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 joined the chorus of conservative pundits who are blaming the terror attack in New York City Tuesday on a State Department lottery immigration program that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) helped write in 1990.

ABC7 News reported Monday evening that the alleged attacker Sayfullo Saipov came to the U.S. legally from Uzbekistan under a 20-year-old program called the Diversity Visa Lottery, a report that has not yet been confirmed, The Washington Post reported.

In 1990, Schumer championed the legislation, which became part of a larger immigration package that passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by former Republican President George H.W. Bush, according to the Post.

Trump latched onto the unverified reports of the alleged attacker’s immigration status, claiming on Twitter that Saipov entered the U.S. through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, “a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” Trump also proclaimed, “We will stop this craziness!”

The President’s tweets were probably spurred on by “Fox and Friends,” his favorite show, because Trump tagged the show in his tweets and started tweeting just minutes after his former aide Sebastian Gorka appeared on “Fox and Friends” to blame Schumer for the attack.

Trump has been an advocate for merit-based immigration system for months. In August, he threw his weight behind the RAISE Act, a bill sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would favor green card applicants who demonstrate skills, education and language ability over relations to people already here. It also sought to cut legal immigration in half over the next decade.

About an hour after Trump tweeted blaming Schumer for the attack, the Senate minority leader responded with a tweet and a lukewarm statement that asked Trump to stop “politicizing and dividing America.”

“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget. I’m calling on the President to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding,” Schumer said.

Under the Diversity Lottery Visa program, the State Department gives 50,000 visas a year, primarily to immigrants from parts of the globe that have low admission rates. Most go to people from African nations, the Washington Post reported.

The program came into effect under the Bill Clinton administration and has been debated for the past decade. In 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined the program was vulnerable to fraud, but former President George W. Bush’s State Department rejected that characterization.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a vocal opponent of the President, responded to Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning, saying the Gang of 8 — a bipartisan group of Senators who attempted, but weren’t able to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 — scrubbed the program as part of its broader reforms bill. Schumer was part of that group.

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NPR has placed its top editor on indefinite leave as the news outlet investigates complaints by two women who said the editor abruptly kissed them while they talked to him about getting a job, The Washington Post reported.

At the time of the alleged incidents, NPR’s Michael Oreskes — the senior vice president of news and editorial director — was working at the New York Times. The two women were both journalists when the alleged incidents occurred in the 1990s. They shared similar stories with the Post, claiming Oreskes met with them about career prospects and kissed them on the lips without their permission and stuck his tongue in their mouths.

The two women spoke with NPR’s attorney in October. A spokesperson for the news outlet told the Post that it takes “these kinds of allegations very seriously” and said the organization always reviews the matter “promptly” and takes steps to “assure a safe, comfortable and productive work environment.”

Oreskes is the latest prominent member of the media to be accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward women who either worked under them or were getting career advice. Both Leon Weiseltier a former editor of The New Republic and the outlet’s current publisher have been accused of sexual harassment toward female employees. Political journalist Mark Halperin has also had multiple women come forward alleging harassment and assault.

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The White House blamed the media for pushing a “racially charged and divided White House” narrative on Tuesday, in response to questions about an interview chief of staff John Kelly gave Monday evening in which he said the Civil War stemmed from a “lack of an ability to compromise.”

When NBC’s Hallie Jackson asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the White House acknowledges that Kelly’s “compromise” comments were “deeply offensive to some folks” — because the two sides fought over whether slavery should be legal during the Civil War —  Sanders said “no.”

Following the White House’s line — as it relates to the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments — Sanders said just “because you don’t like history doesn’t mean that you can erase it and pretend it didn’t happen.”

“To try to create something and push a narrative that simply doesn’t exist, is just frankly outrageous and absurd. I think the fact that we keep trying to drive, the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of racially charged and divided White House,” she said. “Frankly the only people I see stoking political racism right now are the people in the groups that are running ads like the one you saw taking place in Virginia earlier this week. That’s the type of thing that I think really is a problem.

Sanders is likely referencing an advertisement put out by a group called Latino Victory this week, to criticize Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. The video shows minority children running away from a white man driving a pickup truck with a Confederate flag on it.

Kelly also said there were “men and women of good faith on both sides” who made their stand during the Civil War, rhetoric that’s uncannily similar to remarks President Donald Trump made about there being good people on “many sides” of a protest at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

A woman died when a man affiliated with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter protesters. The rally was held in that city to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

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Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is retiring from Congress once his term is up in 2018, The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.

“Today I am announcing that I will not seek reelection to the U.S. Congress in 2018,” said in a statement. “Although service in Congress remains the greatest privilege of my life, I never intended to make it a lifetime commitment, and I have already stayed far longer than I had originally planned.”

Hensarling was elected to Congress in 2003 and represents the 5th district of Texas, which includes Dallas. He recently pushed for an overhaul of the federal flood insurance program after Hurricane Harvey caused massive destruction in parts of southeast Texas.

