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

CIA Director Mike Pompeo will likely stay at his post within the intelligence agency instead of taking over the State Department, according to a new report in The Washington Post Friday.

Last month, multiple outlets reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly was orchestrating a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with Pompeo. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) was floated to replace Pompeo, but his D.C. office denied those claims.

In a sweeping report on the swelling tensions between Tillerson, Trump and his own staff, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed White House officials, that Pompeo will likely stay in his current position because Trump enjoys his daily briefings. The New York Times reported in November that Trump has become increasingly fond of Pompeo, as the former three-term Congressman tends to offer the President advice on issues far outside his reach as CIA director.

The White House has publicly denied that its developing plans to push out Tillerson after the first of the year — “Rex is here,” Trump told reporters last month. But a senior Trump official told The Washington Post that U.S. allies “know at this point that (Tillerson’s) not really speaking for the administration.”

Trump is currently particularly peeved by Tillerson’s stances on how to quell mounting tensions with North Korea and Tillerson is reportedly at his wit’s end with the White House over its delay in filling key State Department positions, according to the officials who spoke with The Washington Post.

Tillerson and Trump have been at odds for months. Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly threatened to resign 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.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign’s data operation in the months leading up to the election, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Mueller reportedly asked the data firm, Cambridge Analytica, to provide his investigative team with emails of employees who worked with the Trump campaign, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with the WSJ.

The House Intelligence Committee, which is also probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power, also requested similar documents from the data firm earlier this year. Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, the people familiar with the investigation told WSJ.

Mueller’s request for the emails was earlier this year, before it was widely reported that Nix was in contact with WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica began working for the Trump campaign in mid-May 2016 after former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon introduced Nix to then-candidate Trump. The firm provided the campaign with data, polling and research, WSJ reported.

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Count the White House out of Roy Moore’s quest to challenge the results of the special election in Alabama.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Moore “should have already” conceded to Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-AL).

While President Trump endorsed Moore in his Senate bid, Trump accepted the election results Tuesday evening and called Jones on Wednesday to congratulate him on his win.

“They had a great conversation, had a positive conversation,” Sanders said. “He likes Doug Jones and looks forward to meeting him in person and hopes that he will come and follow through on his commitment to work with the President on some things that they agree on.”

When asked if Moore should concede to Jones, Sander said “it should have already taken place.”

“Look, the President has called and congratulated Doug Jones and expressed his willingness to work with him and meet with him when he arrives in Washington,” she said.

Jones beat Moore by 1.5 percentage points, according to unofficial results, but Moore has refused to concede to his opponent. On Wednesday night, his campaign released a video of Moore suggesting that provisional and military ballots could still change the outcome of the results. The Alabama secretary of state has not yet certified the ballot results, but has already said that it’s unlikely that Moore could win given the current margin of the race.

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Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) will not seek reelection when his term is up in January 2019, according to multiple reports.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed those reports during a press conference on Thursday. He said he had a “couple conversations” with Farenthold and thinks he’s “making the right decision to retire.”

“There are new stories that are very disconcerting, unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had,” Ryan said.

The House Ethics Committee announced last week that Farenthold is under investigation for the allegation against him.

“As he should be,” Ryan said.

Farenthold’s office and the Republican congressional campaign committee’s press offices did not respond to multiple requests for comments. Aides from both offices told TPM that the communications staff was in meetings.

The news comes after CNN reported Thursday that a former staffer, Michael Rekola, had approached the Congressional Ethics Committee with claims of verbally abusive and sexually demeaning behavior that he experienced while he worked for Farenthold in 2015. Farenthold’s behavior ranged from making lewd comments about women to throwing objects when he was upset to calling staffers “fucktards,” according to CNN.

When reached by CNN, Farenthold denied most of the the staffer’s claims, but said he did regularly call aides “fucktards” but said it was “in jest,” not out of anger.

CNN’s story Thursday is just the latest report in recent days on the environment in Farenthold’s office. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that two other staffers had filed formal complaints against Farenthold, describing a hostile and inappropriate work environment.

One aide complained that Farenthold’s chief of staff treated women differently than men and another alleged that a female staffer made “inappropriate sexualized commentary in the workplace.” Farenthold’s spokeswoman told the Times that an attorney reviewed those complaints and did not find evidence of the inappropriate behavior.

Another aide told the Times that there was regular talk in Farenthold’s office about women’s bodies and that Farenthold was known to have consistent outbursts of ridicule or rage, behavior that Rekola confirmed in his accounts to CNN.

Another former staffer, Lauren Greene, made headlines in recent weeks when it was revealed that the Congressional Office of Compliance paid her $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle her complaints of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and hostile work environment against the congressman. Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, sued Farenthold in December 2014, but dropped the suit after the two agreed to settle. He’s has denied all of Greene’s allegations.

Farenthold is the only lawmaker whom the Office of Compliance has paid out a sexual harassment settlement for in the past five years. Last week, he told local media that he plans to pay taxpayers back for the settlement.

