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

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is joining the group of Republican senators who are willing to give up their August vacation in order to come up with a plan to repeal Obamacare, saying it would be “catastrophic if we fail to deliver on that promise.”

Appearing on the Sean Hannity show on Fox Monday night, the conservative senator said he’s been spending “every waking moment” trying to come up with a plan to unify his party on health care.

“For seven years Republicans have promised the voters, ‘If you elect us, the one thing we said is we will repeal Obamacare. … I am trying to bring together conservatives and moderates and leadership and the administration, get everyone on the same page and say ‘Let’s deliver on the promise when it comes to Obamacare,’” he said. “I think the voters would naturally say ‘To heck with all of you’ if we can’t get our act together and get it done.”

He said he has no plans to take the August recess until the GOP can get something put together.

“It’s crazy that we would be taking a recess. There are a bunch of us, myself included, that have been urging leadership back from January, ‘Let’s not take any recesses. Let’s work weekdays, let’s work weekends, let’s work until we get the job done,’” he said.

The President is in agreement with Cruz’ remarks, as he retweeted a “Fox and Friends” clip of the Hannity interview on Tuesday morning. On Monday President Donald Trump said he “cannot imagine” that lawmakers would “dare to leave Washington” without a health care plan.

Cruz’s comments follow remarks squashing the Senate health bill from prominent party leaders, like Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who said over the weekend that the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is “probably going to be dead.”

At the end of June, a group of 10 Senators — spearheaded by Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) — asked Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to shorten or cancel the August recess if Republicans don’t make progress on their health care plan.

Read More →

Another group is suing President Donald Trump’s bogus “election integrity” commission for failing to follow federal open meeting laws.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit Monday after the election commission failed to provide information about its upcoming meeting on June 19, which is not open to the public. The Lawyers’ Committee says this violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires advisory committees to post notice of meetings, make their discussions open to the public and that written records of the meetings be shared publicly. 

Similar to a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee complaint claims the election panel’s upcoming meeting should be open to the public and calls on the group to be transparent about its intentions with the voter data it requested from all 50 states.

The lawsuit asks for a temporary halt on the election commission’s operations until it can produce public records from its meetings. It also demands that all of the panel’s meetings be open to the public.

“We filed today’s lawsuit because the so-called Election Integrity Commission has been operating covertly and its actions, to date, have been shrouded in secrecy,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a statement. “Through the Federal Advisory Committee Act, we are using an important statutory tool to expose and curb the illegitimacy of this commission and to bar the commencement of any meetings before they make materials available for our inspection. In our view, the commission must not conduct any meetings before complying with our request. We will continue to fight to expose all of the commission’s illegitimate actions.” 

The suit was filed with Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer, an international law firm in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit is not the Lawyers’ Committees first action against Trump’s election commission. The group sent letters to secretaries of state telling them to not comply with the panel’s voter data requests and put together a bipartisan resolution condemning the group. It filed a Hatch Act complaint against the commission chair Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas.

Nearly every state has responded saying it will either not provide any of the information or only give the election integrity commission publicly available data.

Read Lawyers’ Committee complaint below:

Read More →

After President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and Russia were talking about forming an “impenetrable” cyber security unit, only to reverse himself 12 hours later, the White House said Monday Russia is a “cyber threat,” but the U.S. should still work with the country.

“We recognize that Russia is a cyber threat,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an off-camera briefing. “But we also recognize the need to have conversations with our adversaries, and when our adversaries see strength like they did with the President in the meeting, they can look for other ways to work on shared interests, and look for positive places where they can move the ball forward, particularly on things like the cease-fire and that became a greater focus, and something the President chose to stay focused on is that front.”

When asked if the plan to partner with Russia on combating election hacking was dead, Sanders said she didn’t think there was ever actually a plan in place.

“Look, I would say that discussions may still take place, but that’s as far as it is right now. I‘m not sure that there were specific details discussed,” she said. “I think it was simply just a discussion on cyber security threats and potential options not necessarily a formal kind of structure in place.”

The comments came after the President seemingly flip-flopped on his plans to work with Russia to combat cyber security on Sunday following widespread criticism about the plan.

Read More →

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C. over a lack of transparency by President Donald Trump’s bogus election fraud commission.

