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

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 3:00 p.m. ET Tuesday. Watch live below:

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday pushed back against a conclusion reached by the intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee — that Russia favored President Donald Trump in its influence campaign during the 2016 election. 

Speaking to reporters at a House briefing on election security, Nielsen was asked about the 2017 intelligence community report that found Putin not only “ordered an influence campaign” aimed at the 2016 presidential election, but also that Putin had a “clear preference” for Trump in those meddling efforts.

She claimed that she hadn’t seen that conclusion, which was made available to the public last year.

“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion,” Nielsen told reporters. “That the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I’m not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.”

She added that she believes that Russia attempted to “disrupt our belief and our understanding of what is happening,” and she called Russian interference “an integrity issue.”

In a statement to TPM on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security press secretary Tyler Houlton said that Nielsen “agrees” with the Intelligence Community assessment and “clearly” said Tuesday that the “Russian government unequivocally worked to undermine our democracy” in 2016. Houlton pointed out that the Kremlin “targeted both major political parties” in its interference, but did not state that Nielsen believes Russia favored Trump.

Houlton said the language used by the reporter — CNN’s Manu Raju — did not “reflect the specific language” in the intelligence community’s report.

However, Raju specifically asked if Nielsen had “any reason to doubt the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that said it was Vladimir Putin who meddled in the election to help President Trump win?” Nielsen responded saying: “I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion.”

In its 2017 report, the Intelligence Community stated: “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Read Houlton’s full statement below:

“The secretary has previously reviewed the Intelligence Community’s assessment and agrees with it – as she stated today and previously. She also very clearly articulated today that the Russian government unequivocally worked to undermine our democracy during the 2016 election. Russian goals included undermining faith in the U.S. democratic process and harming a candidate’s electability and potential presidency.  Importantly, they targeted both major political parties. As the secretary reiterated — their intent was to sow discord in the American electoral process. However, we have no evidence that any ballots were changed or counted incorrectly as a result of Russian interference.

“The intelligence assessment language is nuanced for a reason.  The secretary agrees with that assessment. But the question asked by the reporter did not reflect the specific language in the assessment itself, so the secretary correctly stated she had not seen the conclusion as characterized by the reporter.

“The Department is well aware of the threat posed by Russian election interference, and today’s classified member briefing was one of many opportunities by the Department and the secretary to be transparent with Congress and the American people about efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections. ”

Nielsen’s comments come just days after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it sided with the intelligence community in its findings on Russian interference.

Nielsen’s apparent skepticism of the determination that Russia favored Trump is in line with the conclusion reached by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. They claimed in their report that the intelligence community didn’t follow its best practices when it concluded Russia favored Trump in the election.   

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Working in the West Wing requires a bit of familiarity with President Donald Trump’s quirks, like his paranoia of being poisoned and penchant for fast food.

It also requires a close study of his poor grammar. 

According to two people familiar with the process who spoke with the Boston Globe, White House staffers regularly write out draft tweet options for Trump to browse, each including a hand-selected Trumpism — like excessive exclamation points, capitalization for emphasis, fragments and cryptic ellipses.

The intentional poor grammar is designed to keep Trump’s personal cadence alive and well on his Twitter feed, even when it’s not actually the President composing the tweets, according to the Boston Globe. The distinction between a Trump tweet and a replica by his communications staff has become increasingly difficult to decipher, people who closely follow his feed told the Boston Globe.

Read the Globe’s full report here.

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Vice President Mike Pence offered his full-throated support of President Trump’s most recent crusade — demands for a Justice Department inspector general probe of the FBI’s motivations for hiring an informant to speak to members of his campaign.

During an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, Pence said Trump was “grateful” that the Justice Department had asked the inspector general to investigate whether the informant was dispatched for political reasons and claimed “millions of Americans” would be distraught if that were the case.

“The President is, I think, grateful, that the Department of Justice is going to have the inspector general look into it and determine, and ensure, that there was no surveillance done for political purposes against our campaign,” he said. “I think it would be very troubling to millions of Americans if that took place.”

Over the weekend, Trump seized on reports that a government informant spoke with two Trump campaign officials as a way of probing Russian interference in the election without compromising the vote. He tweeted Sunday a “demand” for the DOJ probe, and the department asked the inspector general to look into it.

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As president, the famously chatty Donald Trump has been allowed to have at least two cellphones on hand that enable him to take part in his two favorite pass times: talking to friends on the phone and venting on Twitter.

But, according to a new Politico report, Trump has resisted typical security protocol for the devices. Trump regularly ignores advice from his aides about swapping out the phone that he uses to scroll through Twitter and read the news, claiming the convention is “too inconvenient” for him. Aides have encouraged the President to swap out his Twitter cellphone at least once a month, but he repeatedly breaks with precedent and ignores the guidance.

The President has reportedly gone as long as five months without letting security experts examine the device he uses for Twitter, however the call-capable cell is “seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis” a senior West Wing official told Politico. That phone, which Politico described as a “burner” phone, also has a camera and microphone, features deemed too risky for personal cell use under the Obama administration.

