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

Fresh off the set of “Celebrity Big Brother,” former White House aide and “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman walked back some of the criticism of President Donald Trump and the White House that she unloaded while starring on the reality TV show.

During an interview with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday evening, Manigault-Newman clarified what she meant when she told a fellow “Big Brother” contestant that she was “haunted” by Trump’s tweets every day.

“He announced major policy issues on Twitter,” she told Colbert. “The transgender ban, for instance, was announced on Twitter. I don’t know that that’s, for someone who is in communication like Hope and myself, that’s not a place you want to find out at 5 in the morning about something that would impact so many people’s lives. You want to find out in a policy briefing from the director of domestic policy about those issues and the subsequent follow up for it, not on Twitter.”

She also claimed that she was referencing immigration policy when she warned “it’s gonna not be okay, it’s not.” When Colbert posed the same question, she said “we will have to wait and see.”

While on “Big Brother” she said that leaving the White House was like leaving a “plantation.” On Colbert, she said she meant the White House was like an “ecosystem” where “people feel oppressed.” 

“Donald Trump was my friend for 15 years,” she said. “Watching him in this position has caused me to be excited and sometimes be very, very concerned.”

Colbert then asked her to respond to a list of moves Trump has been widely criticized for, like his comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape; his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; his defense of accused child molester Roy Moore; his attacks on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for being a prisoner of war; calling Mexicans rapists; throwing paper towels at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

“Awful, awful, awful, unacceptable, awful, awful, awful, unequivocally unacceptable,” she said in response. “Most of them he shouldn’t have done. … I don’t work for him anymore, nor do I regret trying to be a voice of reason at the table.”

Manigault Newman, who met Trump when she was on “The Apprentice,” hinted after she left the White House that she felt she had been wronged by the circumstances surrounding her departure. After she was fired by Kelly, she reportedly was escorted out of the White House by Secret Service for trying to talk to the President, all reports she denies.

During an interview with “Good Morning America” in December, she said she had “concerns” that led to her resignation, but has since only vaguely hinted at the details.

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Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Chief of Staff John Kelly is to blame for the departure of Hope Hicks, who took over the comms shop after Scaramucci left, and claimed White House “morale is at an all-time low.”

The morale is terrible. The reason why the morale is terrible is because of the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment,” Scaramucci said during an interview with CNN Thursday. “If the current situation and the current culture inside the administration stays exactly the way it is, there’s literally no change, there will be a lot more departures. Morale is at an all-time low and it’s trending lower.”

The Mooch was also highly critical of Kelly’s handling of former White House official Rob Porter’s resignation, who left after allegations of domestic abuse began to surface last month. Kelly reportedly knew that Porter was working under an interim security clearance as the FBI investigated the allegations of abuse, but the White House denies those reports.

“I don’t believe that,” Scaramucci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, referencing the White House defense of Kelly. “I hold the White House chief of staff accountable for that. Because he had the information related to Porter. … He had the information, he tried to cover up the information, he tried to get other people in the White House to cover up the information for him.”

Scaramucci also was irked that Kelly “would allow Hope to date Porter if he’s got that information.” Hicks was reportedly in a relationship with Porter at the time of his departure and she helped craft an initial White House statement in response to the allegations, which came to light after both his ex-wives went public with their stories of Porter’s alleged pattern of anger and abuse. Scaramucci also said he was personally bothered by the fact that Porter was allowed to stay in his post even though Kelly knew about the accusations.

I’ll tell you what I don’t like about it,” he said. “I talked a little bit of smack about two guys that we were trying to get rid of, he fires me in five seconds. These guys are smacking up their wives and he’s trying to find a way to keep them inside the White House.”

Scaramucci was fired after a tumultuous 10 days in the White House. He gave a profanity-laden interview to The New Yorker, where he was derogative and critical of former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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Following scrutiny over his penchant for round-the-clock security and expensive first-class travel, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told CBS Wednesday that there was “change coming” and promised his next flight would be coach, not first class.

During an interview on CBS News’ “The Takeout” podcast, Pruitt reiterated that he had only been flying first-class in recent months because he was facing “unprecedented” threats.

“There’s a change coming, because look the security threat matters,” Pruitt said. “What I’ve told them going forward is this: There is a change occurring, you’re going to accommodate the security threats as they exist, you’re going to accommodate those in all ways, alternate ways, up to and including flying coach, and that is what’s going to happen on my very next flight. So those things are happening right away.”

This week, House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent a letter to the EPA asking for Pruitt’s travel records. Pruitt has faced criticism in recent months amid reports that he has taken several first class flights, on short trips up and down the east coast and one to Milan, which cost a total of $43,000.

The EPA claims Pruitt started taking first class flights because he was receiving significant threats. Henry Barnet, the director of the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico that flying first class helps Pruitt avoid confrontations, like people shouting profanities at him.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking witnesses whether President Donald Trump knew of the hacking of the Democrats’ emails before they were publicly released, NBC News reported Wednesday.

Mueller’s team also reportedly wants to determine whether Trump was involved in the release of the emails. At a campaign event not long before the emails were made public, Trump called on the Russians to hack his opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Investigators are also inquiring about Trump confidante Roger Stone’s relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Atlantic reported Tuesday that Stone and Assange were in communication in October 2016.

In August 2016, Stone tweeted that it would “soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” The Clinton campaign pointed to that tweet and Trump’s campaign rally comments as evidence that the Trump campaign knew the emails had been hacked before they were released.

CNN reported Wednesday that Mueller is also currently asking witnesses about Trump’s business dealings with Russia before he launched his presidential campaign.

