsed Moore publicly and has indicated he believes the former judge’s denials of the sexual misconduct allegations against him. Instead of outright embracing the candidate, Trump has tweeted attacks on Moore’s Democratic opponent, former U.S. attorney Doug Jones.

In private, Trump has told Republican senators he doubts Moore’s accusers — who claim Moore pursued relationships and made inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s — and has questioned why the allegations are surfacing now when Moore has been an elected officials for decades, according to Politico.

White House officials and the head of the Republican National Committee discussed Trump’s options for stumping for Moore during a meeting on Monday, two people familiar with the matter said.

The President’s aides who spoke with Politico said that no decision has been made on what to do in Alabama, but they said that Sanders’ choice of words — that the White House isn’t planning a trip to Alabama “at this time” — was telling of what the White House is considering.

Regardless of what Trump decides, the President’s response to the allegations is lukewarm when compared to most of the leaders in his party — like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — who have said the allegations are credible and have called on Moore to step aside.

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President Donald Trump has retweeted three unverified anti-Muslim videos that were posted by a leader of the far-right group Britain First.

Jayda Fransen, deputy head of Britain First — who was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment in September, according to the Guardian — originally posted the videos that supposedly show violence that Fransen claims was ignited by Muslims. One video purported to show a group of Muslims pushing a boy off a roof. Another claimed to depict a Muslim destroying a statue of Virgin Mary. The third claimed to be a video of a Dutch boy on crutches getting beaten up by immigrants.

Trump retweeted the videos to his followers early Wednesday morning, just after he tweeted about the economy being in “record territory” — he may have been watching “Fox and Friends” because he tagged the show in that tweet — and just before a tweet about CNN not attending the White House holiday party.

Fransen’s group Britain First has a reputation for being opposed to what it calls the “Islamization” of Britian, according to the Associated Press. The group has also campaigned against the building of new mosques.

Fransen responded in delight to the retweets, saying “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP” and “GOD BLESS AMERICA.”

The President’s retweets have already been already been denounced by the right and the left. Piers Morgan, a journalist and friend of of Trump, tweeted saying “what the hell are you doing?” And the top editor at conspiracy theory site Info Wars said the retweets were “not great optics.”

Trump has a history of perpetuating anti-Muslim rhetoric. He claimed he saw Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. During the 2016 campaign, he called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. He tweeted about the United Kingdom’s “Muslim problem” in December 2015.

Throughout his campaign, he suggested the government should track Muslim Americans and the travel ban Trump hastily created through executive order has been widely labeled a Muslim travel ban as it initially blocked travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon will head to Alabama next week to campaign for the embattled Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore, he told CNN Tuesday.

“I look forward to standing with Judge Moore and all of the Alabama deplorables in the fight to elect him to the United States Senate and send shockwaves to the political and media elites,” Bannon told CNN.

Bannon plans to speak at a rally next week, which will kick off the final days of campaigning for Moore and his opponent Democrat Doug Jones before the election Dec. 12. Bannon’s comments to CNN came just hours after the Associated Press reported that Bannon would not stump for Moore before the election. The AP spoke with two Bannon associates at the time.

Bannon has not campaigned for Moore since before the Republican primary run-off election between Moore and incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). The silence from Bannon was particularly telling given that multiple women have come forward since the beginning of November accusing Moore of sexual misconduct.

The allegations range from Moore pursuing relationships or making inappropriate sexual advances toward the women when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. Moore has flatly denied all the allegations and chalked the whole scandal up to a political attack from the media, Democrats and the Republican establishment.

Bannon’s backing of Moore over Strange ignited the former White House strategist’s “war” on the Republican establishment. After Moore’s primary victory, Bannon vowed to back the more conservative challengers of every Republican senator up for reelection besides Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

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President Donald Trump still thinks former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that in recent months Trump has been reviving his “birther” conspiracy theories about his predecessor.

In recent private conversations, Trump has questioned the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate, according to advisers and one senator who spoke to the Times. The senator said he laughed when he heard Trump talking about his theories, and the senator said Trump had a hard time letting go of the conspiracy.

Trump has been one of the most vocal “birthers” over the years, despite the fact that Obama released his birth certificate in 2011 to stamp out the conspiracy. While campaigning for president in September 2016, Trump officially dropped the racist claims, but said he thinks his then-opponent Hillary Clinton propagated the theory in 2008.

Reigniting birtherism claims comes as Trump privately questions the authenticity of the audio in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, which was released in the eleventh hour of the 2016 election and features the President bragging about grabbing women by the genitals.

At the time, Trump apologized for what he said, but told a Republican lawmaker in January that he wanted to investigate the tape and said “we don’t think that was my voice,” according to the Times. He’s privately raised doubts about the video again in recent days, but the White House has been cautious about directly answering questions on the topic. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday only said that the President “made his position clear on that at the time.”

Advisers said Trump also privately believes he lost the popular vote last November because of voter fraud, according to the Times.

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