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

Despite weeks-old claims from President Donald Trump that he has “very little time” to watch TV, the President launched an attack on Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Monday just minutes after the senator appeared on CNN discussing the Russia investigation.

Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning, Blumenthal said the investigation into Russia’s involvement in meddling in the U.S. election and “potential collusion” by the Trump campaign “must be pursued.”

“The impanelment of the grand jury shows that Bob Mueller is pursuing this potential wrongdoing by the Russians, the attack on our democracy, seriously and diligently and there is no minimizing or diminishing that attack by the Russians,” he said. “It was purposeful and relentless and it involved propaganda and hacking into our voting machines, or at least attempted to, and potential collusion by the Trump campaign and then obstruction of justice. That investigation must be pursued.”

The President launched his Twitter attack on the senator minutes later, bringing up old reports from the New York Times that Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam while he was running for the U.S. Senate and calling him “a phony Vietnam con artist.”

About an hour and a half later, Blumenthal shot back, telling Trump his “bullying hasn’t work before and it won’t work now,” adding, “no one is above the law.”

The President’s tweets follow a recent report from Bloomberg News that said Trump’s new Chief of Staff John Kelly was attempting to rein in the President’s Twitter rants. 

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Despite reports that President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff is working to rein in some of Trump’s Twitter rants, the President sent out a string of tweets Monday morning, railing against the media, bragging about his accomplishments and claiming his base has grown since he was elected.

The tweet-storm was likely triggered by a recent New York Times story on Republicans who are apparently looking into presidential runs in 2020, including Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump blasted the newspaper, saying it has made “every wrong prediction about me.” He went on to brag about the size of his base, saying it’s “far bigger and stronger than ever before.”

He then went on to tout some of what he considers accomplishments so far in his presidency, claiming the “Fake News Russian collusion story, record stock market, border security, military strength, jobs” and “Supreme Court pick” have driven his supporters to stay loyal.

Despite the President’s tweets claiming otherwise, Trump’s approval ratings are lower than ever. A Quinnipiac Poll released last week found that just 33 percent of registered voters approve of the President.

Even Trump’s main base of supporters — white people with no college degree — are losing faith in the President, the poll found. They disapprove of his job performance 50 percent to 43 percent.

Trump ended his rant attacking “24/7 #Fake News.”

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In his latest string of criticism against his political party, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said he wishes Republicans had done more to stop the repeatedly debunked “birtherism” conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen when it first emerged.

While he thinks he personally did enough to stand up against the bogus claims, Republicans as a whole should have done more.

“I wish we had, as a party would’ve stood up for example when the birtherism thing was going along,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “A lot of people did stand up, but not enough. That was particularly ugly.”

President Donald Trump was one of the most vocal proponents of the “birtherism” conspiracy for many years.

He wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times in 2011, spouting false claims about where the former president was born and the legitimacy of his birth certificate.

He tweeted in 2012 and in 2014 claiming Obama had a fake birth certificate and kept bringing up the issue as late as December 2015.

And as recent as late July, the Senate confirmed Trump’s judicial nomination of Kentucky lawyer and political blogger John Bush, who is known for promoting claims on his blog that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.

But the fake “birtherism” claim is not the only conspiracy Flake thinks Republicans should stand up against, saying he thinks his party shouldn’t let their political rallies turn into calls to jail political opponents, which was a common outcry at Trump campaign rallies against his then-opponent Hillary Clinton.

“During rallies, when the chants, ‘Lock her up,’ we shouldn’t be the party for jailing your political opponents. And anybody at that rally, anybody at those rallies ought to stand up and say ‘That’s inappropriate, we shouldn’t be doing that,’” Flake said. “I wish we as a party and as elected officials would do more of that and when particularly ugly conspiracy theories come out or simply fake news stuff that is demonstrably false, we ought to stand up and say ‘Hey, that’s just not right.’”

Flake’s comments are just the latest criticism he’s spouted against Trump and the conservative party as he promotes his book “Conscience of a Conservative.”

H/t The Washington Post

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President Donald Trump said late Friday that he and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are “working very well together,” supporting the official who has reportedly found himself at odds with other members of his department this past month.

“General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very proIsrael. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country,” Trump told reporters in the White House press pool just before 11 p.m. Friday.

Earlier this week McMaster fired Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior intelligence director for the National Security Council. A White House official said McMaster determined Cohen-Watnick would be better suited for a different position in the administration.

