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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

The New York Times is defending its reporting on Facebook after a blog raised questions about changes the paper made to a story that suggested Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg opposed aggressively probing Russian activity on the platform.

Law and Crime blogger Colin Kalmbacher alleged that Times reporters changed language about the relationship between Sandberg and outgoing Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos after receiving pressure from Facebook’s communications team to soften up the wording.

But the Times reporters and communications team claims the change was just part of routine edits — the difference between a breaking news story and a fuller update.

On March 19, Times reporters Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel and Scott Shane published a piece outlining the departure of Stamos, the longtime security chief. According to current and former employees who were briefed on the matter and spoke with the Times, Stamos is reportedly set to depart over internal disagreements over how Facebook should handle the spread of false information, following widespread scrutiny over Russian trolls’ use of the platform to influence the 2016 election.

In the initial March 19 story about Stamos’ impending departure, the Times reported that Stamos clashed particularly strongly with Facebook’s Sandberg.

“Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Facebook did not immediately provide a comment for the Times’ initial story.

The Times deleted the reference to Sandberg in the second iteration of the story and just referred to Sandberg and “other top executives” as “colleagues.”

From the second version of the Times piece:

“Mr. Stamos, who plans to leave Facebook by August, had advocated more disclosure around Russian interference of the platform and some restructuring to better address the issues, but was met with resistance by colleagues, said the current and former employees.”

Kalmbacher claimed that further down in the piece, reporters also softened the language that illustrated tension between the two executives. The Times reporters wrote that Stamos and “other Facebook executives, such as Ms. Sandberg, disagreed early on over how proactive the social network should be in policing its own platform.” The updated story also included a comment from Stamos, who told the Times that his relationship with Sandberg was “productive.”

Since the Times did not issue a correction over the wording change, Kalmbacher suggested that the reporters were strong-armed by Facebook’s communications team to paint Sandberg in a more positive light. According to the current version of the March 19 story about Stamos’ departure, Facebook was contacted, but did not provide the Times with a comment for the piece.

Both Shane and Perlroth have taken to Twitter to defend their reporting, claiming the edits were part of “routine wording changes” and that Law and Crime editors ignored their clarification before publishing.

In a follow-up story published March 20, Perlroth and Frenkel, the other Times reporter who wrote the initial piece, made multiple references to a rocky relationship between Stamos and Sandberg. Sources reportedly told the Times that Stamos “got off on the wrong foot with some executives, including Ms. Sandberg, over how best to police the platform” and that the relationship between Sandberg and Stamos had “deteriorated” by this past October.

“By October, the relationship between Mr. Stamos and Ms. Sandberg had deteriorated over how to handle Russian interference on Facebook and how best to reorganize Facebook’s security team before the midterm elections, according to more than half a dozen people who work or formerly worked at the company. Mr. Stamos proposed that instead of reporting to Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, he report directly to Facebook’s higher-ups.

“Instead, executives released Mr. Stamos from much of his day-to-day responsibility, employees said.”

The tension over the Times’ reporting on the Facebook departure follows reports that the social media giant has paid “unusual attention” to the public’s perception of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg since the 2016 election, according to the Times. Facebook reportedly hired an outside polling company to track the public’s opinion of the top two executives.

The tension also follows months of ongoing public embarrassment for the social media company as it battles consistent reports of oversight errors in its handling of the spread of disinformation on its site. Just last week the Times reported that the data firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had unethically obtained personal information from 50 million Facebook users.

A Times spokesperson pointed TPM to a series of tweets the company’s communications team posted Wednesday afternoon stating the claims in the Law and Crime blog post were “false.” The Times said the updated and follow up stories on Stamos’ departure included even more details about the pair’s disagreeable relationship and that it was “absurd to suggest that Facebook could influence our coverage in any way.”

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday quoted comments from a Democratic Harvard professor on Twitter to complain about special counsel Robert Mueller, again.

