Nicole_avatar

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 Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating the now-inoperative Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign and came under scrutiny for harvesting private data from millions of Facebook users, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

According to an American official and people familiar with the investigation who spoke with the Times, the DOJ and FBI in recent weeks have tried to question former employees and banks with which the company did business.

The investigation is reportedly in its early stages and investigators primarily want to get a handle on Cambridge Analytica’s business practices. The probe in the U.S. is focused mainly on the company’s finances and how it was able to gather and use personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users, according to the Times. The DOJ has also contacted Facebook as part of the probe, according to the U.S. official who spoke with the Times.

Earlier this month, the company said it would declare bankruptcy.

Read the New York Times’ full report here.

Read More →

As Ecuador funded a multi-million dollar effort to protect Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his stay in the country’s London embassy, Assange returned the favor by hacking into the embassy’s communications system, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

According to a new Guardian report outlining the details of the spy operation designed to protect Assange, the Wikileaks founder’s hack allowed him to intercept professional and personal communications of the embassy staff and set up his own satellite internet. The Ecuadorian embassy was warned of Assange’s behavior in 2014 by a surveillance company that was hired to film Assange’s interaction with visitors. 

Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition by the Swedish government, where he was wanted for sexual assault. Those charges were dropped in May 2017, according to the Guardian. Assange is still living at the embassy because he is wanted for jumping bail in the United Kingdom, but longtime loyalist Rafael Correa, who was Ecuadorian president from 2007 to 2017, recently said Assange’s days of protection are “numbered.”

Assange is also hiding out to avoid the U.S. government extraditing and charging him with crimes related to his 2010 Wikileaks case, when he published a series of leaks of classified military information provided by Chelsea Manning. 

Read the Guardian’s full report here. 

Read More →

A Republican candidate governor in Georgia governor will drive around in a “deportation bus” starting Wednesday to raise awareness about the “dangers of sanctuary cities,” his campaign announced Tuesday.

Georgia state Sen. Michael Williams — who claims he’s the “most outspoken anti-illegal candidate” in the state’s history — plans to visit each of “Georgia’s dangerous sanctuary cities” in coming days, his campaign said in a statement. 

“Through his bus tour of sanctuary cities, William will expose how dangerous illegal aliens ruin local economies, cost American jobs, increase healthcare costs and lower education standards,” the statement said, before touting Williams’ history as the Georgia co-chair for President Trump’s campaign.

“Williams champions implementing the federal 287(g) deportation program in every Georgia county to deputize officers as ICE agents,” the statement said. “His anti-illegal alien program would expedite the deportation process and send a clear message to illegal communities that they are not welcomed in Georgia.” 

Williams’ campaign also specifically calls out one of his Republican primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, for “failed leadership” on “illegal immigration,” which Williams claims is “a fierce subject” in the race for governor.

But Cagle takes a hard line on undocumented immigrants as well — in a statement on Cagle’s campaign site the lieutenant governor says he’s “led the fight to defund and outlaw sanctuary cities” and has ensured “that criminal illegal aliens could not terrorize our families.” He’s also vowed to deploy the national guard to the southern border if elected. 

In response to Williams’ bus tour announcement, Cagle’s campaign manager Scott Binkley told TPM “Michael’s making a convincing case that the first person rounded up by the deportation bus should be him.”

There are three other Republicans running in the primary on May 22: Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state; Clay Tippins, a former Navy SEAL and businessman; Hunter Hill, a former state senator and U.S. Army ranger. 

Read More →

The Environmental Protection Agency and the White House took measures to block the publication of a report on a nationwide water-contamination crisis because of concerns it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” Politico reported Monday. 

The report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was set to publish in January, disclosing that a dangerous level of toxic chemicals had contaminated water near military bases and other areas from New York to Michigan to West Virginia. The study would also reveal that the chemicals are riskier to human health at a level lower than what the EPA has previously deemed safe, Politico reported. 

According to an email obtained by Politico, one White House aide warned early this year that the “reaction” to the report would be “huge” and “extremely painful” to the EPA and the Department of Defense. 

“The public, media and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email obtained by Politico. “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

The water contamination report has still not been published, according to Politico. 

Read the full story here.

Read More →

Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti has doubled down on his threats to sue conservative media outlet, The Daily Caller, after the publication published a story that claims Avenatti has a shadowy financial past. 

The Daily Caller article claimed that Avenatti has a past of full lawsuits, abandoned business dealings and bankruptcy, allegations Avenatti denies, according to the Washington Post. One of the Daily Caller reporters involved in publishing the story tweeted out the email Avenatti sent him threatening to sue. Avenatti reportedly claimed the email was off-the-record.

“Just like there is nothing wrong with calling out unethical attorneys, there is nothing wrong with calling out unethical journalists,” Avenatti told the Post’s The Fix.

Avenatti has been on a media blitz since taking on porn actress Daniels’ case against the President. Daniels is suing Trump for failing to sign a non-disclosure agreement just before the 2016 election that was suppose to bar her from talking about an alleged affair she had with President Trump a decade ago. Daniels is also suing Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen — who also paid her $130,000 as part of the agreement — for defamation. 

Read More →

Several key Senate Republicans had some choice words for President Donald Trump and his administration on Monday as they went on the offensive to defend one of their own— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Politico reported.

Last week, White House special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked McCain for “dying” during an internal West Wing meeting and her comments were swiftly leaked to the press. Since then, rather than apologize or make personnel changes over the remark, the White House has taken an aggressive stance against leaking, painting Sadler as a “victim” who was betrayed by her colleagues.

