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

In order to get President Donald Trump to read through his daily briefing “book,” aides have bent over backwards to make the documents in the binder consumable for Trump, Axios reported.

The “book” comes in different forms for Trump: occasionally in the form of a notebook, a paper-clipped pile of documents or several folders. Typically the binder is stuffed with schedules, upcoming events, briefing and policy papers.

For Trump, his communications staff also includes positive news clippings — even pictures of cable news chyrons — to “contrast the bad news he may be seeing on cable news,” in Axios’ words.

Known for demanding short and concise briefings — he reportedly ousted his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster because he didn’t like the way he conducted briefings and thought he was condescending — aides write out the information he needs to know in the form of bullet points or graphics.

“The bullets are so pithy that one source said they’re ‘basically slogans,’” Axios reported.

Trump still reads print newspapers, starting with the New York Post, then the New York Times and the Washington Post. He will occasionally read the Wall Street Journal — he likes their editorials — and the Financial Times.

Trump usually reads the briefing binder during his morning “executive time,” which Chief of Staff John Kelly implemented because Trump was complaining that his schedule was too full.

Read More →

A former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer was indicted as part of a federal investigation into an improper leak of classified information to reporters, the Justice Department announced Thursday evening.

CNN was first to report on Thursday that the Justice Department was probing the former Intelligence Committee staffer, James Wolfe, a 57-year-old retired aide, who formerly protected sensitive information shared with lawmakers on the committee.

Wolfe was arrested following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Washington on three counts of making false statement to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. He allegedly provided federal investigators with false denials about his contacts with three reporters and falsely claimed he did not share sensitive Intelligence Committee information with two of them, according to the indictment. Wolfe is set to appear in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

As part of the probe, prosecutors also seized several years’ worth of New York Times’ reporter Ali Watkins’ email and phone data. Watkins had allegedly been in a three-year relationship with Wolfe and was informed of the records seizure in a letter from the national security division of the U.S. attorney’s office in February. The Times reported that it didn’t learn about the seizure until Thursday. This is the first known case of a journalists’ records being seized by the government under President Trump.

Wolfe reportedly used encrypted messaging applications to communicate with four reporters, prosecutors alleged. The FBI began looking into Watkins’ sources after she reported on Russian spies’ efforts to work with former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in April 2017, according to The Times. Wolfe was also in communication with another unnamed reporter about a story related to Page’s subpoena to testify before the committee. He served as an unnamed source for another reporter and was in contact with a fourth journalist through his Senate email address for at least three years, according to the indictment.

Read the indictment below:

 

Read More →

President Donald Trump bragged to reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t think he needs to prepare much for the summit with North Korea set for next week in Singapore.

I think I’m very well prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about the attitude,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “It’s about willingness to get things done. But I think I’ve been preparing for the summit for a long time. As has the other side…They’ve been preparing for a long time, also. So this isn’t a question of preparation, it’s a question of whether or not people want it to happen, and we’ll know that very quickly.”

Plans for the summit between the two leaders has been in the works for months after Trump hastily announced that he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong Un in person to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But after Trump’s vice president and national security adviser doubled down on public statements that the U.S. wanted to follow the “Libya model” for denuclearization, Kim retaliated by mocking Vice President Mike Pence and issuing blistering threats of nuclear revenge.

Trump responded by cancelling the summit in a public letter that, at times, read like a break up note. Last week, a high-ranking North Korean official visited the White House to personally deliver a (large) letter from Kim to Trump. After reading the letter, Trump announced the summit, set for June 12, was back on.

Read More →

President Donald Trump had a lot on his mind Thursday morning that spilled out onto Twitter — the Russia investigation, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the Obama administration, his self-perceived success as a global leader.

He also floated a truly burning question: When will people start showing me some gratitude?

Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey more than a year ago and publicly admitted at the time that the firing had to do with the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take on the probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump supporter, recused himself from the investigation. Mueller is currently investigating, among other things, whether Trump obstructed justice in firing Comey.

Trump has since denied that Russia had anything to do with Comey’s ousting.

Read More →

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told Fox Business Network on Wednesday evening that he and other conservative members of the House are enraged by Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) decision to break with President Trump’s “spygate” conspiracy and said frustrations are starting to “bubble to the top” about Ryan’s tenure as speaker.

“There is no defense today for Paul Ryan siding with the FBI and Department of Justice against those of us in the Congress who are working for transparency and accountability,” he told Fox Business. “Instead of our speaker standing with us and putting the focus on the FBI’s refusal to turn over documents so we can perform our oversight duties, instead he was defending the FBI, and that’s deeply frustrating for me and we need a speaker to be an institutionalist for the Congress, not to be a defender of the deep state.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Ryan said he thought the FBI acted correctly and saw “no evidence” to support Trump’s claims that an informant, who was deployed to meet with his campaign officials to probe their contacts with Russians, was a “spy” sent by the Obama administration to infiltrate his campaign. Trump has seized on the reports of the informant as evidence of his belief in a “deep state” within the FBI that’s biased against him, a theory fueled by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and other conservatives like Gaetz.

Today for the first time I was hearing colleagues saying, you know, ‘If Speaker Ryan won’t stand with us in this fight over the essentials of our democracy, not weaponizing an intelligence community about a presidential campaign, you know, do we need to look at other choices?’” he said. “So, you know, I think that remains a lingering question and you’re starting to see more frustrations bubble to the top because we need that leadership.”

Read More →

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) is now the third Republican lawmaker to break with President Donald Trump in his assessment of the use of a government informant to meet with aides in his campaign who were in contact with Russian officials during the 2016 election, according to Politico.

