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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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 2:00 p.m. ET Monday. Watch live below:

After footage aired Sunday of Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer (R) shouting racial slurs and pulling down his pants during a fake terrorism defense class on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtimes series, the lawmaker has apologized but refused to resign.

Spencer issued a statement on Monday, apologizing for the “ridiculously ugly episode” and defended himself by claiming he was tricked into participating in the fake class during a particularly vulnerable point in his life. He said in 2017 he and his family had received several death threats in connection with burqa ban legislation he had introduced in the state legislature. After a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in June 2017, Spencer said his fears were heightened.

“Now, the fears I already had became more intensified as the reality of my family being targeted by a similar, deranged, would-be assassin became even more possible,” he said. “Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked. In posing as an Israeli Agent, he pretended to offer self-defense exercises. As uncomfortable as I was to participate, I agreed to, understanding that these ‘techniques’ were meant to help me and others fend off what I believed was an inevitable attack.”

In the segment, Spencer agrees to pose as a Chinese tourist, in which he blatantly mocks a Chinese person while repeating a host of offensive stereotypes like “sushi” and “red dragon.” He then repeatedly shouts the n-word after he’s instructed that it will make it easier to draw attention to yourself if you’re being attacked. He also pulled down his pants and exposed his bare butt to ward off terrorists.

Multiple lawmakers have called on Spencer, who lost his primary election last month, to resign, but in his statement, he said he would serve out the remaining five months of his term.

In his new series “Who Is America?” Cohen is reportedly able to trick Republican lawmakers into a slew of embarrassing scenarios. Last week, several Republicans agreed to support a program that taught kindergarteners how to use firearms.   

Read Spencer’s full statement below:

“In 2017 I received countless death threats in connection with my introduction of legislation involving the wearing of masks. The threats escalated to the point that my wife received threatening phone calls concerning her and my children. I was very afraid for my safety and the safety of my entire family.

“Then, on June 14th, a gunman opened fire at members of Congress on a baseball field. I knew people on that field. Now, the fears I already had became more intensified as the reality of my family being targeted by a similar, deranged, would-be assassin became even more possible. I was in such a poor state of mind that my wife and I also undertook marriage counseling with a licensed therapist during this time.

“Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked. In posing as an Israeli Agent, he pretended to offer self-defense exercises. As uncomfortable as I was to participate, I agreed to, understanding that these ‘techniques’ were meant to help me and others fend off what I believed was an inevitable attack.

“My fears were so heightened at that time, I was not thinking clearly nor could I appreciate what I was agreeing to when I participated in his “class”. I was told I would be filmed as a “demonstration video” to teach others the same skills in Israel. Sacha and his crew further lied to me, stating that I would be able to review and have final approval over any footage used.

“I deeply regret the language I used at his request as well as my participation in the “class’ in general. If I had not been so distracted by my fears, I never would have agreed to participate in the first place.

“I apologize to my family, friends, and the people of my district for this ridiculously ugly episode. Finally, there are calls for me to resign. I recently lost my primary election, so I will not eligible to hold office next term. Therefore, I will finish the remaining five months at my post and vacate my seat.”

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After President Donald Trump delivered a cryptic warning to Iran on Twitter Sunday evening, his national security adviser backed up his threats and mirrored the President’s war-mongering language.

“I spoke to the President over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” Bolton said in a written statement.

Trump responded Sunday evening to what has been interpreted as threats from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who sent Trump a message not to “play with the lion’s tail or you will regret” and that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

Trump warned that Iran would “SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” if it threatened the U.S. again.

Tensions between Trump and Iran have been high since the President decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which he has repeatedly criticized as the “worst” agreement ever made.

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning attempted to combat reports of growing concerns about what Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed during their closed-door meeting a week ago.

“I gave up NOTHING” to Putin, he tweeted Monday calling reports on verbal agreements between the two parties “Fake News.”

Russia’s ambassador to the United States told the media in Moscow on Wednesday that Trump and Putin had reached several “verbal agreements” on weapons treaties and Syria, but U.S. officials are still scrambling to determine what those agreements might have been.

Putin also told the media over the weekend that he and Trump had discussed a referendum on Ukraine, which the White House swiftly denounced.

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A Republican lawmaker and former FBI agent told NPR on Sunday that it’s clear President Donald Trump was “manipulated” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The President was manipulated by Vladimir Putin. … Vladimir Putin is a master manipulator,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) told NPR’s Michel Martin, adding that he was “frankly sickened by the exchange” between the two world leaders.

