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 Justice Department inspector general found a “troubling” lack of “substantive communication” between former FBI director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch ahead of Comey’s decision to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just before the 2016 election, according to Bloomberg.

In an excerpt of the highly anticipated DOJ inspector general, published by Bloomberg, that looks at the FBI’s activity ahead of the 2016 election, DOJ IG Micheal Horowitz said he found the lack of communication between the two parties to be “extraordinary.”

“We found it extraordinary that, in advance of two such consequential decisions, the FBI director decided that the best course of conduct was to not speak directly and substantively with the attorney general about how best to navigate those decisions,” Horowitz said.

Comey announced he had closed the Clinton probe in July 2016 and then reopened it in October of that year, a move Democrats claim cost them the election.

Lynch did not recuse herself from the Clinton email probe, but told Comey at the time that she would agree with his findings, as Bloomberg notes. The former attorney general was heavily criticized — especially by President Donald Trump — for privately meeting with former President Bill Clinton on her plane in June 2016. The two have maintained that the investigation was not discussed.

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Text messages critical of President Donald Trump that were exchanged between two FBI officials who were working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation “cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation,” Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the forthcoming report Thursday, according to Bloomberg.

In an excerpt of the DOJ IG report — published by Bloomberg — that’s set to be released later Thursday afternoon, Horowitz said that he did not find any evidence that the messages exchanged between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page directly affected the investigation.

“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said. “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”

Once the texts were discovered, Mueller removed Strzok from the Russia probe and Page is no longer at the FBI. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have pointed to the texts as proof of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI.

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President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday evening did his best to downplay reports that Michael Cohen may flip on Trump in order to avoid arrest for a score of possible financial crimes.

Appearing on Laura Ingraham’s “Ingraham Angle” on Fox Wednesday, Giuliani said he “checked into this last night” when asked about reports that Cohen’s worried about getting arrested and said “it’s not so” that the longtime Trump fixer is cooperating with authorities.

“He’s not cooperating, nor do we care because the President did nothing wrong,” Giuliani said. “We’re very comfortable, if he cooperates there’s nothing he can cooperate about with regard to President Trump.”

On Wednesday, several news outlets reported that Cohen has told friends that he’s anxious he could be arrested at any time. Cohen denied those reports.

ABC also reported Wednesday that Cohen’s lawyers are gearing up to ditch their client, who hasn’t been charged but is being investigated for potential finance crimes, including tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

In April the FBI raided Cohen’s house, hotel and office, seizing a slew of documents, including records related to a $130,000 payment he made to porn actress Stormy Daniels as part of a non-disclosure agreement to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump a decade ago.

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After responding to his victory rally crowd’s “lock her up” chants by saying it “might just happen,” the Republican Senate candidate who won the GOP primary in Virginia on Tuesday evening, Corey Stewart, again suggested that his opponent should be jailed.

During a turbulent interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night, Stewart suggested that his opponent, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) was at the “center” of reports that a government informant was deployed to meet with members of the Trump campaign to probe their contacts with Russian officials at the start of what we now consider the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. President Donald Trump, Stewart —who claims he won because he fully aligned himself with Trump — and other far-right Republicans have seized on reports of the informant as evidence that a spy was sent to infiltrate Trump’s campaign. The President himself has dubbed the whole ordeal “spygate.”

“I’ll tell you something, I really do believe that Tim Kaine has been at the center of all this stuff that you’re seeing with regard to the FBI, you know, the whole problem is having the FBI spying by federal agency on a presidential campaign,” Stewart told Cuomo, who interrupted him to say there was “no proof” to back up his allegations.

Stewart shot back: “We’re not in a court of law are we?”

“That doesn’t mean the truth doesn’t apply, my brother,” Cuomo said.

Stewart then repeated his claim that Kaine and the entire commonwealth of Virginia were at the “center” of the informant controversy.

I would not be surprised if there’s an investigation of Tim Kaine before the year is out,” Stewart said. “Look, here’s the question, at the end of the day people have to ask themselves, what has Tim Kaine accomplished in his six years in the United States Senate? Tim Kaine can’t point to a single accomplishment in the United States Senate for Virginia or Virginians. The only thing that Tim Kaine has done in the past six years is run for vice president, and he didn’t even do a very good job at that, I might add.” 

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Last summer, White House counsel Don McGahn recused his whole office from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because many of the lawyers in his office had been “significant participants” in incidents that were at the center of Mueller’s investigation, former White House attorney Ty Cobb said Wednesday.

At a panel discussion at George Mason University, which Politico covered, Cobb said the White House made the decision because McGahn’s lawyers were heavily involved in the ousting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey. McGahn’s recusal was part of the rationale for hiring Cobb to join the legal team, where his role was to deliver the official White House response to the Russia probe.

While McGahn and at least two of his aides have reportedly been interviewed by Mueller, it has not yet been reported that the entire White House legal team had been recused from Mueller’s probe.

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While the White House still lacks a communications director since the departure of longtime President Trump aide Hope Hicks, two of the most familiar faces in the communications shop are reportedly planning to exit the Trump White House, CBS News reported Wednesday.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are reportedly both mulling their departure. Sanders has told friends that she will leave the Trump administration by the end of the year, while Shah has not yet decided on a date for his exit, according to CBS.

