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

A spokesperson for President Trump’s former campaign official Paul Manafort said Friday that Manfort is “confident that he will be acquitted of all charges” after special counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday filed a new indictment against Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates.

“(Manafort) is innocent of the allegations set out in the newly filed indictments and he is confident that he will be acquitted of all charges,” Manfort’s spokesperson Jason Maloni said in a statement to CNN. “The new allegations against Mr. Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion. Mr. Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied.”

In October, Manfort and Gates were indicted on charges of conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money and making false statements. Mueller filed an additional 32-count indictment against the two on Thursday, with charges ranging from making false statements on tax returns, failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts and bank fraud. The indictment also alleges Manafort and Gates misled lenders and exaggerated their income in order to obtain loans.

The additional charges are the latest in a string of indictments against Trump campaign associates as Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last week, Mueller announced an indictment against 13 Russian nationals for their work for a Russian troll farm to meddle in the election.

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During the White House press briefing Thursday, deputy press secretary Raj Shah dodged questions about President Trump’s personal lawyer admitting last week that he paid a porn star $130,000 out of his own pocket.

While Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted to giving money to porn star Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels, he did not say the money was designed to keep Clifford quiet about an alleged affair she had with the President, as the Wall Street Journal has reported.

When CBS’ Major Garrett asked if Trump was aware of the payout, Shah deflected.

“I haven’t asked him about it. That matter has been asked and answered in the past,” he said.

Garrett pressed further, saying the White House hasn’t addressed the allegations since Cohen admitted to the payout last week. Shah repeated that he hadn’t asked the President about the matter.

“Can you ask him about it?”

“I’ll get back to you,” Shah said.

In an interview with In Touch magazine conducted in 2011 but published this year, Clifford detailed the alleged affair she had with Trump, but has since denied it happened. The White House has denied the allegations as well.

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President Donald Trump tripled down on his calls for arming teachers as a solution to stopping school shootings Thursday, by suggesting that teachers who carry a gun might get “a little bit of a bonus.”

During a meeting with state and local officials at the White House, Trump reiterated his philosophy that allowing “highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns” to have a concealed carry permit at school would make students safer and would likely deter attacks.

“You won’t have, in my opinion, you won’t have these shooters because these people are cowards,” he said. “They are not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns. It may be 10 percent, it may be 40 percent. Now, what I’d recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus. We give them a little bit of a bonus.”

He said he wants to do more to “harden” schools instead of softening them and suggested that a “gun free zone” for someone who wants to be a killer is “like going in for the ice cream.”

“We have to get smart on gun-free zones. That means nobody has a gun except them,” he said, referencing those who attack schools. “Nobody’s going to be shooting bullets in the other direction. They see that it is such a beautiful target, they live for gun free zones.”

He also suggested there are lots of “coaches, who I guarantee you have plenty of experience with weapons” and veterans who go into teaching after serving in the military who would be willing to carry a gun on school grounds. He said it would be best to arm teachers because it would be too expensive for large schools to hire “100 to 150 security guards.”

“Instead of advertising the school has no guns, we are gun free, do the opposite,” he said. “Nobody is going to attack that school. Not everybody agrees with us. I think a lot of people do agree with us but I think we need hardened sites, you come into our schools, you are going to be dead.”

Trump’s comments Thursday afternoon follow his Twitter tirade on Thursday morning, when he made similar suggestions and attacked the media for not accurately conveying his desire to arm teachers.

During a listening session with the school shooting survivors and parents of victims on Wednesday, Trump suggested that arming teachers would “very well solve your problem,” with school shootings.

Not all Republicans agree. When asked about the idea during a town hall discussion on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he would not be comfortable with giving teachers license to carry a gun in school.

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President Donald Trump on Thursday claimed that people “don’t understand” that the National Rifle Association’s leadership are “Great American Patriots,” a week after 17 people died in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Trump tweeted that people “don’t understand” or “don’t want to understand” that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and executive director Chris Cox are “Great People and Great American Patriots.”

“They love our Country and will do the right thing,” Trump tweeted.