Read NBC’s full report here.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to President Donald Trump’s criticism Wednesday, saying his office would work to “ensure that complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”

From CNN:

The rare response to the President’s criticism follows a Trump tweet Wednesday morning, calling Sessions’ decision to direct the Inspector General to probe Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse instead of using DOJ layers “DISGRACEFUL.”

Trump has been unabashedly frustrated with Sessions since the attorney general announced he would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sessions stepped away from probe because he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign.

Sessions was one of the first in Congress to wholeheartedly embrace Trump ahead of the 2016 Republican primary.

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Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack said Wednesday that his company “expect(s) backlash” from the hunting community for its decision to halt sales of assault rifles and not sell guns to anyone under 21.

But his company no longer wants to be part of the narrative surrounding mass shootings, he said.

Our hearts went out to those kids and to their parents,” he told CNN Wednesday, referencing the students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been advocating for gun control since 17 people were killed in a shooting at their school earlier this month. “Everybody talks about thoughts and prayers going out to them, and that’s great, but that doesn’t really do anything. We felt we needed to take a stand and do this.”

Stack, a gun owner, acknowledged that the hunting community is an important part of their business and there will “no doubt” be a large swath of customers angered by their decision, but he said the management team was inspired by the bravery of the teens who have been vocal about gun policy reform since the massacre.

When you look at those kids and their parents and the grief everyone is going through, we don’t want to be a part of this story any longer,” he said.

Last November, the alleged gunman, a 19-year-old former student of the high school, legally purchased a gun from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Stack said. The weapon was not the same guns he used in the school attack, but Stack said company officials “had a pit in our stomach” when they found out.

We looked at this and we went back and we did everything by the book that we were supposed to do from a legal standpoint,” he said. “We followed everything we were supposed to do, and somehow this kid was still able to buy a gun from us. … We need a responsibility to these kids, and we decided we’re not going to sell these anymore.”

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, the company decided to suspend its sales of assault rifles, but the decision didn’t stick. Stack said that won’t be the case this time.

We concluded that, if these kids are brave enough to organize and do what they’re doing, we should be brave enough to take the stand and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.  

Watch a portion of the interview below:

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Leaders of the National Rifle Association (NRA) appealed directly to President Donald Trump about reconsidering his position on increasing the age limit for rifle purchases from 18 to 21, CNN reported Wednesday.

Trump met with NRA heads Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox over the weekend, which is reportedly when the request was made, according to one senior Trump administration official who spoke with CNN. The NRA reportedly asked Trump to consider focusing on school safety measures instead.

While Trump has publicly expressed his support for an age increase, the NRA has been vocal about its opposition to the measure. NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch argued the point by telling CNN last week she needed a rifle to protect herself when she was 20-years-old.

The official who spoke with CNN said Trump still has a “preference” for the age limit increase. Trump suggested he also supports arming teachers, banning bump stocks and improving background check system for gun purchases.

The White House plans to release its proposals for school safety improvements on Thursday.

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Four political appointees in the Department of Commerce lost their jobs Tuesday over issues with their background checks, as Chief of Staff John Kelly cracks down on staffers operating under an interim security clearance.

According to The Washington Post, the Commerce Department determined that the four appointees — Fred Volcansek, who was a senior adviser to Secretary Wilbur Ross, and aides Chris Garcia, Edgar Mkrtchian and Justin Arlett — should not have access to classified information.

The Commerce Department ousting follows reports that President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s top-secret interim security clearance was downgraded on Friday. Kelly decided to crack down on temporary security clearances after it was reported that former White House secretary Rob Porter had an interim clearance while the FBI was investigating past allegations of domestic abuse. Porter left the White House after his two ex-wives went public with their accusations of abuse.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators has recently started asking witnesses about President Donald Trump’s business dealings in Russia prior to 2016, CNN reported Tuesday evening.

According to people familiar with the matter who spoke with CNN, the Mueller team’s interviews are currently focused on the timing of Trump’s decision to run for president, what compromising information Russia may have about the President and why he abandoned his push to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mueller is also interested in the financing of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia, CNN reported.

Mueller is reportedly interested in how Trump’s decision to run for president may have lined up with his business interests at the time. One witness reportedly told investigators that Trump was resolute about running for president in 2014, according to CNN. Trump himself claims he didn’t know he was running back then. 

Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The probe has focused on Russian cyber interference as well as Trump associates’ interaction with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition into the White House.

Mueller recently indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for violating U.S. laws to aid the Trump campaign.

Read the full CNN report here.

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The White House on Monday told reporters they should “look at the Obama administration” if they “want to blame somebody” for Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

After National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate armed services committee Tuesday that President Trump has not yet directed his department to work to thwart Russian threats to the 2018 election, reporters peppered White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with questions about why Trump hasn’t yet given Rogers authority to prevent impending 2018 election cyber attacks.

Sanders argued that the White House is “looking at a number of different options” on combatting Russian threats and touted a move by the State Department last week to devote $40 million “to the global engagement center to begin providing immediate support to private and public partners that expose and counter Russian and Chinese propaganda and disinformation.”

“He is in charge of the cyber command, why not give him the authority?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked.

Sanders pushed back, claiming “nobody is denying him the authority” to foil attacks and then pivoted to say Trump has been “tougher on Russia than his predecessor.”

“Let’s not forget this happened under President Obama, it didn’t happen under President Trump,” she said. “If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration. The President is looking at all the different causes and all the different ways that we can prevent it.”

The question comes after Trump went on a Twitter tirade Tuesday morning, live blogging quotes from Fox News about the Russia investigation, and ending the rant by simply declaring “WITCH HUNT!”

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