The insight into Trump’s cellphone use comes as Chief of Staff John Kelly attempts to crack down on the use of private cellular devices within the West Wing. While pegged as a security move, the new policy is widely seen as a measure to prevent leaking from within the White House. 

Read the full Politico report here. 

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Tripling down on its efforts to prove that President Donald Trump was only referring to members of the MS-13 gang as “animals” — not all undocumented immigrants — the White House released a statement Monday morning explaining the origins and crimes of the “violent animals of MS-13.”

The statement — titled “What you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13”—outlines some of the horrific crimes committed by members of the gang in the suburbs of New York City and Washington, D.C. in the past two years. The statement called MS-13 members “animals” nearly 10 times.

During a panel discussion with California officials who oppose the state’s sanctuary immigration policies last week, Trump appeared to refer to immigrants who have been taken out of the country for attempting to illegally enter the U.S. as “bad ” people and “animals.” Trump later clarified — both to reporters and on Twitter — that he was referring to members of the MS-13 gang. Read a transcript of the conversation in question here.

In the new statement, the White House repeatedly referred to the group as “the MS-13 animals” as it outlined the brutal rapes and murders the group is believed to have committed in recent years, as the gang has risen to national notoriety for its violent attacks in the U.S.

MS-13 is a transnational gang that has brought violence, fear, and suffering to American communities,” the statement said. “MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more.

“Recent investigations have revealed MS-13 gang leaders based in El Salvador have been sending representatives into the United States illegally to connect the leaders with local gang members,” the White House continued. “These foreign-based gang leaders direct local members to become even more violent in an effort to control more territory.”

While the reported crimes by the gang are horrific in nature, as Vox News explains, the Trump administration — in its vows to “bring these violent animals to justice” — has used the attacks to perpetuate its narrative of linking illegal immigration with violent crime. 

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President Donald Trump on Monday gave The Wall Street Journal a virtual pat on the back in a tweet, citing the paper’s two-day-old editorial questioning “where in the world” former President Barack Obama was when his FBI was surveilling “affiliates of a presidential campaign.”

“A very good question!” Trump tweeted.

The WSJ editorial, penned by James Freeman, calls out the media for burying mentions of Obama in its coverage of revelations that a government informant met with two members of Trump’s campaign before the election. Freeman also calls on the former President to provide a public explanation for why his intelligence and law enforcement agencies decided to focus surveillance efforts on a “domestic political campaign.”

Freeman writes:

“By this point it seems clear that Mr. Obama didn’t think much of the theory that Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians. But presumably he learned quite a bit about his government’s efforts to investigate it. It’s not clear what an FBI official meant in 2016 when texting that President Obama ‘wants to know everything we’re doing.’ But we can assume that the President was fairly well-informed about the law enforcement agencies reporting to him. Therefore let’s hear from him in detail the full history of how the government came to investigate the presidential campaign of the party out of power.”

Since the New York Times first reported last week that a secret intelligence source met with the Trump campaign’s foreign policy aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, Trump has become increasingly frustrated with the Russia probe. He called the news last week “bigger than Watergate!” and demanded on Twitter Sunday that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

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Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a muted jab at President Trump and the Russia investigation during a speech at Yale University on Sunday by pulling out a “Russian hat.”

As part of the school’s Class Day tradition, students often wear eccentric hats to the ceremony.

“I see, looking out of you, that you are following the tradition of over-the-top hats, so I brought a hat too,” she said. “A Russian hat. Look, I mean, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Watch the hat bit below, which starts at 32:43.


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The Republican National Committee has paid more than a half million dollars in legal fees for President Trump aides like Hope Hicks as they face inquiries related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Sunday evening.

According to new federal filing reviewed by the Post, the law firm Trout Cacheris & Janis was paid $451,780 by the RNC. Hicks hired Robert Trout, the founder of the firm, as her personal attorney last year, according to reports. At least three lawyers at the firm represent individuals involved in the Senate and House investigations into Russian interference and the Trump campaign and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The Post reported last year that the RNC was using funds slated for election recounts to pay some of the President’s legal fees related to Russia. The RNC has since paid at least half a million and a separate legal defense fund was established in February to help square some of his aides’ other costs.

Read the Post’s full report here. 

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President Donald Trump is becoming increasingly concerned that his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un could evolve into a political embarrassment, The New York Times reported Sunday.

According to foreign officials and people from the Trump administration who spoke with the Times, Trump was shocked by the statement from North Korea’s head nuclear negotiator last week that indicated total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not going to happen.

The President has reportedly been talking to aides about whether he should move forward with the historic meeting. On Saturday night, he called South Korean President Moon Jae-in — the Washington Post was first to report — to discuss the North’s latest statement and why it was in contradiction with private conversations Moon has had with Kim. Officials told the Times that the call, just three days before Moon was set to travel to Washington, D.C., is a signal of Trump’s unease surrounding the meeting.

According to aides who spoke with the Times, Trump has made no specific indication that he is planning to pull out of the talks, but officials are concerned that Trump has been too publicly eager about the meeting — like his remark that “everyone thinks” he should win a Nobel Peace Prize for the historic summit.

Trump is set to meeting with Kim in Singapore next month.

Read the Times’ full report here.

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