He reportedly tried to fire the senior intelligence director in March, but the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner intervened.

McMaster has been firing officials on the National Security Council since he arrived at the White House. He replaced his deputy KT McFarland with Army Reserve Major General Ricky Waddell in May, fired staffer Rich Higgins on July 21 and kicked out Trump’s top Middle East adviser Derek Harvey in late July.

McMaster replaced Michael Flynn as national security advisor after Flynn resigned amid investigations into his contacts with Russian officials during the election.

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Fox New host Eric Bolling has been suspended while the network conducts an investigation into whether he sent photos of male genitalia to female colleagues, a Fox News spokesperson told TPM Saturday.

“Eric Bolling has been suspended pending the results of an investigation, which is currently underway,” the spokesperson said.

Bolling is the co-host of Fox News shows “Cashin’ In” and “The Specialists” and has worked at Fox News and Fox Business since 2007. “Cashin’ In” was taped Friday morning and was pulled last night once the station was made aware of the allegations, the spokesperson said.

Rotating substitutes will replace Bolling on both shows until the investigation is complete. The probe is being conducted by Paul Weiss, the same law firm that looked into allegations of sexual harassment against former Fox chairman Roger Ailes and former host Bill O’Reilly, Fox said.

The Huffington Post broke the news Friday evening, reporting that at least three of Bolling’s colleagues had received unsolicited lewd photos via text message from the host.

At least a dozen sources linked to Fox News and Fox Business spoke with Huffington Post on condition of anonymity and the recipients of the alleged photos confirmed the contents of the text messages, which they said they found upsetting and offensive.

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Longtime Fox News host Eric Bolling reportedly sent unsolicited text messages with photos of male genitalia to at least three of his colleagues, according to a scathing new report from The Huffington Post.

At least a dozen sources linked to Fox News and Fox Business spoke with Huffington Post on condition of anonymity and the recipients of the alleged photos confirmed the contents of the text messages, which they said they found upsetting and offensive.

One of the women told Huffington Post she responded to the text message, telling Bolling to never send her photos again and she received no response.

A Fox spokesperson told TPM: “We were just informed of this late Friday afternoon via the Huffington Post inquiry and plan to investigate the matter.”

Bolling’s attorney told Huffington Post that he “recalls no such inappropriate communications” and that Bolling doesn’t believe he sent them.

Bolling is not the first Fox News affiliate to be accused of sexual harassment or assault. Fox News chairman Roger Ailes resigned last year after host Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment. Former host Bill O’Reilly was ousted in April after the New York Times reported he and 21st Century Fox had paid at least five women $13 million in settlements for sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior on O’Reilly’s part.

Bolling — a loud critic of former New York congressman Anthony Weiner — is a host of “The Specialists” and has worked at Fox News and Fox Business since 2007.

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Former Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, said his conversations with former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn had been “transparent” and focused on U.S.-Russia cooperation.

“We only spoke about the most simple things … but the communication was completely correct, calm, absolutely transparent. In any case, there were no secrets on our side,” Kislyak said in a panel discussion broadcast by Russian state media, Reuters reported Saturday.

“There are a number of issues which are important for cooperation between Russia and the United States– most of all, terrorism. And that was one of the things we discussed,” he said.

Kislyak’s comments come after he was recalled back to Russia last month after spending nine years as his country’s ambassador to the U.S.

Flynn was forced out of President Donald Trump’s administration in February after it was revealed that he failed to disclose conversations he had with Kislyak about U.S. sanctions with Russia before Trump was inaugurated.

While he is no longer in Washington, Kislyak remains a key focus of the U.S. probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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A group of 50 Democratic U.S. House members sent a letter Friday to the heads of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff requesting that they not comply with the President’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, and “at a minimum” not make any changes until a policy study has been completed.

“We write to not only express our strong opposition to President Trump’s recent tweets seeking to ban transgender individuals from the military, but to remind you not to comply with any unconstitutional directive which may ultimately be issued,” the letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, read. “We reject the premise that the presence of transgender troops interferes with the morale or combat readiness of our Armed Forces.”

The letter from House members, spearheaded by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), followed an announcement President Donald Trump made via Twitter last week banning transgender individuals from serving in the military in “any capacity.”

The measure reportedly caught the Pentagon and other members of the Trump administration by surprise. Several GOP senators came out against the ban as well.