During the 2016 presidential election, the NRA spent nearly $20 million attacking Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and spent $11 million in support of Trump, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

It was not clear what Trump meant when he said that LaPierre and Cox “will do the right thing,” but the NRA on Wednesday said it is opposed to Trump’s proposal to increase the minimum age to purchase a rifle.

Trump on Thursday said that he also supports banning bump stocks — devices that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic guns — and reforming the background check process for purchasing guns, specifically with regard to people with mental illnesses.

Earlier Thursday morning, Trump claimed that he had suggested giving “concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience” who would then be able to “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.”

At a town hall discussion Wednesday evening, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch told student survivors of last week’s Florida school shooting that the NRA is supportive of background checks, though the organization has historically been opposed to closing a loophole that allows some sellers at gun shows to skip that step.

Loesch on Thursday blamed the Parkland massacre on the FBI. She claimed that the NRA is not responsible for following up on “red flags” raised by gun owners and claimed the FBI “dropped the ball” with regard to the alleged Parkland gunman.

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President Donald Trump sounded off on Twitter Thursday to try to explain his suggestion that arming teachers would help stop school shooting massacres.

But the tweets turned into an all-out rant, where he attacked the media and claimed that he only suggested giving “concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience,” not handing out weapons to all teachers.

He said that 20 percent of teachers — “a lot” — would be able to “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.” He then claimed that “gun free” schools are “a magnet for bad people” and said “ATTACKS WOULD END!” if “highly trained, gun adept” school staff had concealed weapons.


“If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school,” he continued. “Cowards won’t go there … problem solved.”

Trump attempted to clarify what type of reform he would support: Ending the sale of bump stocks — a device used to make a semi-automatic weapons function like an automatic rifle — raising the age of rifle sales to 21 and pushing for comprehensive background checks “with an emphasis on Mental Health.”

He then passed the buck to lawmakers.

“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue — I hope!” he said.

Trump’s tweets come after he suggested on Wednesday, during a listening session with student survivors and parents of victims, that he would be supportive of arming school staff members in order to stop attacks at schools.

“I think it could very well solve your problem,” he told the group who gathered at the White House.

The session comes a week after a 19-year-old former student opened fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 people. In the past week, student survivors have been vocally advocating for tighter gun laws at the state and national level.

During a CNN town hall discussion on Wednesday evening with survivors, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he would not support arming teachers.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday broke with the National Rifle Association and said he supports bipartisan legislation that would increase the legal age for purchasing a rifle. Rubio also said he is rethinking his previous support of high-capacity magazines.

“I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle,” he said, during a CNN town hall, responding to the father of a students who was one of 17 killed during the attack at a Florida high school last week. “I will support a law that takes that right away.”

Rubio was likely referencing a bipartisan bill that Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are crafting that would increase the age for legally purchasing a rifle to 21. The alleged shooter at the Florida high school is 19-years-old and was 18 when he purchased the AR-15 that he used to carry out the attack.

Later in the town hall discussion, Rubio also suggested that he was supportive of banning bump stocks — a device that makes a semi-automatic gun function like an automatic weapon. A Las Vegas gunman used bump stocks to kill 50-plus people last year. Rubio also said he supports improving background checks, an issue President Trump has said he supports.

Rubio said he was also rethinking his support of large-capacity magazines. He said that he did not think a ban on high-capacity rifles would necessarily prevent another attack, but “it may save lives in an attack.”

While Rubio suggested a change of heart on some gun reform issues during the town hall discussion with students and parents of victims Wednesday, he floundered when a student survivor asked him if he would continue to take money from the NRA.

“The positions I hold on these issues of the Second Amendment, I’ve held since the day I entered office in the city of West Miami as an elected official,” Rubio said. “People buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.”

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The Pentagon is exploring options that would give President Donald Trump the ability to move National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster out of his role in the White House and back to the military, according to a new report from CNN.

According to six defense and Trump administration officials who spoke with CNN, the Pentagon is quietly searching for a four-star military position in the Army or the Defense Department that would function as a promotion for McMaster after months of mounting tension between the President and his national security adviser.