Sanders and Shah both declined to comment on the record when contacted by CBS, but Sanders vehemently denied the report on Twitter Wednesday evening, saying she is “honored to work for @POTUS.”

While Sanders denies the news of her impending retreat, the report of her exit follows a tumultuous month for Sanders, who has been heavily questioned and criticized for lying to the media last year when she told reporters that Trump did not personally dictate a statement that Donald Trump Jr. initially released about his infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in 2016.

The news also comes on the heels of reports that the White House is taking steps to shake up the press shop, ousting junior staffers and cutting down on the number of people allowed to attend daily meetings. The efforts are all fueled by a crusade to crackdown on leaks to the press.

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A Trump-aligned Republican who won the GOP Senate primary in Virginia on Tuesday will face Hillary Clinton’s former running-mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in a race that’s bound to resemble key aspects of both Clinton and President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

And the crowds could take similar form, too.

During Corey Stewart’s victory rally on Tuesday evening, the candidate referred to his opponent as “Hillary Clinton’s running-mate.” The mere mention of the former Democratic Party nominee fueled the crowd to begin chanting “lock her up!” — a frequent incantation at Trump’s most rowdy campaign rallies.

“That might just happen, by the way,” Stewart responded, according to The Washington Post. “And Timmy, too. Oh, we’re gonna have a lot of fun between now and November, folks.” 

The audience recited other Trump campaign slogans on Tuesday evening, like Trump crowd favorite “Build the wall!”

Stewart’s victory on Tuesday even elicited a response from Trump, who tweeted Wednesday that Stewart had a “major chance of winning!”

h/t HuffPost

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President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is under investigation for a number of possible crimes ranging from bank fraud to campaign finance violations, is reportedly concerned that he could be arrested any day now, according to friends of Cohen who spoke to Vanity Fair and New York Daily News.

The unnamed source who spoke to the NYDN characterized Cohen as “very stressed out” about the possibility of an indictment.

“None of it is good,” the source said.

White House officials in turn are reportedly concerned that the possibility of an arrest will cause Cohen to flip on Trump.

“If anyone can blow up Trump, it’s him,” an unnamed White House official told Vanity Fair.

Cohen denied the reports of his concern, telling Vanity Fair that their “alleged source is wrong!”

The FBI raided Cohen’s house, hotel and office in April as part of an investigation into some of his business dealings, including a $130,000 payment he made to porn actress Stormy Daniels as part of a non-disclosure agreement to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago.

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As President Donald Trump doubles down on how “expensive” it is for the U.S. military to train with the South Korean military, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), who regularly spends downtime golfing with the President, called Trump’s rationale for halting the practice “ridiculous.”

“The money we spend on training with our allies is money well spent,” he told CNN Tuesday. “It’s not a burden onto the American taxpayer to have a forward deployed force in South Korea. It brings stability. It’s a warning to China that you can’t just take over the whole region. So I reject that analysis that it costs too much, but I do accept the proposition, let’s stand down and see if we can find a better way here.”

Trump announced on Tuesday that he had agreed to halt “war games” — the joint military practice between the U.S. and South Korea — on the Korean peninsula, an exercise that’s widely regarded as an effort, in part, to saber-rattle North Korea. During a press conference following his denuclearization meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump cited the expense of the practice as rationale for agreeing to stop doing it. He doubled down on that defense in a tweet on Wednesday morning, claiming the U.S. saves “a fortune” by not participating. 

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The New York Times is conducting a review of reporter Ali Watkins, who reportedly had a personal relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who was indicted last week on three counts of lying to FBI agents about his contacts with reporters and allegedly leaking classified information to the press, according to The New York Times.

The review is being led by Charlotte Behrendt, an associate managing editor, and Andrew Gutterman, who oversees the Times’ labor department.

Watkins email and phone records were seized by the Department of Justice in February as the FBI probed Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe, whose job in the Senate was related to protecting sensitive information reviewed by lawmakers on the committee. Watkins and Wolfe were involved in a years-long relationship, which ended last year. Watkins reportedly disclosed the prior relationship to Times management before she started working at the newspaper in December and said that she did not use Wolfe as a source while they were dating.

In the past year, Watkins has been approached by people who identified themselves as federal agents at least twice and has been questioned about Wolfe and her sources— once last June and once in February, the Times reported.

In June, a man contacted Watkins and offered to work as a potential source for her stories, according to the Times. But at the meeting, the man — whom the Washington Post has identified as Jeffrey Rambo — told her he knew about her relationship with Wolfe and asked her to help him identify government leakers. Rambo, who is reportedly a Customs and Border Protection agent, is currently under review for his conduct related to the interaction with Watkins, according to the Post.

Watkins reportedly told Politico management — where she was working at the time, covering the Senate Intelligence Committee — about the encounter and disclosed her relationship with Wolfe for the first time. Her byline continued to appear on stories covering the intelligence committee.

She joined the Times in December and covers federal law enforcement.

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