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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

Is Hope Hicks next on the chopping block?

As one of President Donald Trump’s closest aides, Hicks has had one of the longest tenures in the Trump White House. But the President has reportedly become increasingly exasperated with his communications director in recent days for her handling of the White House’s response to allegations of domestic abuse against former aide Rob Porter, CNN reported Friday.

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump believes Hicks let her relationship with Porter — whom she recently reportedly became romantically involved with, according to CNN and CBS — muddle her judgement in drafting a statement in Porter’s defense when his ex-wives’ allegations of abuse became public Tuesday. According to CNN’s sources, Trump was not consulted when Hicks wrote the statement and he thinks the communications director put her own interests above his.

Trump is also reportedly “very disturbed” by the coverage of Porter’s alleged abuse and subsequent resignation and is becoming increasingly frustrated with Chief of Staff John Kelly for his handling of the situation.

On Tuesday, The Daily Mail first reported that both of Porter’s ex-wives — Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness — have accused him of domestic abuse. The White House and Kelly quickly released statements defending Porter and his character. After seeing the photos of Holderness’ black eye that she said she sustained when Porter punched her, Kelly backtracked and put out a statement calling the allegations “shocking.” Kelly is under fire for his botched response to the allegations and for reportedly having previous knowledge of the ex-wives’ allegations.

Trump has reportedly been asking aides what they think of Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in recent weeks, which aides think means he’s considering Mulvaney as a potential candidate for a new chief of staff, according to CNN.

Porter has denied the accusations and called them a “smear campaign,” but ultimately resigned on Wednesday.

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President Donald Trump asks intelligence officials to give him oral presentations of the President’s Daily Briefing rather than reading the brief himself, as most previous presidents have done, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Trump prefers to rely on oral presentations — featuring graphics, videos and maps —rather than reading the report because that’s his “style of learning,” the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the situation.

He asks “edge” questions during the oral presentations, an unnamed senior administration official told the Washington Post, and has complained that briefers are “talking down to him.”

Other unnamed officials told the Washington Post that Trump asks direct questions of his briefers such as, “Why can’t I just pull out of Afghanistan?”

The daily briefing — which is a highly classified roundup of important intelligence, compiled before dawn — is typically delivered first thing in the morning. According to the Washington Post, Trump reportedly receives the in-person briefing he prefers once every two or three days. The last president who may not have regularly read the intelligence briefing was Richard Nixon.

During his presidential transition in 2016, Trump turned away opportunities to be briefed on classified intelligence.

“You know, I’m, like, a smart person,” he said in December 2016.“I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

A month later, Trump said that his briefings on global threats made him realize that he has “got to get it right,” but indicated that he preferred to see those global issues summed up in one-page briefings in listicle form.

“I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he said. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

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President Donald Trump called his former White House chief of staff to complain about his current chief of staff this week, The New York Times reported Thursday.

According to sources close with Trump, Trump called Reince Priebus, who he pushed out to hire his current Chief of Staff John Kelly, to “confide grievances” over Kelly’s negative headlines this past week, according to the Times’ reporting. Priebus denied that the phone call occurred.

Kelly first came under fire this week for comments he made about the undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some of whom he said are “too lazy” to sign up.

“(Some of them) were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” he told reporters Tuesday while discussing the White House’s immigration proposal on Capitol Hill.

The negative headlines continued Wednesday when Kelly released an initial statement of support for White House aide Rob Porter after Porter’s ex-wives’ allegations of patterns of domestic abuse became public. Kelly later corrected his original defense of Porter and called the allegations “shocking,” but the clean-up fell on deaf ears after it was reported that Kelly already knew about at least some of the abuse allegations. Porter’s background clearance check was stalled because both of his ex-wives told the FBI about their accusations of domestic violence.

White House spokesperson Raj Shah indicated Thursday that Kelly was unaware of the totality of the allegations until this week, specifically the photos that Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness released of a black eye that Porter allegedly gave her.

Porter has denied the accusations but offered his resignation on Wednesday.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sent an email to staff Thursday evening, condemning domestic violence following the Wednesday resignation of former White House aide Rob Porter over allegations of abuse, CNN reported.

“While we are all processing the shocking and troubling allegations made against a former White House staffer, I want you to know that we all take matters of domestic violence seriously,” he wrote, according to the email obtained by CNN. “Domestic violence is abhorrent and has no place in our society.”