Trump even chimed in on Monday, claiming the prevalence of leakers in the White House is just over exaggerated by the media, before also calling leakers “traitors and cowards.” 

The administration’s response has not sat well with several prominent Republican senators, who spoke with Politico on Monday. 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) chided the administration for not having the “common decency” to apologize over the remark and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) claimed if it were his administration, he would not only make Sadler apologize, but he would also apologize for the way the scandal was handled.

“Everything happens for a reason. And sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and made a bad decision,” he told Politico. 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) praised McCain for being a “war hero” who “should be treated as such” and suggested that the remark should get brought up at Republicans’ luncheon with Trump on Tuesday. 

Read Politico’s full report here. 

Read More →

 President Donald Trump on Monday claimed that the leaking problem within the White House is just another issue that’s been over-exaggerated by the “Fake News Media.”

But also, leakers are “traitors and cowards,” who will be caught, he said. 

The doublespeak comes as the White House grapples with the latest round of leaked information to the press, most notably, comments made during an internal meeting last week when White House special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for “dying.” 

Late last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly reprimanded the press shop for the leaked comment. The contents of that meeting were later leaked to Axios.

The White House on Monday said it had dealt with the Sadler matter “internally” and painted the scandal as a betrayal by Sadler’s colleagues.

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who is married to White House aide Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN on Monday that Sadler is actually the “victim” because her private remarks were shared with the media. 

Read More →

Despite finishing last place in the West Virginia Republican primaries last week, Don Blankenship is still releasing advertisements attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who funneled thousands of dollars into that race to oppose him.

In a new 60-second spot shared on Blankenship’s Facebook page over the weekend, the failed Senate candidate attacked McConnell for making light of Blankenship’s “cocaine Mitch” moniker for the majority leader.

“Cocaine Mitch’s family shipping business was caught with cocaine onboard one of their ships,” the narrator of the advertisement says, while the screen displays a photo of McConnell’s face on a boat surrounded by cocaine. “That’s not funny to families who have lost loved ones to cocaine overdose deaths, it’s only funny to those making money by shipping and selling cocaine.”

Cocaine Mitch – Narcos

Posted by Don Blankenship on Saturday, May 12, 2018

The advertisement implies that McConnell started the cocaine spectacle when his campaign tweeted out a picture of McConnell photoshopped onto a Netflix advertisement for “Narcos,” a show about cocaine drug lord Pablo Escobar. The meme features McConnell’s face superimposed over Escobar’s body, surrounded by white power that’s meant to depict cocaine.

However, Blankenship was first to make drug jokes to assail McConnell, releasing a different ad on Facebook earlier this month about how he planned to “ditch” “cocaine Mitch” if he were elected to the Senate. Blankenship later clarified that he was referencing reports that drugs were discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

McConnell was a vocal opponent of Blankenship’s senate bid, claiming the ex-coal baron was too controversial of a candidate to win the general election against Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Blankenship has made several racially charged comments in the past and is most known for serving a one-year sentence in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that kill 29 of his workers. Blankenship has claimed the prison-stint was orchestrated by the “deep state.”

Read More →

The White House aide who reportedly mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for “dying” during an internal meeting last week is “a little bit of a victim here” because her comments were leaked to the press, according to the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“Kelly is my friend and I feel bad she is going through this,” Matt Schlapp told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday morning, referencing White House special assistant Kelly Sadler, who reportedly made the comment. “She showed character to immediately call to apologize, but she’s also a little bit of a victim here. I don’t blame anyone like you, Chris, for running with leaks out of the White House, it’s your job. … The problem is none of us were in that room. The people who leaked what she said are clearly people who have an animus against her and that’s the problem in this White House.”

Schlapp — whose wife Mercedes Schlapp works in the White House and told Axios this weekend that she supports Sadler — also defended Sadler over the remarks about McCain, claiming her comment may not have been a morbid joke, but rather a factual observation about how McCain, or a “replacement” senator, might vote on the nomination of Gina Haspel to run the CIA.

It is a perfectly logical thing to say, ‘Hey, will there be a McCain replacement? Will there be a McCain? Will he not be able to come to Washington?’ She could have meant it very matter of factually, she could’ve meant it in a different way,” he said, before noting that the White House made a mistake when it commented on the leak. “You will never be able to appropriately run your agenda and you shouldn’t comment on it.”

Schlapp’s remarks come as the White House faces criticism for not punishing Sadler or condemning her reported remarks about McCain. During a meeting discussing Haspel’s nomination last week, Sadler reportedly said that McCain’s opposition to the nomination didn’t matter because he’s “dying anyway.” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said over the weekend that Sadler’s comments were “awful,” but not necessarily a fireable offense. 

McCain has been battling brain cancer since last fall and is currently home in Arizona recovering from treatments.

Read More →

As President Donald Trump approaches the one-year anniversary of the launch of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, he’s grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks, The Washington Post reported.

The President regularly complains to aides that he needs better “TV lawyers” to properly defend him in the press and is growing increasingly weary of the probe, which he continues to call a “witch hunt.”

Many Trump aides told the Post that they are confident Trump will be exonerated from any wrongdoing, but are privately concerned that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will take out staples of Trump’s inner circle, specifically family members — Donald Trump Jr., his eldest son, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.

The President’s frustration with the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney’s house, hotel and office in recent weeks has not died down, according to aides who spoke with the Post. Trump reportedly vents about the raids “20 times a day,” one source said.

While the raid of Michael Cohen’s work and residences was directed by the Southern District of New York Attorney’s Office, it came after deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided to share information that he had received from Mueller about Cohen with that agency.

Read the Post’s full report on Trump’s thinking ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russia probe here. 

Read More →

LiveWire