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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

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA), who has had a tumultuous week that culminated with him announcing he won’t seek reelection on Monday and admitting he’s an alcoholic, reportedly requested an investigation this week into certain members of his congressional staff, NPR reported Friday.

According to an IT incident receipt that was shared with NPR, Garrett ordered the “audit of several employees” on Wednesday. The request was made through a tech support office, operated by the head administrative officer of the House, according to NPR.

It’s unclear who was audited or what information Garrett was looking for. According to the source who shared the IT ticket with NPR, the request is not illegal, but it is rare that a lawmaker requests that type of surveillance of staff.

Garrett reportedly fired his chief of staff last week, raising suspicions about whether he would seek reelection. To combat rumors, Garrett hosted a bizarre, free wielding press conference to assure voters he planned to run again for his seat. But after a report came out that Garrett and his wife made staffers do demeaning things — like drive their children around or pick up the family dog’s poop — Garrett announced Monday that he was calling it quits. He also tearfully admitted he’s an alcoholic.

Read NPR’s full report here.

 

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For those masochists among us who have followed Roseanne Barr’s Twitter timeline over the past seven years, it’d be less-than- jolting to learn the comedian and recently revived sitcom actress tweeted something racist this week.

Since she joined Twitter in 2011, Barr’s timeline has served as a watering hole for conspiracy theorists and racist trolls alike, providing ammo for fringe groups’ arsenals, regardless of political ideology.

A brief overview: Barr has been an enthusiastic propagator of Pizzagate, vehemently asserts that 9-11 was an inside job, has occasionally climbed aboard the vaccine-truther train, regularly promotes anti-Jewish and Holocaust denying tweets, while simultaneously labeling Israel a “Nazi state” and retweeting arguments about Palestinian violence.

Despite this record of unhinged rhetoric, Barr managed to shock the masses (and her ABC bosses) with a clearly racist tweet this week, buried in a thread of conspiratorial comments about members of former President Barack Obama’s administration, who, according to Barr, deployed FBI agents to spy on the former French president.

“muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” she wrote at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday.

The tweet, clearly referencing former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, was deleted posthaste. But the sitcom star was not fast enough: As is inevitable when celebrities let loose in the Twitterverse, someone had taken a screenshot. The distinctly racist comment about Jarrett, who is African American, went viral by sunrise.

The backlash prompted Barr to tweet an apology (also now deleted) for “making a bad joke about her politics and her looks” and vowing to leave Twitter for good. (She didn’t.)

Within hours of releasing her apparently disingenuous apology, ABC announced it had canceled her self-titled reboot, “Roseanne,” a sitcom about a working-class family in Illinois that originated in the 1980s and was rebooted this year with a new plot involving political themes. (Barr’s character was a Trump supporter, as Barr is in real life, and her sister Jackie voted for Hillary Clinton.)

After the show was cancelled, Barr continued to post defensive tweets and retweets justifying her behavior. She shared a post that suggested she thought Jarrett was white. In a since-deleted tweet she claimed she was “Ambien tweeting” at the time she made the “joke.” (“Racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication,” the manufacturer behind the sleep aid tweeted.) Barr later told followers that their encouragement had inspired her to “do something” to assert her freedom of speech. She ended the day Thursday begging for more followers and requesting “prayers for healing of our divided nation.”

The President, predictably, couldn’t resist the urge to dive in to the political mud slinging. Instead of criticizing ABC for cancelling Barr’s show — of which he was, apparently, a big fan — he used the melee as an excuse to re-up his attacks on the media, posting a less-than-subtle tweet questioning why he hadn’t received an apology from the CEO of Disney for the “HORRIBLE” things said about him on ABC News.

Despite her tumultuous week on Twitter, Roseanne is back at it: Her latest Twitter crusade amplifies anti-Muslim troll Amy Mek’s claims that journalist Luke O’Brien of The Huffington Post was “endangering” her family by writing about them.

For posting a tweet so racist that even Trump couldn’t be bothered to use his 280-character megaphone to defend it outright, Barr is our Duke of the Week.

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The Environmental Protection Agency spent $1,560 on a dozen custom-made fountain pens adorned with the EPA seal and the signature of Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The pens were purchased from a local Washington jewelry store, Tiny Jewel Box, and approved by EPA scheduling director Millan Hupp, who has been entangled in several reports of Pruitt’s questionable behavior in recent months. Hupp was reportedly given a massive raise that Pruitt improperly arranged and used her official business time to search for an apartment for Pruitt and his wife.