Dunford sent out a memo shortly after the announcement saying no changes would be made to the military’s transgender policy until the Department of Defense received some guidance from the President.

A majority of Americans are opposed to the ban as well. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 67 percent of registered voters surveyed said transgender individuals should be allowed to serve in the military, while 27 percent said they should not be allowed to serve.

In the letter, House Democrats urged Dunford and Mattis to not make any policy changes, saying the ban is “unconstitutional on its face” for a number of reasons, including the President’s poorly constructed rollout.

“Instead of being grounded in a thoughtful deliberative process, the President’s policy was derived from a series of arbitrary and capriciously issued tweets,” the letter said.

The letter praised the current transgender service member policy developed in conjunction with “the full leadership of the armed services” during the Obama administration and based on data, including a Pentagon-commissioned study that estimated about 2,450 transgender people are among active duty troops.

That RAND Corporation study predicted it would cost the government about $2.9- $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries.

“Instead of being developed based on any new quantitative data or policy input, the President’s proposal appears to be based on raw political calculation, with a Trump administration official claiming the President’s tweets ‘forces Democrats in the Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, to take ownership of this issue,’” the letter said.

“We believe any serious or credible review of the law and the facts in the present case make it clear that the President’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces will weaken, not strengthen our military, and is blatantly unconstitutional,” members wrote in closing.

Read the letter to Mattis and Dunford below:

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The Interior’s Department’s Office of the Inspector General has launched a “preliminary investigation” into Secretary Ryan Zinke after he reportedly threatened Alaska senators last week in an attempt to get them to support an Obamacare repeal push.

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent a letter to the Inspector General on July 27, asking the office to look into Zinke’s calls to Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

“The OIG is undertaking a preliminary investigation into this matter. We will advise you about what further action the results of this inquiry lead the OIG to take,” Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said Thursday in a written response to Pallone and Grijalva.

Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News that Zinke called ahead of the Senate’s Obamacare repeal vote last week and threatened to sanction Alaska on energy policy if both senators didn’t vote in favor of repeal.

Murkowski had long expressed publicly that she was opposed to all the Senate GOP’s repeal proposals. She confirmed that she received a call from Zinke, but said he only told her that the President was unhappy with her vote against a motion to proceed to open up Obamacare repeal for debate on the Senate floor.

Zinke previously said claims of a threat were laughable, and on Thursday tweeted a photo of himself and Murkowski drinking a beer.

Read the letter from the Office of the Inspector General below:

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During a sit-down interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) said they didn’t worry about the consequences of their votes against Republican senators’ health care plans, despite a direct public attack from the President.

You want to vote to do the right thing. And so worrying about the consequences, are you fearful of repercussion from your party? A tweet from the President? A backlash from your leadership? I don’t believe that we should be motivated or discouraged from taking the positions that are important to the people that we represent in our respective states,” Murkowski said.

The two moderate Republicans have been called heroines and hypocrites for being the only Senate Republicans who opposed their party’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare from the get-go.

Among several issues they said they had with the bill, both felt they should protect their constituents from deep cuts to Medicaid expansion, which has helped fund opioid addiction treatment in both their respective states. They were also opposed to cuts to Planned Parenthood.

The issue of family planning services, cancer screening, well women care probably does resonate with us more than with our male colleagues, and to me it was so unfair to single out one medicaid provider and say to women in particular you can’t choose which health care provider you want to go to,” Collins said.

Murkowski said that the second time Senate Republicans were invited to the White House to meet with the President about Obamacare repeal plans, she stood up to President Donald Trump, despite his attempts to intimidate her. Trump specifically singled her out in a tweet in July for voting against a motion to proceed, saying she “let Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”

“It was a very directed appeal, that we need to come together as Republicans. I made a statement to the President with my colleagues and with his team there that ‘I’m not voting for the Republican Party. I’m voting for the people of Alaska,’” she said.

“And I remember being so proud of you for saying directly to the President what your obligations were,” Collins said.

The two said they took comfort in each other throughout the debate, with Murkowski saying it was nice to have “another kindred soul close by” during that final vote last week, when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) ultimately decided to vote against so-called “skinny repeal,” effectively killing the bill.

“(After the vote) we had one of those conversations that you’ll think of years down the road where (McCain) said people might not appreciate what has happened right now as a positive, maybe our colleagues aren’t viewing this as a positive right now, but the time will prove that having a pause, having a time-out for us to do better is going to be good for the country,” Murkowski said.

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