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

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned the President that his week-long public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is “not going over well in the Senate” nor the “conservative world.”

The senator said there would be “holy hell to pay” if Sessions is fired.

Graham suggested that if the attacks against Sessions are part of an effort to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election, it could be the “end” of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now, I have no reason to believe that Mueller is compromised. If you have reason to believe he is compromised and shouldn’t be serving as special counsel, let me know,” he told reporters.

Graham also floated legislation that he’s planning to introduce next week that he think he can get “all Democrats and a good number of Republicans” onboard with that will say a special counsel can’t be fired when they’re asked to investigate the President and his team, unless there’s a “judicial review” of the firing.

“Not just for Trump, but for any future president. We need a check and balance here,” he said, adding he hopes the President will “calm down” on his attacks on Sessions.

Since last Wednesday, Trump has launched near-daily, public attacks on Sessions, from saying he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he’d known he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, to calling Sessions “beleaguered” and “weak” on Twitter.

“This is not a diversion. This is unnerving. It is unfair to Jeff Sessions. He’s a good man who deserves better,” Graham said. “Some of the suggestions the President is making go way beyond what is acceptable in a rule of law nation. I hope the President will get good counsel and advice and focus on what he got elected to, which is change the culture in Washington. This is not draining the swamp. What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.”

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On Wednesday, the chair of the White House’s bogus voter fraud panel Kris Kobach sent another request to states asking for publicly available voter registration records, a request the state of California has already shut down.

The latest request outlines a recent legal battle between the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group that filed a motion to keep the commission from receiving the voter data. The motion was denied on Monday, which prompted the most recent request.

I appreciate the cooperation of chief election officials from more than 30 states who have already responded to the June 28 request and either agreed to provide these publicly available records, or are currently evaluating what specific records they may provide in accordance with their state laws,” Kobach said in one letter to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “Like you, I serve as the chief election official of my state. And like you, ensuring the privacy and security of any non-public voter information is a high priority.”

The commission’s first request for voter data, which asked for everything from voter addresses and political party affiliation to military status and the last four digits of social security numbers, was met with harsh pushback from nearly every state. Most states said they would either not provide the data or only share publicly available information.

In this letter, Kobach said he was only requesting public data, the kind that is “regularly provided to political candidates, journalists and other interested members of the public” and assured the secretaries of state that he would not publicly release any personally identifiable information and that records would be kept “confidential and secure.”

“Once the commission’s analysis is complete, the commission will dispose of the data as permitted by federal law. The only information that will be made public are statistical conclusions drawn from the data, other general observations that may be drawn from the data, and any correspondence that you may send to the commission in response to the narrative questions enumerated in the June 28 letter,” he said.

The letter also asked states to communicate with one of the commission’s staffers about securely submitting state data, a move the commission has made to “address issues raised in recent litigation” about the security of the data transfer portal.

“The Commission will approach all of its work without preconceived conclusions or prejudgments. The Members of this bipartisan Commission are interested in gathering facts and going where those facts lead,” he said.

But Padilla isn’t buying it. Releasing a statement rejecting the request Wednesday, Padilla called the commission a “sham” and said California wouldn’t be sharing any data.

His statement:

“Once again, the President’s sham election commission has requested California voters’ personal data. Once again, my response is no. The commission’s new request does nothing to address the fundamental problems with the commission’s illegitimate origins, questionable mission or the preconceived and harmful views on voting rights that many of its commissioners have advanced. Let me reassure voters: I will not provide this commission with Californians’ personal voter data. I will continue to do everything in my power to protect California citizens’ ability to exercise their rights to register and vote free of barriers and intimidation.”

Read Kobach’s letter to Padilla below:

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As GOP members of Congress launch a unified defense of the attorney general after the President’s weeklong crusade against Jeff Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence backed up the President Wednesday, saying Donald Trump “has been very candid.”

“He was disappointed with the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself and to not know about his intension to do so before he was confirmed as the attorney general of the United States,” Pence said, appearing on Fox News with Tucker Carlson Wednesday night. “The Washington way is to talk behind people’s backs. But that’s not President Donald Trump’s approach. One of the great things about this President is you will always know where you stand.”

The vice president’s comments come after a full week of Trump publicly shaming the attorney general, which started when he told the New York Times last Wednesday that he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump has lashed out at Sessions on Twitter almost every day since then, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” for not doing more to investigate his former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton and calling him out for not replacing acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe because of his supposed conflicts of interest.

Sessions has spoken out once on the attacks, saying he will stay in his position as long as its “appropriate.” 

Pence said the President’s criticism doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize the “good work the Justice Department has been doing under the attorney general’s leadership.”

“I think one of the President’s virtues is his candor. … People know we have a president who says what he means and means what he says. There’s no attempt to hide his feelings. His expressed disappointment here is very sincere and we will see what happens in the future, but at least the American people know and every member of the cabinet can know that you will always know where you stand with President Trump.”