The lawsuit alleges the panel has failed to follow the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires advisory committees to post notice of meetings, make their discussions open to the public and that written records of the meetings be shared publicly. Commissions also must provide evidence that they aren’t being influenced by special interest groups or the President. ACLU attorneys said the lack of transparency raises “serious concerns” about what the commission is trying to accomplish.

This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?” ACLU staff attorney Theresa Lee said in a statement.

The election fraud panel — created through a Trump executive order — requested all 50 states hand over sensitive voter data, like addresses, military status and the last four digits of voters’ social security numbers. Nearly every state has responded saying it will either not provide any of the information or only give the commission publicly available data.

The ACLU lawsuit claims the commission has operated with secrecy by not only failing to explain how it plans to use the data it requested from states, but also how it would protect the information.

“Our election process must be secure, fair, and transparent,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Yet the commission is conducting its work deep in the shadows, making it alarmingly suspect. The commission is legally required to conduct the people’s business in the light of day.”

 Read the ACLU’s complaint below:

Read More →

In a heated exchange Monday between White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and CNN host Chris Cuomo, Conway mocked the journalist for working at CNN and said the network is “invested” in creating a story about the President colluding with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election.

“We cannot convert wishful thinking to hard evidence. … If we were in court your side would not even survive a motion to dismiss because you’ve got nothing. On this one, Don Jr. has very clearly said he was told that there would be some kind of information helpful to the campaign. It quickly because very apparent there was not,” Conway said, when asked if she was concerned about reports that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last June. Conway said that having the campaign leaders like Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner present in the meeting was “standard procedure.”

“Let’s focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information was provided that was meaningful. No action taken. Nothing,” she said.

Cuomo went on to ask Conway about the President’s son’s credibility now that it’s known he actually did meet with Russian officials, after publicly denying it.

“I admire your moxie sitting there with the CNN chyron right next to you talking about credibility issues,” Conway said.

She then accused Cuomo of trying to “produce something” by asking questions about President Donald Trump and his associates changing their position about working with Russian officials.

“What do you mean the President changed his story? The President had nothing to do with this meeting. You want to produce something because you’ve been invested for months now as a network in something that simply doesn’t exist,” she said. “Here is the unfair premise. That we are talking about this again. Yet again. That you talk about Russia more than you talk about America.”

Read More →

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he will want to question Donald Trump Jr. after news came out that the President’s son met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last June.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on CNN on Sunday that the meeting raises “a variety of questions” because Trump has denied having any kind of meetings like this.

“They claimed this meeting had nothing to do with the campaign, and yet the Trump campaign manager is invited to come to the meeting and there’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or Mr. Kushner or the President’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” he said.

He said the meeting is indicative of the fact that Russia was “obviously” trying to “influence one of the candidates” and that the explanations given from the administration so far don’t “make sense.” He said his committee would like to “get to the bottom” of what happened at the meeting and he plans to question everyone who was at the meeting.

“By trying to frame this about adoptions ignores what it sounds like the meeting might have been about and that was the Magnitsky Act, which is legislation, very powerful sanctions legislation, that goes against Russian human rights abusers,” he said.

“So if this was an effort to do away with that sanctions policy, that is obviously very significant that the President’s team, then-candidate Trump’s team, that contradicts of course what the President and his people have said about whether they’ve been meeting with any members of the Russian government,” he said.

Read More →

Responding to statements from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin would like to move on from allegations that Russian interfered with the 2016 election, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the move “disgraceful.”

He said the President had a duty to press Putin about Russian hacking, but also an “equal obligation” to trust U.S. intelligence over the word of Russia’s president.

“For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful. To give equal credence to the findings of the American Intelligence Community and the assertion by Mr. Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future,” Schumer said in a statement Friday.

Tillerson, who sat in on the meeting between Trump and Putin, said Trump opened up the meeting asking Putin about the election interference and eventually talked about how to move on from the issue because the two countries will never agree on what happened.