In the statement, Hensarling said he would continuing working on “housing finance reform, regulatory relief, cyber security and capital formation” and “especially pro-growth tax reform” during his last 14 months in Congress.

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After spending the morning tweeting about how the “Fake News is working overtime,” President Donald Trump acknowledged that not all media is “fake” during a discussion about the Republican tax reform plan with CEOs at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

“All of you have done a tremendous job mobilizing members and talking to the members of Congress, which is very important and making a strong case for tax reform in the media,” he said. “The media is not all fake, therefore, we can get a fair shake.”

He said members of his cabinet would be traveling around the country while he’s in Asia next week, talking directly to taxpayers about the new plan and giving interviews to local media, which Trump apparently prefers over national news outlets.

Cabinet officials will be “focusing on the regional media, which we find to be a much more credible media to be honest with you. In fact, I found it to be incredible how good they are,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to complain about the “Fake News” being “weak!” and the recent media coverage of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was indicted Monday on multiple counts of money laundering, among other crimes, some of which spanned through the time Manafort was working for the Trump campaign.

Trump was also frustrated with the attention being paid to George Papadopoulos, one of his campaign’s foreign policy advisers who recently plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, whom he was encouraged to meet with during the campaign, according to court documents.

He claimed that the “biggest story” from Monday was that Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager’s brother, Tony Podesta, is leaving his Washington lobbying firm after becoming part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win.

As reporters were ushered out of the Roosevelt Room where Trump was hosting the tax reform discussion, the President refused to answer shouted question about the Mueller indictments or presidential pardons.

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After news broke that three former members of President Donald Trump’s campaign have been indicted in a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, questions about whether the President plans to fire the investigator have gained new traction, especially following reports that Trump was fuming about Monday’s news.

The White House maintains that Trump has “no intention” of firing Mueller, but the President’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly whispering alternative methods for kneecapping the investigator in Trump’s ear, according to reports from CNN, The Daily Beast and Politico.

On Monday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business associate turned themselves in to federal authorities after the pair was charged with 12 counts related to money laundering and other alleged crimes.

Court documents also released Monday showed that Trump’s campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos lied to federal agents about his contacts with a professor whom he knew had substantial links to the Russian government. Another member of the Trump campaign encouraged Papadopoulos to travel to Russia to meet with officials “if it is feasible,” according to an exchange revealed in the court documents.

A source close to Bannon told CNN that the former Trump aide is pushing the White House to take down Mueller on multiple fronts.

Bannon wants Republicans to get Congress to cut funding to the special counsel, and he wants the White House to publicly debate Mueller’s mandate, slow the production of documents and go on a publican relations campaign against the probe, according to CNN. The Daily Beast and Politico reported similar information from sources close to Bannon. The Daily Beast reported that Bannon thinks these approaches will look better than Trump firing the person who is investigating Russian interference into the 2016 election and any potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

When asked whether Trump plans to fire Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Trump has “no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel,” despite reports that Trump has asked for advice on how to get rid of Mueller.

A source familiar with the President told Politico that Trump has repeatedly said “‘I could do this but I’m not going to,’” referencing his ability to fire the special counsel.

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President Donald Trump has apparently changed him mind about a former foreign policy adviser to his campaign.

After court documents detailing campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’ lies to federal agents about his contacts with Russia were unsealed Monday, Trump flip-flopped on Papadopoulos, a man he once described as an “excellent guy.”

During an interview with The Washington Post editorial board in March 2016, Trump outlined the members of his foreign policy team for the newspaper, including Papadopoulos as one of the five members of the group, which also included Carter Page, political pundit Walid Phares, former inspector general for the Department of Defense Joe Schmitz and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg at the time.

“He’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy,” Trump said of Papadopoulos at the time.

With the White House characterizing Papadopoulos as a volunteer — who press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said was only involved with one meeting — on Monday, Trump’s attempts to distance himself from his former campaign adviser were clear.

On Tuesday morning he made his disdain public, calling Papadopoulos a “proven liar” who was a “young, low level volunteer.”

Trump’s not wrong that the foreign adviser could be called a “proven liar.” Court documents released Monday showed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his contacts with a professor whom he knew had substantial links to the Russian government. A campaign supervisor at the time had encouraged Papadopoulos to take a meeting in Russia with government officials “if it is feasible,” according to the unsealed documents.

The White House on Monday pushed back on revelations that someone in the campaign sent Papadopoulos an email encouraging a “low level” campaign member to take the trip to Russia, saying any actions Papadopoulos took “would have been his own.”

Monday was a rocky day for the Trump administration and former members of his inner circle.

Just before the Papadopoulos documents were released, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business associate turned themselves in to federal authorities after the pair was charged with 12 counts related to money laundering and other alleged crimes.

Both the Manafort charges and the Papadopoulos case are part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power to win the election.

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Carter Page, a foreign policy campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, admitted on MSNBC Monday evening that he was “probably” on a few email exchanges that “may have” been about Russia with another campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia earlier this month.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes pressed Page twice throughout the 15 minute interview about whether he was on email chains with former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos that discussed Russia. Page didn’t hesitate to say he probably was.