Citing law professor, and former Hillary Clinton supporter, Alan Dershowitz’s comments during an interview on Fox News, Trump reiterated his frustration with Mueller and his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump’s veiled pushback against the special counsel, follows tweets from the President over the weekend when he named Mueller for the first time in his attacks against the Russia investigation. The tweet raised fears among lawmakers that Trump was planning to fire the special counsel, a move that at least two Republicans have claimed would be an impeachable offense.

The White House has consistently pushed back on that message, saying this week that firing Mueller is not even under consideration. 

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Allegra Kirkland contributed reporting. 

A New York judge dismissed former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s defamation suit against Yahoo News’ parent company Tuesday.

Page filed a lawsuit against Oath Inc. in September 2017, claiming a Yahoo News article damaged his business relationships and led to threats against him. A federal judge on Tuesday said the lawsuit lacked factual accusations of defamation, according to the court documents.

When reached for comment, Page pointed TPM to a tweet on his recently created account blaming “slick lawyers” for derailing his lawsuit and promising to file an amended complaint.

In Page’s 400-page complaint, in which he sued several media outlets for defamation, Page claimed that a September 2016 Yahoo News article was the beginning of a onslaught of stories about his past work in Russia and his contacts with Kremlin-linked officials during the 2016 campaign. The Yahoo article outlined a trip Page made to Moscow in July 2016, during which he allegedly met with senior Russian officials, such as Igor Sechin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the chairman of Russia’s biggest oil company and Igor Divyekin, a top Putin aide.

Page has denied those reports.

Page represented himself in the lawsuit — as he did during hours of congressional testimony over his contacts with Russia — and was seeking $75,000 in damages.

Read the response to Page’s lawsuit below:

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More than a full year into his presidency, President Donald Trump slammed his former political Hillary Clinton in a speech to Republican allies on Tuesday evening.

Trump mocked Clinton for her recent statement on women, which was met with heavy criticism from Democrats, and said “people are disavowing her” like “I’ve never heard before.”

“Her last statement about women––they have to get approval from the husbands, the sons, and their male bosses to vote for Trump? That was not a good statement!” he said at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner Tuesday. “Not good! You notice how fast the Democrats have run from these statements now? People are disavowing her statements like I’ve never heard before. ‘She’s wrong!’… ‘What is she doing?’ “Why doesn’t she just go home?’”

Clinton claimed last week that white women in the U.S. “caved” to their husband’s wishes when voting for Trump in the 2016 election. She has since clarified her statements in a lengthy Facebook post over the weekend and apologized for the way the comments came across.

“As much as I hate the possibility, and hate saying it, it’s not that crazy when you think about our ongoing struggle to reach gender balance – even within the same household,” she wrote on Facebook Saturday. “I did not realize how hard it would hit many who heard it. I was out there having a conversation, and this was one piece of a larger point about how Democrats need to do better with white women, because I know in my heart that Democrats have much more to offer them.”

While condemning Clinton for her comments on women, Trump also attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) for having, what he said is a “low IQ” because of her calls for his impeachment and he claimed Republicans are the only true “patriots.”

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who serves as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed President Donald Trump Tuesday for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “sham” election victory Monday.

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” McCain said in a statement Tuesday. “And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”

McCain’s statement came minutes after Trump told reporters that he had congratulated Putin on his March 18 election during a phone call with the Russian president on Tuesday. Trump also said the two discussed getting together sometime in the near future. Minutes later the White House verified that Trump congratulated Putin on the election.

The White House responded to McCain’s criticism on Tuesday, saying it is “important to have a dialogue with Russia so we can focus on areas of shared interest.”

“At times we’re going to be tough on them,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “Certainly the President finds there to be an importance in having that dialogue with Russia so we can talk about some of the big problems that face the world.”

McCain tweeted similar comments on Sunday, saying the U.S. “stands with all Russian yearning for freedom.”

The Associated Press reported there was widespread allegations of ballot meddling and forcible voting in Russia leading up to the election. Also, Putin’s main opponent was blocked from the ballot. 