“What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none?” Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico Wednesday. “You know what I’m saying? It’s like, ‘Lets create this thing to tweet about knowing that it’s not true.’ … Maybe it’s just to create more chaos but it doesn’t really help the case.”

Trump has claimed that the informant was a “spy” sent by the Obama administration to infiltrate his campaign and has seized on the reports as evidence of his belief in a “deep state” within the FBI that’s biased against him. As a President with a penchant for monikers, Trump has labeled the whole ordeal “spygate.”

Rooney’s pushback on Trump’s “spy” outcries is the most aggressive yet from a top Republican. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was the first Republican to push back against Trump’s claims when he said during a TV interview last week that the FBI acted responsibly in deploying an informant to investigate the Russia lead.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in weaker terms than Rooney, said he sided with Gowdy in his “initial assessment” and said there was “no evidence” to support Trump’s claims of inappropriate behavior by the FBI.

Read More →

The Department of Justice plans to share additional information with senior members of Congress early next week about the FBI’s decision to deploy an informant to meet with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, Politico reported early Thursday.

According to a DOJ official who spoke with Politico, the lawmakers included in the bipartisan Gang of Eight group will be have the chance to review documents that they didn’t see at the classified meeting between lawmakers and DOJ officials last month. That meeting initially only included Republican members of Congress before Democrats demanded to be included.

“The Department and FBI are prepared to brief members on certain questions specifically raised by the Speaker and other members,” the DOJ official told Politico. “The Department will also provide the documents that were available for review but not inspected by the members at the previous briefing along with some additional material.”

The meeting comes as an increasing number of Republicans break with Trump on his assessment of the use of an FBI informant to gather information about his campaign officials’ contacts with Russia.

On Wednesday Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) — who will be included in the meeting, set for Monday or Tuesday, according to Politico — said he saw “no evidence” to support Trump’s claims that the informant was a “spy” sent by the Obama administration to infiltrate his campaign. Trump has seized on the reports of the informant as evidence of his belief in a “deep state” within the FBI that’s biased against him and has dubbed the whole ordeal “spygate.”

Read More →

While cameras were rolling during a meeting with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, held to discuss the upcoming hurricane season, President Donald Trump politely thanked each of his Cabinet members and briefly mentioned Puerto Rico, where, according to a new report, thousands more than initially reported died as a result of Hurricane Maria.

But behind closed doors, hurricanes were the last thing on Trump’s mind, according to audio of the private discussion obtained by the Washington Post. The President jumped from subject to subject, making seemingly random requests of his Cabinet members and boasting about things he deemed accomplishments.

Trump reportedly bragged about his “popularity” and the work his Cabinet has done: “I understand a big story is being done in a major newspaper talking about what a great Cabinet this is— what a great Cabinet this has turned out to be. … Our level of popularity is great,” he said.

He told Energy Secretary Rick Perry he should hold a press conference to promote his message about helping coal companies and lauded his own role in “setting records” to improve the U.S. economy.

We have tremendous number of companies coming back,” he said. “Nobody had any idea this was going to happen. I did.” 

Trump also claimed that he saved the U.S. $1.6 billion in airplane expenses because he helped negotiate a deal with Boeing for Air Force One. As the Post notes, military officials aren’t sure where Trump got that figure, which he has cited previously. He then grumbled about the military spending too much money on new technology for aircrafts— a complaint no one in the room responded to at first.

“Part of it is, they want to have all new. Instead of having the system that throws the aircraft off the (ship), which was always steam, they now have magnets,” he said, according to the Post. “They spent hundreds of millions of dollars, I’m hearing not great things about it. It’s frankly ridiculous.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan eventually stepped in, reportedly vowing to start bringing Trump receipts.

Read the Post’s full story here. 

Read More →

A South Dakota lawmaker apologized after posting a comment on Facebook arguing that businesses should be allowed to “turn away people of color” if they want to, the Argus Leader reported.

State Rep. Michael Clark (R) sent the apology via email to the Argus Leader about an hour after the newspaper published a story about the comment, claiming he would “never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race.”

But Clark also told the newspaper that he thinks business owners should be able to turn away customers “if it’s truly his strongly based belief.”

“People shouldn’t be able to use their minority status to bully a business,” he reportedly said, adding that if people don’t like the way a business treats customers, they can put the company out of business.

Clark, who is running for reelection in November, posted the racist comment on Facebook under an article he linked to about the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple for religious reasons. He called the decision a “win for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

According to a screenshot of the comment obtained by the Argus Leader, Clark was responding to a Facebook user who said if the baker “didn’t want to do a wedding cake because a couple is black you would support that as well.”

“It is his business. He should have the opportunity to run his business the way he wants. If he wants to turn away people of color, then that (sic) his choice,” Clark said in response.

Other commenters immediately shot Clark down, questioning how a person could be elected to the state legislature without the understanding of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Clark did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Read More →

While President Donald Trump has made it clear that he will leave the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un early if negotiations don’t go well, he also has a friendlier backup plan if the two leaders get along: A fall invite to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Bloomberg News reported.

But the tropical getaway would only be an option if the summit is successful— an outcome that falls into Kim’s lap, Trump’s advisers have told him. White House officials are aiming to settle on a timeframe for Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal. North Korea is reportedly interested in creating a step-by-step plan for denuclearization and Trump reportedly said he would be flexible, though he’s been advised not to compromise.   

If the meeting goes well, the summit may include other events and would likely last an extra day, according to Bloomberg.

Trump plans to travel to Singapore with his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton. Pompeo has reportedly been prepping Trump for the summit in eight to 10 hours of meetings each week for the past several weeks.   

Read the full report here.

Read More →

LiveWire