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

The White House is sticking by its line that President Donald Trump was respectful during his conversation with the widow of a fallen soldier, whose mother told The Washington Post that she felt “disrespected” by Trump’s remarks.

During the White House press briefing Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “unfortunate” if the family “misunderstood.”

Certainly if the spirit of which those comments were intended was misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate. As the President has said, as General Kelly has said, who I think has a very deep understanding of what that individual would be going through, his comments were very sympathetic, very respectful,” Sanders said. “And that was the spirit in which the President intended them. If they were taken in any other way, that’s certainly an unfortunate thing.” 

The comments follow a week-long firestorm that Trump started on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread condemnation from former Obama aides.

When Trump did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after their deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump and Wilson have been publicly criticizing each other ever since, with Trump calling Wilson a liar and Wilson standing by her characterization of the phone call.

Chief of Staff John Kelly got involved on Thursday, telling reporters he was “stunned” by the fact that Wilson had listened in on the phone call and calling Wilson an “empty barrel.”

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While she admits that the federal response has “stepped up” in Puerto Rico in the past week, the mayor of San Juan is still pleading for help in the hurricane recovery and relief efforts and criticizing federal response efforts.

Appearing on CNN Friday — after the governor of Puerto Rico paid a visit to Washington Thursday to meet with President Donald Trump, who rated the U.S. response in Puerto Rico as a “10” — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz gave a tongue-in-cheek endorsement of Trump’s assessment.

“If it’s a 10 out of a scale of 100, of course, it’s a failing grade,” she said when asked about Trump’s assessment. “FEMA representatives have admitted that they really haven’t been able to canvas most of just — less than 2 percent of the people that have lost their roofs in their homes. FEMA administrators have admitted that they’re still in a recovery side and even though they have stepped up their game, and I have to say that in the last week, they have stepped up their game, it still isn’t enough.”

She said she thinks Trump “lives in an alternative reality world that only he believes the things that he’s saying.” When asked about what rating she would give the federal response she said “one.”

“The administration has been unresponsive. They go back and forth. The President first says Katrina was a real disaster and yesterday says, ‘this is worse than Katrina.’ … There are still place in Puerto Rico where food has not gotten there,” she said.

Cruz and Trump have been at odds for weeks. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Cruz appeared on numerous cable news shows, asking for more resources for relief efforts. Trump took her requests personally and lashed out, criticizing her leadership and blaming Puerto Rico for the devastation they faced on their poor infrastructure and debt.

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A group of Democratic representatives asked Vice President Mike Pence to repay taxpayers for a trip he took to an Indianapolis Colts game that he walked out of when players knelt for the national anthem, a move that President Trump essentially confirmed was a preplanned stunt.

Spearheaded by Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), the Democrats claim the “costly publicity stunt” was “employed by the Trump-Pence reelection campaign for the purpose of soliciting donations” because the campaign quickly used the scene to rally its base.

Additionally, members of Pence’s press pool were advised to stay in their cars and were told there might be an “early departure,” the letter said.

“This strongly suggests that your truncated visit was not a spontaneous act of protest — as you have sought to portray it — but was instead a premeditated act conducted solely for the purpose of generating publicity. In fact, President Trump confirmed as much when he posted on Twitter that he told you beforehand to stage this protest if any players kneeled,” according to the letter, which was signed by Gallego, Lieu, as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Brendan Boyle (D-PA).

Requesting documents about his travel and communications between Pence and the Trump-Pence campaign, the members of Congress said the American people “deserve to know” how many taxpayer dollars were spent on the trip and whether the campaign knew about it ahead of time, “at the very least.”

But, in order to “preserve the integrity” of Pence’s office, the Democrats also urged Pence to reimburse the Department of the Treasury for the full cost of the trip.

“The health of the democracy requires that taxpayer funding is not used for campaign purposes,” they wrote. “Again, given the appearance of serious impropriety in this matter, we request that you instruct the Trump-Pence campaign to immediately reimburse the Treasury for the full cost of your wasteful, unnecessary trip to Indianapolis.” 

Pence’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the letter below:

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As part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s complete overhaul of its website to “to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt,” the agency scrubbed a number of climate change related web resources from its site, according to a new report.