The White House said that Trump and Putin did not discuss on Tuesday’s call Russian meddling in the 2016 election or the recent condemnation from the U.S. and Britain over the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy by Russia in the UK.

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Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is preparing to subpoena documents related to the Justice Department Inspector General’s review of how the FBI handled its 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton, Politico reported Monday evening.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and another GOP committee source told Politico that Goodlatte’s subpoena is “imminent” and comes as part of Republicans’ frustration with the Department of Justice’s pattern of slow rolling the release of documents related to the review.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ investigation into the handling of the Clinton probe has already led to the firing of former Deputy Director of the bureau Andrew McCabe Friday, just days before he was scheduled to retire.

Over the weekend, Goodlatte hinted that he might make moves to obtain the documents associated with the review, telling Fox News on Sunday that he wanted to “have those documents” and “actions are going to have to take a new level here very soon.” 

Read the Politico report here. 

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A male student who reportedly entered Great Mills High School in Maryland on Tuesday morning and shot two other students with a handgun has died from his injuries, St. Mary’s Country Sheriff Tim Cameron told reporters Tuesday.

The alleged shooter struck a male and a female student and both were transported to a local hospital, according to Cameron. The male victim is in stable condition and the female’s condition is critical, he said. While it is unclear how the alleged shooter died, a school resource officer opened fire to attempt to halt the attack, Cameron said.

The shooting occurred just before classes started at Great Mills on Tuesday. The school resource officer and student witnesses are currently being questioned at the high school. The rest of the building has been evacuated, the sheriff said.

Local police told parents to avoid coming to the high school and instructed them to go instead to Leonardtown High School to reunite with Great Mills students there, according to the AP.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan both tweeted that they were monitoring the situation and said their “prayers” are with the students.

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Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) this week to hold a hearing and request documents from voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica following reports that the company exploited information from millions of Facebook users without their permission.   

According to reports from The New York Times and Observer of London who spoke with a company whistleblower, Cambridge Analytica not only took and misused data from more than 50 million Facebook users, it reportedly used that information to influence users in favor of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

In a letter to Grassley, Feinstein called the reports “egregious” and “extremely troubling.”

 “I believe the Judiciary Committee needs to look into exactly what happened,” Feinstein said. “That’s why I call on Chairman Grassley to join me in seeking testimony from Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, whistleblower Christopher Wylie and Professor Aleksandr Kogan, who reportedly harvested the data from Facebook. I am also hopeful he will support document requests to Cambridge Analytica and Trump campaign officials.”

She said the company’s alleged actions could be violations of campaign finance laws and could be seen as part of a larger conspiracy to “defraud the United States.”

These reports raise serious allegations, and the American people need to know how this happened, who knew about it, why steps were not taken sooner to bring it to an end, and what can be done to protect their privacy and the integrity of our elections going forward,” Feinstein said in a letter to Grassley Sunday. “I urge the Committee to get to the bottom of these questions by holding hearings on these matters, compelling the production of documents as well as the attendance of relevant witnesses.”

Read the letter to Grassley below:

 

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The White House on Monday doubled down on its stance that it is not planning to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, despite tweets from President Trump indicating his frustration with Mueller and the Russia probe.

“There are no conversations or discussions about removing Mr. Mueller,” spokesperson Hogan Gidley told reporters onboard Air Force One on Monday.

Gidley reiterated that Trump believes Mueller’s probe into his campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election is the “biggest witch hunt in history” and added that Trump has a “well established frustration” with the investigation.

The comments follow Trump’s own tweets over the weekend, when he expressed frustration with Mueller and the apparent political affiliations of some of the members of his investigative team. Trump reportedly has also found himself more emboldened in recent weeks to make his own decisions and has ignored the advice of his closest advisers, according to The New York Times. 

The Sunday morning tweet was the first time that Trump has called out Mueller by name on Twitter, ignoring advice from his allies and administration officials who have suggested he let the investigation run its course. Trump has been vocal since he entered the Oval Office that he believes the probe is a partisan hoax. 

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