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During an interview with “Good Morning America” Thursday, ousted White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman said she resigned over “concerns.” She also combatted reports that she got into a public argument with Chief of Staff John Kelly and that she was escorted out of the White House by the Secret Service.

“I like to hear all these interesting tales, but they’re 100 percent false,” she said, referring to reports from American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan, who, citing unnamed sources, said that Manigault Newman got into a public fight with Kelly during the White House holiday party and had to be “escorted” off the property after “she tried to go into the residence” to see the President. The Secret Service also denied those reports. 

She said if she had feuded with Kelly in front of 600 people, “where are all the pictures and videos?”

“John Kelly and I sat down in the situation room, which is a very, very quiet room in the White House and we had a very candid conversation,” she said. “(We) had a very straightforward conversation about concerns that I had, issues I raised and as a result, I resigned.”

Manigault Newman said she will stay in the White House until Jan. 20. Until then, mum’s the word on what the “concerns” are that led to her resignation.

“There were a lot of things that I observed in the past year that I was very unhappy with, that I was very uncomfortable with,” she said, when asked questions about reports from The Washington Post that she was unhappy with the President’s response to Charlottesville and the endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore. “Things that I observed that I heard that I listened to— I can’t expand on it because I still have to go back and work with these individuals. … When I can tell my story, it is a profound story, that I know the world will want to hear.”

She also appeared to suggest that her issues were not with President Trump, whom she served as a “senior aide,” but with other individuals in the White House who “had problems with my 14 year relationship with the President.”

Trump tweeted Wednesday night, thanking Manigault Newman for her service.

Watch the full interview below:

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This post has been updated.

A former communications director for Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) alleged the congressman was verbally abusive, sexually demeaning and he regularly called staffers “fucktards,” according to an exclusive CNN interview with the staffer.

Michael Rekola told CNN he had to start going to counseling and developed stress-related stomach issues that caused him to vomit daily at one point. Rekola has approached the House Ethics Committee and plans to share his accounts of Farenthold’s behavior with the investigative staff, according to CNN.

In a sweeping interview with the news outlet, Rekola shared multiple stories of abusive behavior by Farenthold, highlighting a particularly jarring incident that led Rekola to finally resign from his post. In July 2015, Rekola was leaving the office so he could go get married that weekend, and Farenthold told him he “better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” Farenthold also joked about whether Rekola’s fiancée should be allowed to wear white on her wedding day.

Rekola said Farenthold was also known for his screaming fits and often slammed his fists on desks. Rekola alleged the congressman often commented on the size of women’s breasts and buttocks and aides often made jokes about being on “redhead patrol” because Farenthold was attracted to women with red hair, he said.

“Every time he didn’t like something, he would call me a f**ktard or idiot. He would slam his fist down in rage and explode in anger,” Rekola told CNN. “He was flying off the handle on every little thing. I couldn’t find a way to control it.”

CNN corroborated Rekola’s story with his wife, friends, colleagues and also reviewed his medical records and correspondence with friends and colleagues at the time.

Lauren Greene, a former communications director for Farenthold, mentioned this detail in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the congressman. That suit was dropped after both parties agreed to a $84,000 settlement, which was paid with taxpayer funds from the Office of Compliance. The Ethics Committee is also looking into those allegations. Farenthold has denied all of her accusations.

Elizabeth Pearce, who was hired to work on the communications team in May 2015 when Rekola started having his stomach issues, confirmed that Farenthold regularly called aides “fucktards” and said she also heard the jokes the congressman made about Rekola’s fiancée.

Farenthold told CNN that he never made the comments about Rekola’s fiancee, but said he did regularly call his aides “fucktards,” but said the comments were made “in jest, not in anger.”

“In hindsight, I admit it wasn’t appropriate,” he told CNN.    

Read the full CNN report here.

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The Department of Justice is backing former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his effort to appeal a district court’s decision to keep his contempt of court conviction on his criminal record, according to court documents.

In October, a federal judge denied Arpaio’s request to erase the conviction from his record, claiming that President Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was an “executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial record-keeping,” Judge Susan Bolton said at the time.

Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after he was convicted for violating court orders that barred his office from conducting discriminatory policing practices. The conviction came after a civil lawsuit was filed against Arpaio. His office was issued a court order to halt its practice of racially discriminatory traffic stops. The suit argued he targeted and detained Latinos living in his county.

Arpaio appealed the October ruling and the district court in Arizona requested the support of the DOJ, according to the court documents. In a statement to the U.S. appeals court, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said the DOJ doesn’t intend to defend the court’s order.

“The government intends to argue, as it did in the district court, that the motion to vacate should have been granted,” Cronan wrote.

The DOJ’s move to back Arpaio isn’t particularly surprising.

In September, the Justice Department asked the Arizona federal judge to toss the case against Arpaio after Trump pardoned the former Arizona sheriff. Bolton dropped the case, but ruled against removing the conviction from his record.

When reached by TPM, a DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on the decision.