“Working to compromise the integrity of our election process cannot and should not be an area where ‘agree to disagree’ is an acceptable conclusion,” Schumer said. “Congress and Americans of all political persuasions and parties should do all they can to increase sanctions on Russia and prevent the reduction of any sanctions by the executive branch.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, put out a separate statement, saying the reports that the President pressed Putin on the election hacking would have had “much more force” if Trump hadn’t just questioned who was behind the attack and discredited U.S. intelligence in a speech the day before.

“While we proceed with our counterintelligence investigation, it is imperative that the Trump Administration refrain from any effort to relax or rescind the sanctions already in place. They also cannot seek to undermine congressional action toughening sanctions in response to Russia’s brazen assault on American democracy,” he said.

Read More →

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin had a “very robust and lengthy exchange” on the subject of Russia interfering with the 2016 election, but eventually agreed the two countries should figure out a way to “move forward” from the issue, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after the leaders’ first in-person meeting.

The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement. As I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said. “The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance on the ability of us to move Russian-U.S. relationships forward and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of non-interference, in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries. So more work to be done in that regard.”

The President apparently brought up the sanctions on Russia that have been discussed in Congress in recent weeks, but “focused” on talking about how to move on from the scandal, according to Tillerson, who sat in on the meeting.

“It’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed upon resolution of that question between the two nations. So the question is, what do we do now? And I think the relationship, and the President made this clear as well, it’s too important. And it’s too important to not find a way to move forward. Not dismissing the issue in any way, and I don’t want to leave you with that impression,” Tillerson said.

He said the two Presidents agreed to continue discussing how to secure a commitment that the Russian government won’t interfere in U.S. affairs both now and in the future.

“(They discussed) how do we create a framework in which we have some capability to judge what is happening in the cyber world and who to hold accountable, and this is obviously an issue that’s broader than just U.S.-Russia, but it certainly, we see the manifestation of that threat in the events of last year so I think, again, the President’s rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point,” Tillerson said.

Read More →

During the Vice President’s visit to the NASA Kennedy Space Center Thursday, where he advocated for getting “American boots” on Mars, Vice President Mike Pence was photographed touching space equipment clearly labeled “Do Not Touch.”

The photo was captured while the vice president and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were touring the Operations and Checkout Building at the space center by Director Robert Cabana. The equipment was some type of “critical space flight hardware,” according to sign posted on the apparatus.

The internet responded accordingly.

Taking to Twitter on Friday, the Vice President laughed it off, saying Rubio “dared me to do it!” and posting a photoshopped picture of himself petting a porcupine instead of the space equipment.

Memes aside, a NASA spokesperson said the signs just function as a “reminder” and that it was “absolutely okay” for Pence to touch the surface of the equipment.

“The signs are there as a day-to-day reminder, including the one visible on the titanium Forward Bay Cover for the Orion spacecraft,” NASA spokesperson Jen Rae Wang said in an email to TPM. “Procedures require the hardware to be cleaned before tiles are bonded to the spacecraft, so touching the surface is absolutely okay. Otherwise, the hardware would have had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby.”

The vice president visited the space center to discuss President Donald Trump’s plans for space exploration, which he said would include a return to the moon and “American boots on the face of Mars.”

“Extending our nation’s leadership in space is one of the greatest challenges of our day. And just as we have risen to the challenges that came before, so too we will rise to meet the new challenges that lie ahead,” he said. “That’s why just last Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to relaunch the National Space Council and guide a new era of space leadership by the United States of America.”

h/t Mashable.

Read More →

Speaking to the press amid their first in-person meeting Friday, President Donald Trump said the conversation with Russia President Vladimir Putin is “going really well.”

“We’ve had some good talks. We’re going to talk now and obviously that will continue, but we look forward to a lot of positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everyone concerned. It’s an honor to be with you,” Trump said, turning to Putin for a handshake. The pair were seated in white chairs, accompanied by translators, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russia Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.

Putin acknowledged the two had spoken on the phone several times “on very important bilateral and international issues.”

“But phone conversations are never enough definitely,” Putin said. “If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues that will really need personal meetings.”

“I’m delighted to meet you in person and hope, as you said, our meeting will yield positive results,” Putin added, wrapping up the two Presidents’ comments to the press.

Correction: This post originally quoted Putin as saying “one conversation is never enough” with Trump. The Russia president said “phone conversations are never enough.”

Read More →