“Look, there is a lot of email all over the place when you’re in a campaign,” he said.

“Yes or no, were you on email chains with Papadopoulos?” Hayes asked.

“Probably a few, yeah,” Page said. When asked whether he was on chains that discussed Russia, he said “it may have come up from time to time, again there was nothing major.”

Asked again later on in the interview, Page said that he was “perhaps, yeah” on email threads with Papadopoulos and that Russia “may have come up.”

Court documents unsealed Monday revealed Papadopoulos, who was also a foreign policy adviser for Trump’s campaign, lied to federal agents about his contacts with a professor whom he knew had substantial links to the Russian government. A campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos to travel to Russia to meet with officials “if it is feasible,” according to the unsealed documents.

Page said it was not him who encouraged Papadopoulous to travel to Russia nor was he the “low level” campaign member mentioned in court documents who went to Russia “so as not to send any signal.”

I definitely was not. I’m sure on that one that I wasn’t. It was very clear. And if you listen to the audio of all or the transcripts of everything I said, I was always there just as a private citizen. And I’ve spoken at universities in Moscow, in Russia, in Asia, in Europe many times. So I was totally separate from the campaign. … They said if you want to go on your own, we’re fine with that,” he said, saying the campaign knew he was going to Russia.

Page came under scrutiny in the past for a trip he took to Moscow during the campaign, which he has consistently claimed was a personal trip that had nothing to do with Trump or the election.   

Page recently spent five hours — without a lawyer, he said Monday — being interviewed by congressional investigators who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power to win.

At the end of the interview, Hayes pressed Page on whether he has a lawyer — Page said he has some “advisers” — and said he hopes Page is “innocent of everything” because he is “doing a lot of talking.”

“You’re either admirably bold or reckless,” Hayes said. 

Watch the full interview:

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser reached out to a Kremlin-linked professor, after unsealed court documents revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations.

But “nothing happened beyond that,” Sanders said of the “volunteer” adviser who she said attended just one campaign meeting.

“Which I think that shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign and two, what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” she said, repeating her attempts to minimize Papadopoulos’ role in the President’s campaign, which she said was “extremely limited.”

Court documents released Monday showed that Papadopoulos lied to federal agents about his contacts with a professor whom he knew had substantial links to the Russian government. A campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos to take the meeting with the professor in Russia “if it is feasible,” according to the unsealed documents.

Sanders pushed back on those findings, saying “any actions (Papadopoulos) took would have been his own” and claiming she was “not aware of that conversation,” which was detailed in the documents involving the campaign supervisor and Papadopoulos.

“It has nothing to do with the campaign, it has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign or campaign’s activities,” she said. “No activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard.”

Earlier Monday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business associate turned themselves in to federal authorities after the pair was charged with 12 counts related to money laundering and other alleged crimes.

Both the Manafort charges and the Papadopoulos case are part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power to win the election.

On Monday Sanders also said the President has “no intention” of firing Mueller, despite several past reports that said Trump has asked for advice on whether he could get rid of Mueller.

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President Donald Trump and members of his inner circle on Monday were quick to distance the President from news that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had surrendered to the FBI for charges related to money laundering, among other alleged offenses.

Those efforts to disassociate the President from the first arrests of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe quickly proved futile.

Just minutes after the President sounded off on Twitter to say the Manafort charges had nothing to do with him, and Trump’s former campaign manager defended him on television, court documents from a separate case were unsealed. Those documents revealed that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser had pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Just before 10:30 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted that the charges against Manafort stem from alleged bad deeds that occurred “years ago” and were therefore not the President’s problem. The indictment against Manafort indicates the alleged misconduct spanned from 2006 to 2017.

Trump then quickly switched the focus back to “crooked Hillary and the Dems,” proclaiming there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government to influence the election, issues that have been the focus of special counsel Mueller’s wide-ranging probe.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was one of the first Trump loyalists to appear on cable news to defend the President.

He was quick to shift blame away from his former boss, claiming during an interview with Fox Business that there is a “problem with the FBI” because the agency didn’t notify the campaign that Manafort was under a FISA warrant “before coming to the Trump campaign.”

He then echoed comments made by sources close to the White House early Monday that Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates — who was also named in the indictment — were “bad guys when they started. They were bad guys when they left. The indictment has nothing to do with any relationship with Russia.”

“Look, if Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are guilty of tax evasion, money laundering, or hiding their accounts in Cyprus, or whatever it is, they should absolutely be held accountable. But they should be held accountable independent of the President, because the President had nothing to do with coordination, collusion or cooperation with Russia, nobody at the campaign did that I’m aware of,” Lewandowski said.

News of the separate case, that the Trump campaign’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the federal agents, broke not long after Trump’s initial tweets.

Papadopoul0s admitted earlier this month that he lied to FBI agents in January about his contact with a professor whom he knew had substantial Kremlin connections. According to the court documents, Papadopoulos said he met with the professor just days before joining the Trump campaign.

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