After appearing to publicly support Putin in his denial of meddling in the 2016 election, Trump attempted to walk back some of his comments, claiming he misspoke during a joint press conference with the Russian president. Many Republicans have responded with statements of fierce support of the U.S. intelligence community, but few have criticized Trump directly.

“It needs to be accepted as fact by everybody in our government because we need to respond to that reality and it’s a significant threat. We cannot let that happen again,” Fitzpatrick said.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly signed off on efforts to remove at least three Environmental Protection Agency staffers who were loyal to ousted administrator Scott Pruitt, the Daily Beast reported.

Sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to the Daily Beast described the efforts to remove three Pruitt loyalists as a “purge” that was led by Kelly and other White House staffers who didn’t agree with Pruitt’s behavior. The three dismissed aides: spokesman Lincoln Ferguson, communications adviser Johan Wilcox and EPA deputy White House liaison Hayley Ford, who was reportedly “escorted” out of the building.

Kelly was reportedly one of most frustrated aides in the West Wing over Pruitt’s ongoing scandals, which spanned a wide array of unethical behavior and lavish spending.

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning continued making baseless claims about the release of the highly-redacted FBI application to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

In a series of tweets, most of which are quotes from Tom Fitton of the Judicial Watch, Trump suggests the “unverified and Fake Dirty Dossier” was the sole reason a FISA court approved surveillance of Page. He also tweeted claims that the dossier was Hillary Clinton “campaign document” and the main basis of the Russia investigation.

The main hiccup in Trump’s line of thinking starts with the fact that the recently released surveillance warrant application shows that the FBI initially requested the warrant because it believed Carter had been “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.” Those allegations were based off claims made in the dossier and other evidence long before Carter started working for the Trump campaign. Page’s surveillance warrant was also approved three times by Republican-appointed judges.

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President Donald Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with his director of national intelligence, who has gone mildly rogue in recent days following Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Politico reported.

According to two outside Trump allies who spoke to Politico, the President is getting irritated with Dan Coats, who responded sarcastically after being blindsided during a live interview on Thursday in Aspen, Colorado. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted during his interview with NBC that Trump was working to bring Putin to Washington, D.C. for a visit in the fall.

“That’s going to be special,” Coats said when asked about the news.

After Trump appeared to publicly support Putin’s denial of election meddling during a press conference on Monday, Coats put out a telling statement, openly disapproving of Trump’s comments during the presser.

Despite the rising tension, Trump allies told Politico that they’re aware that firing Coats would “create an uncontainable firestorm on Capitol Hill,” in Politico’s words.

Read the full Politico report here. 

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Michael Cohen’s attorney called out President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Saturday, calling Trump’s suggestion — that Cohen’s phone call recordings were “illegal” — a “flawed’ strategy.

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis made a more subtle dig against Giuliani on Twitter Friday when he said that Cohen would not be “hurt” by the contents of the recording, despite attempts to “spin” what’s on the tapes.

The New York Times and CNN reported Friday that Cohen had recorded some of his phone conversations with Trump, including a discussion about a payment made to an ex-Playboy model to keep her quiet about an alleged ongoing affair with Trump. Giuliani confirmed the existence of the recordings, which are in the possession of the FBI, and told reporters Friday that the tapes would be exculpatory for Trump.

Trump tweeted on Saturday, lamenting how “inconceivable” it is that a lawyer would record a client without permission and suggesting that it’s “perhaps illegal” to do so.

In private, Trump was reportedly hurt when he found out about the tapes, “I can’t believe Michael would do this to me.”

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If there was ever a question about where the relationship between President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Micheal Cohen stands, Trump made it clear on Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after it was revealed that Cohen secretly recorded phone conversations with then-client Trump.

Calling it “inconceivable” that a lawyer would record a client without their knowledge, Trump suggested the act was “perhaps illegal,” but clarified that he “did nothing wrong!” in an early morning tweet.

New York is a “one-party” consent state, meaning recordings can legally be made without anyone else’s knowledge.

CNN reported on Friday that Cohen — well known for quietly recording conversations — taped several discussions he had with Trump, including a phone call about a payment that was made to a former Playboy model who has said she had a longterm sexual relationship with Trump.

Trump reportedly did not know about the recordings, which are now in the FBI’s possession, and was hurt when he heard of their existence.

“I can’t believe Michael would do this to me.”

The recordings were seized in April when the FBI raided Cohen’s house, hotel and office. Cohen hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, but is under criminal investigation for a slew of potential crimes related to his financial and business dealings, including possible violations of campaign finance laws over the payments he made to the former Playboy model and porn actress Stormy Daniels.

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