Read the statement below:


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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will run for Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) seat in a November 2018 special election, contrary to initial reports that she would just hold it until then to allow for a wide-open Democratic primary, according to reports from the Associated Press and the local Star Tribune.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton officially announced the appointment of Smith to replace Franken in a press release on Wednesday morning.

It was widely assumed that Dayton would choose Smith ever since Franken announced his resignation last Thursday after facing weeks of public scrutiny for mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Smith was elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor in 2014 and has been a longtime close ally of the governor, according to the Star Tribune.

“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability,” Dayton said in a statement. “There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office. I know that she will be a superb senator, representing the best interests of our state and our citizens.”

Smith accepted the appointment, though, she said, she “never anticipated this moment.” In his statement, the governor did not confirm reports that Smith plans to run for Franken’s seat in the 2018 election, saying only that she’s set to serve a one-year term in the Senate.

“Minnesotans will choose a U.S. Senator to serve the remainder of the term being vacated by Senator Al Franken in a Special Election, which will be held concurrently with the 2018 General Election on November 6, 2018,” the press release said.

Dayton was reportedly initially eyeing Smith because she wasn’t interested in running for election, which would have left November open for a Democratic primary.

However, the Associated Press reported that Dayton was pressured to choose a candidate who wanted to run in the November special election so the Democratic party could have a prominent front runner. Smith decided she would run amid that mounting pressure, a Democratic operative told the AP.

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Beverly Young Nelson, who accused former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was a teen, said Wednesday she was “excited” that Moore won’t be serving in the U.S. Senate, but said she’s “not giving up” on pursuing a case against him.

“Roy Moore’s loss means to me the fact that Alabama is about to make some changes, and I believe it’s going to be in the positive side of things. I’m very excited,” she said, appearing on CNN’s “New Day” the morning after the Republican candidate’s defeat. “There’s no reason for me to go and lie on television when this was the truth from day one. I intend on still pursuing it. I’m not giving up. … I believe he should be investigated. … I’m demanding it.”

Nelson was one of the multiple women who came forward in recent weeks alleging Moore pursued relationships or made inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. Nelson claimed Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16, when the two were parked in his car outside the restaurant where she worked. She provided alleged evidence of her relationship with Moore, publicly sharing a signature that he apparently left in her high school yearbook.

Moore flatly denied all the allegations against him and specifically attacked Nelson. He claimed she forged the signature and his lawyers demanded that her lawyer, Gloria Allred, hand over the yearbook so it could be examined by a neutral party for authenticity.

Nelson said it “really upset” her that so many called her character into question over the yearbook.

“Why would I write that myself in my own yearbook? My name was stamped on the front of it. He knew it was my yearbook. He asked if he could sign it, I told him gladly he could sign that book.”

Allred said they had the yearbook examined by a former FBI agent who worked in the documents division, who determined the signature was authentic.

“She should have her reputation back,” Allred said. “To accuse her of forgery, that’s a crime. That is defamation and Beverly is one of the more honest people you will ever meet in your life. And she deserves her reputation back.”   

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Republicans members of Congress and conservative media are united in blaming one person for their party’s loss in the deep red state of Alabama Tuesday night: Steve Bannon.

In a scathing editorial published late Tuesday evening, the Wall Street Journal ignited the revolt, declaring that “Bannon is for losers.”

The Alabama result shows that Mr. Bannon cares less about conservative policy victories than he does personal king-making,” the editorial board wrote. “He wants to depose Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader even if it costs Republicans Senate control. GOP voters, take note: Mr. Bannon is for losers.”   

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) lashed out on Twitter early Wednesday morning, encouraging his fellow Republicans to “DUMP Steve Bannon.”

In an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning, King took it further.

Saying Bannon looks like a “disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage,” he said the former White House official does not belong on the national stage.

“He sort of parades himself out there with his weird alt-right views that he has and to me it’s demeaning to the whole government and political process,” he said. “This is not the type of person we need in politics and last night’s election was a manifestation of the revulsion by the American people.”

Conservative members of the media and other prominent Republicans followed suit.

Meghan McCain, the outspoken media pundit and daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), had a simple message for the former White House chief strategist.

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, said the Republican defeat in Alabama should be a lesson to other states where Bannon “wants to run a fringy candidate.”

Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff and campaign manager for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), tweeted his harsh criticism for Bannon, as well as Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, before the race was even called for Democrat Doug Jones. He thanked Bannon for “showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union.”

The Senate Leadership Fund also released a statement blaming Bannon for the shocking blow to the party’s grip in the Senate.    

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been vocal about his disdain for Moore, was one of the few Republican members of Congress to respond to the loss in Alabama Tuesday night.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Moore was accused by multiple women of pursing relationships or making inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s, revelations that likely led conservatives in a deeply Republican state to question their party allegiance.

Bannon, who has vowed to campaign against multiple establishment Republican members of Congress up for reelection this year, was a Moore supporter from the start, breaking with President Trump who backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the primaries.

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