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

During a contentious interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday morning, former President Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski defended the President’s son for communicating with Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.

Don Jr. is a private citizen, can tweet or retweet anything he wants to and doesn’t have a material effect on the outcome of the campaign, and he has the privilege to do that,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

I’ve never communicated with Wikileaks … and I can’t speak to what someone else is doing, why they tweeted or retweeted something they were asked to do,” he said. “Everything I would say would be speculation as to why Don Jr. did it. We don’t have the full context. Let’s give him an opportunity to come out and articulate what happened to why he tweeted or retweeted something.”

Lewandowski’s remarks come after news broke Monday that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged private messages with Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign. While many of the messages sent to Trump Jr.’s Twitter account went unanswered, he did occasionally respond and appeared to act on some of Wikileaks’ requests, according to a report from the Atlantic.

Lewandowski said there was no way to know if the Trump campaign knew of Wikileaks’ ties back then, despite remarks from the Trump-nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, who has labeled the group a hostile, non-state actor with ties to Russia.

“I don’t know when Mike Pompeo made that statement about Wikileaks. My guess is that since he has only been head of the CIA since January and this occurred in October, I don’t know if we knew back in October if Wikileaks had that same type of notion behind them,” he said. “Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. I don’t think it’s fair to say that looking back a year ago that we would have known what Wikileaks was about.”

However, the same day Wikileaks released a trove of emails from Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta’s account On Oct. 7, national security officials put out a joint statement saying the agencies were confident that the leak of documents had been directed by the Russian government.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” the joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence said. “(The hacks) are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

Lewandowski also pushed back on all of Cuomo’s questions about whether he had knowledge of anyone within the Trump campaign being in communication with Russian officials during the election. He swept aside all allegations that former campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos were in communication with Russian officials by saying the two were acting as private citizens, not campaign officials.

“What they’re doing (as private citizens), I can’t control,” he said. “I told (Page) ‘You can do whatever you want to do, you don’t work for the campaign.’”

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After a fifth woman came forward to accuse Senate candidate Roy Moore of improper sexual advances on Monday, Moore held a press conference outside of a volunteer fire station in the small town of Gallant, Alabama, surrounded by his family, church members and supporters.

“I never did what she said I did. I don’t even know the woman, I don’t know anything about her,” he said. “If you look at the situation, you’ll see that because I’m 11 points ahead … this race being just 28 days off, that this is a political maneuver. It has nothing to do with reality. It’s all about politics.”

Moore’s remarks come after a woman named Beverly Young Nelson came forward with her attorney on Monday, alleging that Moore assaulted her and attempted to force her to have sex with him when she was just 16-years-old. Describing the alleged assault, Nelson said she thought Moore was going to rape her and that he told her no one would believe her if she came forward with her story.

“I want to make it perfectly clear. The people of Alabama know me, they know my character, they know what I’ve stood with in the political world for 40 years and I can tell you without hesitation, this is absolutely false,” Moore said Monday.

Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore, spoke out on Monday as well, saying her husband had “never one time lifted a finger to me” and called the accusations the “ugliest politics.”

“I’ve been married to this man for 32 years and we’ve been together for 33 altogether,” she said. “He has never one time lifted a finger to me. He is the most gentle, most kind man that I have ever known in my life. He’s godly, he’s loving and everybody in this community knows it. These are our church members, these are my family, these are my friends, these are people who know him just like I do. These things are false and it’s ugly. It’s the ugliest politics that I’ve ever seen in in my life.”

The mounting allegations against Moore began on Thursday with a bombshell report from The Washington Post where four woman came forward accusing Moore of improper sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers. One was 14 at the time, according to the Post’s reporting.

Watch a video of the press conference below:

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Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is doubling down on his impeachment push against President Trump.

Despite veiled pushback from party leaders on impeachment talk, Steyer is spending another $10 million on cable TV advertisements carrying his message of removing Trump from office.

Steyer plans to fund two new advertisements with the $10 million investment, Politico reported. The new ads will be in addition to one that’s already been circulating on cable news for weeks. Nearly 2 million people have already signed Steyer’s impeachment petition, he told reporters on a conference call, according to Politico.

The advertisement has even caught an audience with the President himself, likely after it aired on Fox News for the first time on Oct. 27. Trump called Steyer “wacky” and “totally unhinged.” 

Fox News pulled the advertisement from its airwaves four day later. The network told TPM it pulled the ad because of “strong negative reaction” from its viewers.

Steyer, a billionaire who invested more than $160 million in Democrats in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, isn’t backing down from his impeachment campaign, despite pushback from not only Trump, but also leaders of his party.

While she didn’t directly criticize Steyer’s advertisement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Sunday on CNN that talks of impeachment are “not someplace that I think we should go.”