Kelly has been criticized for his initial response to news of Porter’s resignation, and Kelly is under scrutiny for what he reportedly knew about the allegations before they became public. Porter’s background clearance check was reportedly stalled because of the accusations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives, which Kelly reportedly knew about.

The White House has been unclear about what Kelly knew before the allegations were made public by The Daily Mail this week, but White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Thursday that the White House was not aware of the photos of Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness’ black eye until they were made public.

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Jennifer Willoughby, an ex-wife of former White House aide Rob Porter who has come forward with allegations of domestic abuse, said Thursday that Porter asked her this week to “downplay” her accusations.

During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday evening, Willoughby discussed a blog that she posted a year ago that detailed the alleged abuse she experienced in her previous marriage, without naming Porter. She said she had been in contact with Porter “a lot” in the past two weeks and that he had sent her “some warnings that stories might break” and that people might start “sniffing around my blog post.”

I had (written it) with the intention of reaching people who may need to hear that message and see what it’s like on the other side, to have that hope and Rob was aware of that post when it originally went out a year ago, a little less than a year ago, and asked me to take it down two weeks ago,” she told CNN. “I think in anticipation of me being questioned about it.”

She said Porter never asked her deny the allegations in her blog post, but said that he asked her on Tuesday to release a statement about the blog. The two spoke on the phone for about an hour about the language of a statement, but ultimately, she said, she decided to not release one.

“I don’t remember the exact wording, but something along the lines that the post does not accurately depict my marriage,” she said when asked what Porter wanted her to say in the statement.

He wanted me to say I had taken some liberties with the therapeutic post,” she continued. “And when I thought about it, I didn’t. The things I said were factual statements … He was asking me to downplay it and he was asking me to emphasize more the relationship that he and I have now, as opposed to what I experienced in our marriage.”

She told Cooper that she doesn’t think Porter has changed and said she was “worried” about White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who is reportedly now in a relationship with Porter.

“I mean it definitely worries me because if I’m being frank with you, if he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will. Particularly now that he’s under a lot of stress and scrutiny. That’s when the behaviors come out and if he hasn’t already, he will,” she said.

Willoughby is just one of Porter’s ex-wives who has come forward with allegations of domestic abuse this past week, which was first reported by the Daily Mail. Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness said the abuse started almost immediately after their wedding. She released photos of a black eye she said sustained when Porter allegedly punched her.

Porter has denied the allegations and called it a “smear campaign,” but resigned from his post at the White House on Wednesday. White House officials are under fire amid reports that Chief of Staff John Kelly was aware of the allegations of abuse after Porter’s background check clearance was held up over the accusations. 

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After reportedly getting escorted out of the White House by Secret Service following her resignation and quickly joining the cast of CBS’ “Celebrity Big Brother,” former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman is finally dishing about her time in the West Wing.

“It’s so bad,” she said through tears to fellow cast member Ross Mathews in a video posted by the reality TV show on Facebook Thursday. 

Celebrity Big Brother Airs Tonight At 8/7c On CBS

Omarosa opens up to Ross Mathews about her time in the White House on tonight's Celebrity Big Brother. In the meantime, don't miss a minute of the action on the Live Feeds: http://bit.ly/2E8C5aE

Posted by Big Brother on Thursday, February 8, 2018

“I felt like it was a call to duty, I felt like I was serving my country, not serving him,” Manigault Newman said after Mathews said that as a voter “I never got” why she served in the White House. “I was haunted by tweets every single day, like what’s he going to tweet next?”

Manigault Newman lamented that she tried to reason with President Donald Trump, but the people “around him” started to attack her. Mathews asked if anyone had the power to question Trump, but she deflected.

“I don’t know. It’s not my circus, not my monkeys, I’d like to say not my problem, but I can’t say that because it’s bad,” she said.

“Should we be worried?” Mathews asked. Manigault Newman retorted with a slow nod, saying, “yes.”

Manigault Newman, who met Trump when she was on his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” alluded after she left the White House that she felt she had been wronged by the circumstances surrounding her departure from. During an interview with “Good Morning America” in December, she said she had “concerns” that led to her resignation, but stopped short of revealing any actual details.

“When I can tell my story, it is a profound story, that I know the world will want to hear,” she said just after her ousting. 