An EPA website that was previously called the “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments” was recently replaced with a new site that only provides energy resources for governments, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative said in a report released Friday.

A screen shot from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative of the former climate and energy resources website’s front page and the current energy resources webpage.

On April 28, the EPA removed several webpages dealing with climate change from public view. The new energy resources site — which launched in July — is the first webpage that has been returned since then. At least 15 mentions of the words “climate change” were removed in the transition and the website overall was cut from 380 pages to about 175, according to the report.

Among the many climate-related resources excluded from the new site is information about the risks of climate change and a tool that helps state officials curb carbon emissions. The former front page of the website mentioned the word “climate” 17 times, but is not mentioned at all in the new “Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments” site.

The former website is still accessible through the Jan. 19 snapshot of the EPA website, which archived all the information the agency made available under former President Barack Obama’s administration, but not on the official government site.

An EPA spokesman told The New York Times the Obama-era climate pages have been archived and can be found by searching the EPA archive website.

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A federal judge shot down Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s request to have his criminal conviction wiped from his record on Thursday, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

Judge Susan Bolton told Arpaio that President Trump couldn’t erase the conviction, even though she has already dismissed Arpaio’s contempt of court case after President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August.

“The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial record-keeping,” she said. “The pardon undoubtedly spared (the) defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, revise the historical facts of this case.”

Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court in July for racially profiling against Latinos while serving as county sheriff in Maricopa County in Arizona. Arpaio was an early Trump supporter and the President said he was treated “unbelievably unfairly.

Trump pardoned the former sheriff on Aug. 25. Before the pardon, Arpaio was planning to appeal the conviction, which his attorney said he thinks he would have won. 

Arpaio is set on getting the conviction removed from his record and filed a notice of appeal Thursday in the U.S. district court in Arizona.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) poked fun at his colleagues in the Senate, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the media during a speech at a New York Catholic charity event Thursday night.

But the President was the butt of nearly every joke.

“Please, enough. You should like the Cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room,” Ryan said as he took the stage at the  the 72nd Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner.

He then referenced his typical line to the media — that he doesn’t respond to the President’s tweets — during his roasting routine, saying the first thing he does each morning is “scroll Twitter.”

“Every morning, I wake up in my office and scroll Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend that I didn’t see later,” he said.

The dinner, which invites “New York liberals” and “Wall Street CEOs” — whom Ryan said he hadn’t “seen this many” of in the same room since “my last visit to the White House” — together for charity, is especially popular during presidential elections. Last year, President Donald Trump and then-candidate Hillary Clinton were asked to speak.

“I know last year at this dinner Donald Trump offended some people with his comments, which I know his comments, according to critics, went too far. Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and that his comments were offensive. … Well, thank God he’s learned his lesson,” he said.

Ryan proved his penchant for keeping up with the mainstream news, taking jabs at Christie for his infamous beach visit and suggested Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to say “oxymoron” when he reportedly called the President a “moron” this summer.

“The truth is, the press absolutely misunderstands and never records the big accomplishments of the White House,” Ryan said. “Look at all the new jobs the President has created — just among the White House staff.”

Watch the full speech below:

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During an interview with Fox News radio this week, President Donald Trump invoked his chief of staff’s dead son in his continuing effort to deflect criticism for not calling all the soldiers who have died while he was President.

But Chief of Staff John Kelly said Thursday he told Trump that former President Barack Obama had not called his family when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 not as “criticism,” but to give him counsel about how to handle offering condolences to the families of fallen soldiers when he first took the job.

“He asked me about previous presidents and I said I could tell you that President Obama who was my commander in chief when I was on active duty did not call my family,” he said during a surprise press briefing at the White House Thursday. “That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing.”

He said he didn’t think former President George W. Bush called in all cases either, which he said is common, especially “when the casualty rates are very, very high.” He said he believes all president write letters to Gold Star families, though.

Trump started the controversy over how to console families of fallen soldiers on Monday when he was asked about the deaths of four U.S. troops in Niger nearly two weeks ago. Trump claimed that “Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls,” which was met with widespread frustration from former Obama aides.