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The House voted down two spending bill amendments Wednesday night that would have cut $15 million and 89 staff from the Congressional Budget Office, following bipartisan opposition to the proposals.

The amendments were offered by Rep. Scotty Perry (R-PA) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and was also championed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who said Monday that the CBO is unreliable.

Those in support of the amendments floated the idea of the CBO being “aggregators” and suggesting Congress should consider budget scores from think tanks like Heritage, AEI and Brookings.

But after the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Ways and Means Committee came out in support of the CBO, the amendments tanked— the budget cuts were defeated 314 to 107 and the staff cuts failed 309 to 106, according to the House Office of the Clerk.

In a letter to House colleagues, both Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) asked for opposition to the amendments, saying the CBO “plays a vital role in the legislative process.”

“We rely on CBO’s analysts to provide fair, impartial and fact-based analysis. Without that analysis, Congress could not do its work or stay within the very budget constraints we set up for ourselves in law,” the letter said. “CBO, which works only for Congress, is key to maintaining our status as an equal branch of government.”

The pair said cutting funds to the office would harm the House’s ability to do work and “would impair the institution’s ability to function within the rules that the Congress itself passed with respect to the budget impact of legislation.”

The proposed amendments were just the latest in a string of attacks against the non-partisan office, a movement that recently pushed every past CBO director, Republican and Democratic, to write a letter to Congress urging them to end the rhetoric.

H/t: The Hill

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During an on-camera White House press briefing Wednesday, questions about the President’s announced ban on transgender individuals serving in the military dominated the discussion.

After press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered at least 10 different questions about President Donald Trump’s rationale for the new policy, Sanders threatened to end the briefing early if “those are the only questions we have.”

The final straw came when April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks asked what the White House might say to members of the transgender community who may lose their health care and who are “scared” because of what is happening right now.

As I’ve said before, and I’ll try to make this clear, this was a military decision. This was about military readiness. This is about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military and nothing more,” Sanders said. “Guys, I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic. As I do, I’ll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day.

The barrage of questions came after Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that he would not allow transgender individuals to serve in the military in “any capacity” because of the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

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Keeping with his campaign promise to donate his presidential salary to various organizations, President Donald Trump will donate this quarter’s $100,000 salary to the Department of Education, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday.

Last quarter, Trump’s salary went toward the restoration of two projects at a national battlefield, a donation others matched to bring the total gift to over $260,000, Sanders said.

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has championed school choice programs that give families federally funded vouchers to use toward private education, said Wednesday she and Trump have had conversations about how to “put students’ needs first and set them up for a lifetime of achievement.”

The donation comes as DeVos’ department comes under criticism for its decision to revisit Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault and rape. DeVos has said she wants to ensure that accused students aren’t stripped of their rights.

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Before being named the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci was thrust into the spotlight when CNN reported that he was being investigated as part of the probe into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

CNN apologized, retracted the story and fired three journalists. Scaramucci forgave the news outlet.

But during his first appearance on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo as a White House official, Scaramucci and Cuomo — who are both Italian, a fact mentioned multiple times during the 30 minute interview — butted heads over every issue, repeatedly shouting over one another to speak and finally wrapping up with Scaramucci suggesting they should just “end the interview” now.

On health care

The conversation started out respectful, with the two discussing Republicans’ Obamacare repeal effort that cleared a procedural hurdle on Tuesday. Cuomo questioned whether the President actually knows what is in the plan that he keeps praising.

“I want to respectfully disagree with you,” Scaramucci said, before claiming that Trump understands the bill and knows change can’t be made overnight, which is why Senate Republicans are taking a repeal-first approach to health care.

“But here’s the thing, the step is only as good as the detail of the step. What is before the Senate right now has been scored and found grossly lacking in terms of securing the promise of the President,” Cuomo pressed.

Taking on the President’s classic tone, Scaramucci said, “We’re going to win so much, Chris. You’re going to get tired of us winning. Let’s go over what we did yesterday, we won yesterday.”

Cuomo questioned how he could call it a win when senators were forced to vote to move forward on a plan “they don’t understand.” Attempting to connect with the host, Scaramucci brought up their Italian roots.

“You and I actually grew up in a very similar neighborhood. We want things done ‘subito,’” he said.

“That means fast,” Cuomo clarified.

“You and I both want it done subito, but nothing gets done subito here,” he said.

“No, I want it done right. What the American people want is for this to to be done in a way that makes it better, not just a political win,” Cuomo said.

Scaramucci went on to call Cuomo an “establishmentarian journalist” who is “wedded to the establishmentarian bureaucratic sclerosis” in D.C., which he said are concepts the American people don’t like about Washington and why Trump was elected in the first place.

On Jeff Sessions

Discussing whether Trump was going to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after a week of publicly berating Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Scaramucci claimed the way the President had handled the situation was upfront. Cuomo pushed back against that suggestion because Trump has mostly used Twitter to attack his attorney general.