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President Donald Trump wasn’t being totally serious when he gave China “great credit” for taking “advantage” of the U.S. on trade, according to America’s top diplomat.

Speaking with reporters at the World China Hotel on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the President’s remarks were more “tongue-in-cheek,” but “there was also a lot of truth to it.”

During a speech before Chinese business leaders on Thursday, Trump said the economic playing field between the two countries was “very one-sided and unfair.” But Trump said he doesn’t blame China for that.

“After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit,” he said, remarks that are a far-cry from the way Trump characterized China’s trade policies with the U.S. on the campaign trail. At one point he claimed China was “raping” the U.S., referencing America’s more than $1 trillion debt to China because of an imbalance in imports and exports between the two countries.

When asked about Trump’s change in tone on China, Tillerson said he was likely being ironic and said it’s been an “issue that has just grown over time.”

I think what the President was just reflecting on is, look, we are where we are because previous administrations, whether through benign neglect — which is my own characterization of it — or for whatever reasons, allowed this to happen, and allowed it to get so out of balance that now it’s not an easy thing to rebalance,” he said.

“I think his characterization of not blaming a large developing country from doing what they can do, you know, I feel the same way about a number of actions that countries take, if the door is open, you’re going to walk through it. And I think in this case the President was simply saying, look, previous administrations have kind of left this trade door open,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s comments come as Trump receives criticism back home for not being tough enough on China.

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) wasn’t being hyperbolic when he said he feared President Trump was leading the U.S. “on the path to World War III,” a remark that escalated tensions between the retiring senator and the President.

On Wednesday, Corker announced that there would be a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Nov. 14 to review Trump’s authority to use nuclear weapons. Corker chairs the committee.

A number of members both on and off our committee have raised questions about the authorities of the legislative and executive branches with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and conducting foreign policy overall,” Corker said in a statement Wednesday. “This continues a series of hearings to examine those issues and will be the first time since 1976 that this committee or our House counterparts have looked specifically at the authority and process for using U.S. nuclear weapons. This discussion is long overdue, and we look forward to examining this critical issue.”

The scheduled hearing continues the conflict between Corker and Trump, whose White House Corker equated to an “adult day care” and a “reality show.” The two began publicly criticizing each other after Corker attacked Trump’s “stability” and “competence” in response to the deadly attack at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

The news comes just after Trump made a toned-down, albeit combative, speech about North Korea while in Seoul this week, threatening North Korea to not “try us” and calling on the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The military and foreign relations professionals set to testify on Tuesday include retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Duke University professor and the former director of President George W. Bush’s Defense Policy and Arms Control at the National Security Council Peter Feaver and a former Department of Defense official for President Barack Obama, Brian McKeon.

At least two of the three have been vocal critics of Trump’s rhetoric on foreign relations, CNBC reported. 

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

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President Donald Trump toned down his criticism of U.S. trade relations with China while on foreign soil Thursday.

Throughout his campaign Trump repeatedly attacked China for “ripping us off” and “raping” the U.S. on trade between the two countries. He promised to officially label China a “currency manipulator” as President.

But during a bilateral appearance with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in front of business leaders on Thursday, Trump bragged about his “great chemistry” with Xi and said he doesn’t “blame China” for the U.S.’s annual trade deficit with China, “a number beyond anything what anybody would understand.”

“This number is shockingly hundreds of billions of dollars each year, estimates are as high as $500 billion a year,” he said, referencing the imbalance between U.S. exports to China and imports from the country that has put the U.S. in massive debt to China— about $1.2 trillion as of August, according to experts.

“Both the United States and China will have a more prosperous future if we can achieve a level economic playing field,” he said. “Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one, but, but I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

Trump said the fault lies with his predecessors who “allowed it to get so far out of kilter.” Trump said he wanted to work on removing barriers to make the agreement more successful, saying the U.S. loses $300 billion a year from “the theft of intellectual property.”

We’ll make it fair, and it’ll be tremendous for both of us,” he said. “My feeling toward you is incredibly warm. We have great chemistry. I think we’ll do tremendous things, China and the U.S.”

Back in the states, Democrats criticized Trump’s soft critique on trade, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling China’s trade policies “rapacious.”

“After campaigning like a lion against China’s trade practices, the President is governing like a lamb,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Rather than treating China with kid gloves, the President should be much tougher on China, as he promised he would be on the campaign trail.”

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Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) said there were plenty of factors that contributed to Democrat Ralph Northam’s big win in Virginia on Tuesday, but the “overwhelming thing” that pushed Democrats to come out and vote was the “divisive rhetoric” spurred on by President Donald Trump.

“You have to give credit where credit is due. Democrats showed up last night, there’s no question about it,” he said on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning. “You can attribute some of the things to the candidate, Gillespie, as well too, but there was an overwhelming thing that was looming large and that was the divisive rhetoric.”