When the President finally did make phone calls to the families of the four fallen soldiers, 14 days after the deaths, he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, that the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) who was apparently in the car with Johnson when she received the call.

Trump pushed back on those reports, tweeting that Wilson’s comments were “totally fabricated” and claiming he had “proof” that she made it up.

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After years of careful silence regarding his successors, former President George W. Bush took some veiled shots at President Donald Trump Thursday in comments condemning bigotry, white nationalism and nativism.

During his headlining speech at the Spirit of Liberty conference in New York, Bush outlined issues he’s seen emerge in America in the past decade, saying today “bigotry seems emboldened” and “our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” than ever before.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” he said.

Likely referencing Trump’s nationalist “America first” approach to global relations, Bush said “we’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism.” Bush touched on the importance of immigration and international trade, both ideals that Trump has taken shots at — his travel ban, limitation of refugees into the U.S. and criticism of NAFTA — since coming into office.

Bush also took a stronger stance on the Russia investigation than Trump ever has, claiming unequivocally that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 election, but also utilized social media to deepen partisan divides in the U.S.

According to intelligence services the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It is conducted across a range of social media platforms,” he said. “We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.”

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation into Russian meddling in the election a witch hunt, and even suggesting on Twitter Thursday that Russia, the FBI or Democrats paid for the unverified dossier about the Trump campaign and Russian collusion.

Bush also fully condemned white supremacy, something Trump refused to do after a woman was killed at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” he said.

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Four longtime Democratic National Committee officials have been removed from their posts under the leadership of the committee’s chairman Tom Perez.

The four who were ousted either supported candidates other than Perez for campaign chairman, ran against him or supported former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), NBC News reported Thursday morning.

The ousted officials include Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire Democratic chairman who ran against Perez for chairman; as well as Alice Germond, a former party secretary; and Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first transgender member of the DNC. Both Germond and Casbar Siperstein supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) for DNC chair.

James Zogby, who backed Sanders in the Democratic primaries and is the president of the Arab American Institute, was removed from his post as the co-chair of the Resolutions Committee and was kicked off the Executive Committee.

Buckley was pushed out of the Executive Committee and DNC Rules Committee, Casbar Siperstein was removed from the Executive Committee and Germond lost her at-large appointment.

A DNC spokesperson said the changeover in the DNC’s at-large membership was to make the committee’s representation more reflective of the “unprecedented diversity of our party’s coalition.”

NBC also reported that there is an over-representation of former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backers on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which sets the rules for the Democratic presidential primaries. 

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Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said he thinks he and President Trump “communicate differently” and suggested he might have handled the conversation — and subsequent controversy — with the family of a soldier killed in Niger two weeks ago differently.

“Again, I can’t get into the President’s mind. We communicate differently. I am a doctor, so maybe I am more used to talking about emotions and bad things than other people are,” Cassidy said on CNN Thursday. “That said, in a tough emotional situation, sometimes you just have to cut folks some slack. It’s very difficult. … I’m not sure somebody on the outside looking in can fully understand that.”

When CNN host Chris Cuomo asked directly if he would have responded the same way Trump did when the family claimed they felt disrespected by the President, Cassidy skirted the question.

“You wouldn’t would you?” Cuomo asked.

“Well, I learned long ago in my marriage that it’s better to meet somebody where they are than demand — on the other hand, communication is the root of most conflict in humans,” he said. “And whoever is right or whoever is wrong, I think we have to leave it as poor communication and hope that all can do better.”

Cassidy said he wanted the Pentagon and Congress to get to the bottom of what happened two weeks ago when four U.S. troops were killed in Niger, details of which the White House has been tight lipped about since news of the deaths broke.

“We should have those answers,” he said.

Trump started the controversy over appropriate communication with the families of soldiers who die in combat by baselessly claiming at a press conference this week that his predecessors didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers, comments that were widely criticized by Gold Star families and aides of former presidents.

On Wednesday, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) told The Washington Post that Trump told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, that her dead husband “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Trump later claimed that Wilson “fabricated” his comments and said he had “proof,” which apparently meant there were other people in the room when Trump made the call, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

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