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Read a reporter’s notebook (Prime access) on this article »

House Intelligence Committee Republicans are planning to build a physical wall to separate Democrat and Republican staffers, according to committee sources who spoke with CBS News.

The wall is reportedly being constructed sometime this spring, CBS reported.

The push for a wall is reportedly the result of an erosion of trust among staffers, according to Republican committee members who spoke to CBS. One of the Republicans who spoke with CBS, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), said the Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating the committee’s Republican staffers over alleged leaks, which could be a source of the tension, he said.

Another Republican member who spoke with CBS suggested the idea may have been spurred on by House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).

The panel’s ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told TPM through the committee’s minority spokesperson that the wall would be a “terrible mistake.” 

“We have heard reports that the chairman may seek to erect a ‘wall’ to divide the staff of the intelligence committee on a partisan basis — this would be a terrible mistake,” Schiff said. “While we have more than our share of difficulties, the important oversight work of the committee continues with our staff working together irrespective of party. This would be a very destructive decision.”

A spokesperson for the majority could not be reached Thursday.

The reported plans to build a physical barrier between majority and minority staffers follows an ongoing partisan rift between members of panel. That divide was laid bare last week by the release of Nunes’ partisan memo that purports to show the FBI abused the FISA system to secure a warrant to extend surveillance of a President Donald Trump campaign aide.

House Intelligence Committee Republicans voted to release the memo last Monday, which Trump declassified on Friday, but the committee stalled on a vote to release Democratic members’ counter-memo. The committee voted to release the Democrats’ memo early this week, but the White House is still mulling whether to declassify it.   

Democrats claim their memo will push back against central allegations of the Republicans’ memo.

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Arthur Jones, the GOP candidate running for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, on Thursday claimed that he’s not a Nazi but defended his belief that the Holocaust is “an international extortion racket by the Jews to bleed, blackmail, distort and terrorize our enemies.”

Well, I do not belong to any formal national socialist organization anymore and I haven’t belonged to one since about 1990. Okay?” Jones, who has been denounced by both the state and national Republican party, said on CNN’s “New Day” during an interview with Alisyn Camerota.

Camerota argued that Jones could “call it whatever you want” but his actions speak for themselves.

“You’ve been part of anti-Semitic groups since the 1970s, you go to neo-Nazi rallies, we have pictures of you there,” she said. “You were part of the White People’s Party, you dress in Nazi garb and you celebrate Hitler’s birthday. You’re a Nazi.”

She also told Jones that his website, which also features Holocaust denials, was filled with the most “vile, rancid rhetoric I think I’ve ever seen.”

Jones pushed back throughout the interview, saying he shouldn’t be blamed that other people don’t know the “truth.”

“You Jews media, you’ve gone absolutely nuts. You think that Adolf Hitler’s revived from the grave or something,” he said. “It’s one man, myself, that is standing for the truth and the news media can’t stand that. The Democrats and Republicans, it is a cursed two-party, Jew-party, queer-party system and I can’t stand it.”

Jones is the only Republican running a primary campaign for Illinois’ third congressional district, which is heavily Democratic and stretches from Chicago’s southwest side to the suburbs of LaGrange.

Watch the interview with CNN below:

 

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Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday claimed that an American reporter’s story about an openly gay U.S. Olympic athlete who refused to meet with Pence was “fake news” deployed to “sow seeds of division.”

“One reporter trying to distort 18 yr old nonstory to sow seeds of division,” Pence, who is in South Korea leading the U.S. delegation to the Olympics this week, tweeted early Thursday.

He tweeted directly at U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, “We are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you.”

USA Today reporter Christine Brennan profiled Rippon last month and reported in a follow-up story on Wednesday that Pence reached out to Rippon after the January profile ran to arrange a meeting, but that Rippon declined.

Pence’s press shop pushed back on those reports, and his spokesperson Alyssa Farah told USA Today that Rippon’s “accusation is totally false” and has “no basis in fact.”

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Brennan said that she stands by her reporting.

In the January profile, Rippon was vocally critical of Pence’s selection to lead the U.S. delegation and cited Pence’s stance on LGBT rights.

“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said in January.

When Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed into law the Religious Freedom Act, a controversial piece of legislation that allowed businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers if it interfered with their religious beliefs.

In 2000, Pence’s congressional campaign website included a call for resources to be “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” language that was widely interpreted as a reference to conversion therapy, though Pence’s spokesperson in 2016 denied that it was.

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