Taylor, who has consistently said he supports Trump, but “not blindly,” said last night’s Democratic wins were “a referendum” on the President.

“I don’t think there’s any way you can look at it in a different way, to be honest with you, and be intellectually consistent,” he said, adding he doesn’t agree with Trump’s assessment that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lost because he didn’t fully “embrace” the President.

“With all due respect to the President, I simply profoundly disagree with that,” he said.

The significant Democratic wins in Virginia and New Jersey, and in other state and local races coast-to-coast Tuesday, had Democrats hopeful for the beginning of a turning point for the party.

Republicans tried to downplay the results. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said his party would probably be “saying the same kind of thing” if roles were reversed. “That’s the way the spin works on these things,” he said on Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade’s radio show.

Watch the interview with Taylor below:

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President Donald Trump was quick to distance himself from the Virginia gubernatorial candidate he endorsed following Republican Ed Gillespie’s defeat Tuesday evening. Trump tweeted from South Korea that the candidate “worked hard, but did not embrace me.”

But Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel pushed back on that claim.

“Ed did work with the President, he did robocalls and he had tweets,” she said, likely referencing a robocall Trump made prior to Election Day encouraging voters that Gillespie “will help make America great again.”

It appears Trump did more to embrace Gillespie, than vice versa. The President tweeted support for Gillespie in late October and again on Tuesday. Gillespie failed to mention the Presidential tweets of support at later campaign events. Gillespie even dodged questions from TPM about Trump at a campaign event.

McDaniel went on to contradict herself, saying the reason Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) won was because he said he would be willing to work with the President if it helped the people of Virginia.

“Our base is for our President. The enthusiasm for the President is still strong. … Voters want to see candidates embrace the President,” she said. “If there’s a playbook for Democrats, they should work with the President. … I absolutely think any candidate should be embracing the President and I think Ed did.” 

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While President Donald Trump was quick to dismiss calls for gun control after the church shooting massacre in Texas over the weekend, his nominee for assistant secretary of defense for health affairs took a different approach.

During Dr. Dean Winslow’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Winslow was asked about the need for a policy change surrounding the reporting of military criminal history and offered that it’s “insane” that the average American could purchase a semi-automatic weapon like the one Devin Kelley allegedly used in the church attack that left 26 dead on Sunday.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked Winslow if domestic violence — the crime Kelley served a year in military confinement for — should have a zero tolerance police within the military, synonymous with the punishment for sexual assault. Winslow said it was a system failure that allowed Kelley’s crimes to go unreported to the FBI.

“When you’re designing weapons systems and things, the last thing you want is to engineer it in a way that a single point of failure results in such a tragic outcome,” he said, before making the comments he acknowledged he “may get in trouble” for.

But I’d also like to, I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semi-automatic assault rifle like an AR-15, which is apparently the weapon that was used, that’s an issue not as much for this committee, but elsewhere, so again obviously domestic violence is a serious problem,” he said.

He was then cut off by an unidentified senator who said Winslow’s comments were not “in your area of responsibility or expertise.”

Authorities say Kelley used a variant of a semi-automatic riffle to conduct the attack, similar to weapons used by the gunmen in gun massacres in Las Vegas last month, an Orlando night club last year and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

Winslow is a former U.S. Air Force colonel who also serves as the vice chair of medicine at Stanford University. The Air Force has admitted fault for failing to report Kelley’s past military criminal convictions to the FBI, which would have blocked Kelley from purchasing a firearm.

Watch the hearing here. Winslow’s comments come at around 1:20:00

H/t: Huffington Post

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Another Texas Republican announced his retirement on Tuesday evening.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) won’t seek reelection in 2018, stating simply it’s “time for the next step.”

“I am looking forward to spending more time in Texas, especially with my 12 grandkids who have all been born since I was first elected to Congress,” he said in an announcement on Twitter. “I am proud of the work that my office has accomplished: giving crime victims a voice, helping to combat human trafficking and fighting for constitutional rights and individual liberty.”

Poe, who was diagnosed with leukemia last year, said health was not a factor in his retirement.

The former judge was elected to Congress in 2005 and has been an advocate for religious freedom and victims of domestic violence, rape and other violent crimes ever since. He served on the House Freedom Caucus throughout his time in Washington, but stepped down in March because he felt the caucus was no longer constructive since Republicans took control of Congress.

Poe is just the latest Republican — and the second from the state of Texas — to announce their retirement in recent weeks, clearing the way for new candidates in the 2018 midterms. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) announced his decision to leave last week, saying he “never intended to make it a lifetime commitment.”

Other Republicans have made more contentious retirement announcements, like Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who pinned their exits on President Donald Trump’s behavior.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) also said he would retire Tuesday, saying the “polarization” in Congress has made it difficult to do his job.

H/t: CNN

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