Trump has reportedly been privately irritated with McMaster for months, mostly stemming from issues Trump has with McMaster’s personality and style, according to a senior Republican source who spoke with CNN. Trump believes McMaster is condescending and unfriendly, the source told CNN.

The President’s frustration with McMaster became public over the weekend when Trump criticized him on Twitter. Trump was likely responding to McMaster’s remarks about the “incontrovertible” proof that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump said on Twitter. “Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

According to several sources who spoke with CNN, the White House considered replacing McMaster last fall, but decided against it to avoid the criticism of having to appoint a third national security adviser in less than a year. McMaster replaced Michael Flynn after he resigned over the controversy surrounding his contacts with Russian officials and has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) broke with President Donald Trump on Wednesday night during a CNN town hall discussion on school shootings with the survivors of last week’s massacre in Parkland, Florida, saying that he was not “comfortable” with arming teachers to prevent attacks.

“I don’t support that, and I would admit to you right now, I answer that as much as a father as I do as a senator,” Rubio said, responding to a question about whether he would support a move to train teachers and staff to conceal carry at school. The inquiry came from a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher who sheltered students in her classroom last week when a former student opened fire on the school, killing 17 people.

“The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something that, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with,” he said.

Rubio said the move would have “practical problems” that would be “about the safety of the teacher as much as anyone else.” He said if a teacher were to pull out a gun in an active shooter situation to protect students, a SWAT team could mistake the teacher for the attacker.

“As a father and someone who has talked to plenty of teachers, including the three in my family and the assistant principal in my family, I don’t think that would be a good idea in my view,” he said.

While Rubio rejected the idea Wednesday evening, Trump indicated on Wednesday afternoon that arming teachers or school staff members “could very well solve your problems.” Trump was speaking to parents and student survivors of school shootings during a listening session at the White House.

“If these cowards knew that the school was well-guarded from the standpoint of having pretty much professionals with great training, I think they wouldn’t go into the school to start off with,” he said. “So we’ll be doing the background checks, we’ll be doing a lot of different things, but we’ll certainly be looking at ideas like that.”

Rubio is not alone in his discomfort with Trump’s idea. The American Federation of Teachers told the Associated Press on Wednesday that arming educators was “one of the worst ideas I have heard in a series of really, really, really bad ideas,” union President Randi Weingarten said.

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Conservative musician Ted Nugent, who sits on the National Rifle Association’s board, on Tuesday shared an article that peddled the far-right conspiracy theory that a student survivor of last week’s deadly Florida school shooting is actually a paid actor.

Nugent promoted the article without further commentary on his personal Facebook page. He also liked a comment from a Facebook user who claimed that the student named in the article, David Hogg, is “26 years old and is a paid crisis actor” and that “news organizations hire him to be a scripted witness or survivor.” Hogg is 17 years old.

Posted by Ted Nugent on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hogg and other students who survived the shooting where 17 people died last week have publicly advocated for tighter gun laws. On Wednesday, a group of students marched on Tallahassee to make the same point at the state legislature.

Far-right outlets like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit have pushed the conspiracy theory that student survivors are speaking out because far-left, anti-gun groups paid them to do so. The article Nugent promoted was originally published on Natural News, a website that “strongly criticizes drugs-and-surgery medicine” and “vaccines” and actively touts its connection to InfoWars and “other alternative news organizations.”

Natural News’ article about Hogg, headlined “It’s all THEATER: Florida high school shooting survivor caught on video rehearsing scripted lines, coached by camera man,” also promotes that theory. The article claims that surviving students’ testimonials were “all scripted, in other words, to push a gun control narrative rooted in emotional reaction rather than constructive solutions.”

The baseless theory has gained a foothold in more mainstream GOP circles as well: An aide for a Republican state lawmaker in Florida was fired Tuesday evening after he told a reporter that Hogg and another vocal student, Emma Gonzalez, were both actors. President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also liked tweets that promoted the conspiracy.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Tuesday tweeted, however, that the theory is “the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

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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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