“I think it’s pretty upfront, he just happens to be sharing it with 113 million people,” Scaramucci said, arguing it was just the President’s “managerial style” and saying he didn’t know if Trump had spoken with Sessions in person about his issues.

“You don’t know the answer or the answer is ‘no they haven’t spoken?’”

“I’m not one of those obfuscators where I tell you I don’t know the answer and I actually know the answer,” Scaramucci said.

On leaks

But minutes later, Scaramucci decided to dodge a question. When asked if it was the President who asked him to fire a staffer on his communications team for leaking, Scaramucci said he wasn’t going to answer the question.

“Why? … What happened to being straight?,” Cuomo asked.

“I’m straightly straightly not answer your question,” Scaramucci said, a response Cuomo said suggests that it actually was Trump who told him to do it.

“Chris, I’ve already answered it, you’re just not a very derivative thinker,” he said.

The two went back and forth about whether Trump is really an “outsider” who’s come to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. when he actually is one of the wealthiest people in the country.

“What definition of elite does Donald Trump not fit?” Cuomo asked.

Scaramucci argued Trump’s wealth is the “best thing about him,” saying he’s “wickedly wealthy” and still able to relate with regular people.

“He had a great gut during the campaign and now he has the mandate to make those problems he identified so well better,” Cuomo said.

Scaramucci then suggested they should “end the interview right there,” but not before getting one final dig in on the news network.

“That could be the best thing that’s been said about the President on CNN in six months. Being Italian I would actually hug you, but I’m in between you and this camera,” he said, adding if Cuomo kept saying “nice things” about the President then he would consider bringing him on the show.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. government will not let transgender individuals serve in the military “in any capacity,” citing conversations he’s had with generals and experts.

In a series of tweets, the President said the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

If his tweets are followed up with any type of formal policy, the move would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly and blocked a person from being discharged from the military solely because they are a transgender, according to policy on the Department of Defense’s website.

The President’s announcement comes after a six-month delay was placed on what was suppose to be the implementation of this policy at the beginning of July.

When the delay was announced Defense Secretary James Mattis said it would not change the policy that lets transgender people openly serve.

Conservative lawmakers praised the delay and pushed to block the policy, arguing that allowing transgender people to serve would require millions to be added to the military’s budget if the government had to fund transgender-related surgeries.

Estimates on how many transgender people serve in the military vary. A 2014 report from the Williams Institute suggests that about 15,000 transgender individuals are serving in active duty and more than 130,000 are veterans or retired from active duty. The National Center for Transgender Equality claims similar estimates.

However, RAND Corporation produced a report in 2016, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, that estimated about 2,450 transgender people are among active duty troops. That same study predicted it would cost the government about $2.9 to $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries.

The President’s statement this morning contradicts previous support he has given the LGBT community. Last year, he tweeted that he would “fight” for that community while his presidential opponent “brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

 The first daughter has also been vocal about his support of LGBT folks. Just last month, Ivanka Trump thanked “LGBTQ Americans” for their “immense contributions to our society and economy.”

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry thought he was talking to Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman.

But the 22-minute phone call he held this week, discussing everything from deals on coal exports to President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate deal, was actually with two Russian pranksters who call themselves the “Jerky Boys of Russia.”

During the call, the two reportedly told Perry about a new biofuel made from alcohol and manure and discussed a cheap trade deal on coal exports, according to Bloomberg.

“Negotiation is always possible,” he told them.

The three also reportedly discussed the President’s opposition to a Nordstream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany and the administration’s support of new Russia sanctions.

The call was arranged after Perry met with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

But Perry isn’t the first to get duped by the pair, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told Bloomberg. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and singer Elton John have also fallen for their trick.

“These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine,” Hynes said.

Correction: This post originally reported that McCain was a senator from Texas. We regret the error.

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After newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci fumbled his first staff firing — he told a Politico reporter he was firing assistant press secretary Michael Short before he told Short and then blamed the news on “leakers” after Short found out and resigned — Scaramucci told reporters he won’t be firing more people for the time being.

“There are rumors that I’m firing more people,” he said on Air Force One Tuesday night. “I’m not firing any more people, at least for now.”

But the former New York financier said he’s not opposed to the idea if “leaks” don’t stop, some of which he thinks are stemming from his communications department.

“If the leaks continue, then I’ve got to let everybody go,” he said, adding that he will “probably restructure the communications department,” an office that has already undergone significant shakeup.

On Friday, the White House announced it had hired Scaramucci to take over as director of communications. Almost simultaneously, news broke that then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had resigned, reportedly over objections to the Scaramucci’s appointment. Former deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to replace Spicer.

Making the rounds on cable news shows over the weekend, the new communications director said he was going to “pare down” on the White House staff if leaks to the media don’t stop.

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