“The cost of the Qty. 12 Fountain Pens will be around $1,560.00,” a staffer emailed Hupp in August, according to a trove of thousands of emails released because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club, an environmental organization. “All the other items total cost is around $1,670.00 which these items are in process. Please advise.”

“Yes, please order. Thank you,” Hupp reportedly responded later the same day.

The purchase sign-off by Hupp is significant because it pokes holes in Pruitt’s repetitive defense that career staffers within his department are the ones signing off on excessive and expensive purchases that he’s come under fire for, like a $43,000 sound proof phone booth and an unprecedented around-the-clock security detail. Hupp is a top aide who has worked closely with Pruitt since his Oklahoma days.

EPA spokesman John Wilcox told the Post that the pens were purchased to serve as “gifts” to Pruitt’s “foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them.”

“This adheres to the same protocol of former EPA administrators and were purchased using funds budgeted for such a purpose,” he told the Post.

The New York Times reported earlier this spring that Pruitt was interested in ordering new fountain pens, stationary and leather notebooks that didn’t include the EPA seal, but rather his name “featured prominently.” Pruitt also reportedly wanted to redesign the agency’s “challenge coin,” by omitting the EPA seal and adding “symbols more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” The items ended up including a small version of the seal and the coins were never order, according to the Times.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow’s defense of President Donald Trump’s preemptive tweet hinting at a positive jobs report on Friday, calling his comment proper because he “didn’t put the numbers out there.”

Sanders also confirmed to CNBC that Trump was given the jobs report on Thursday evening, adding fodder to the argument of business journalists and former administration officials who have spoken out about Trump’s inappropriate tweet.

More than an hour before the monthly jobs report was set to release on Friday morning, Trump tweeted that he was “looking forward” to it, a comment many have claimed was Trump’s cryptic way of suggesting the report would be positive.

Experts have claimed that the tweet has already had an impact on the markets and Market Watch even reported that the tweet may have been a violation of federal rules barring officials from talking about data before it’s released. Former economic officials have argued that the rule is in place to prevent insider trading.

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Business journalists and former administration officials are sounding the alarm after President Donald Trump tweeted hinting the monthly jobs report would be positive an hour before its release.

Just before 7:30 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted that he was “looking forward to seeing the employment numbers” when the report was released at 8:30 a.m. ET, a move that reporters, like Business Insider’s Pedro da Costa, are claiming has already influenced markets.

Experts and former officials have said that at best, Trump broke with expected precedent and at worst, he appeared to violate federal rules barring officials from commenting on data before its release.

Former Obama administration economic official Jason Furman spoke out on Twitter minutes after Trump’s tweet, suggesting that the President should be blocked from viewing the report ahead of its release if he was, in fact, attempting to give his followers a hint about the report.

Others, like David Wessel, a journalist and the director of the fiscal and monetary policy branch of the Brookings Institution, chalked it up to another Trump public relations nightmare that could’ve been avoided.

Some former officials were divided on the significance of the President’s tweet. Tony Fratto, the former deputy press secretary for the George W. Bush administration, said Trump didn’t break any statutes, while former Obama White House cabinet secretary Chris Lu suggested that “misuse” of the federal jobs data “leads to dismissal.”

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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New publicly released emails show Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt may have mislead a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last month when he said that he had an aide, who is a “longtime friend,” help him find an apartment for him and his wife during her “personal time.”

Emails attached to a letter that three Senate Democrats sent to the EPA inspector general show that EPA director of scheduling Millan Hupp — whom Pruitt also improperly gave a massive raise — messaged with a real estate agent during work hours and through her EPA email address. Hupp was introduced to the agent, John Walker of Keller Williams Realty, in July by EPA political appointee Elizabeth Bennett, who told Hupp she would “LOVE working with John” because “he knows everything about Capitol Hill-including both living on it as well as working there.”

The Washington Post first reported on Pruitt using an aide to help him find housing in April. When questioned about the topic at the Senate subcommittee hearing last month Pruitt told lawmakers “it’s my understanding that all activity there was on personal time.”

In a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins on Thursday, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Thomas  Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Elkins to probe whether Pruitt had received an improper gift from Hupp, claiming Pruitt didn’t compensate her for the work and she used official business time to do it.

“There are several regulations designed to prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds and to prevent a supervisor from misusing the time of or accepting an improper gift from a subordinate employee, whose salary is paid by American taxpayers,” the senators said. “Each of these regulations may have been violated by Mr. Pruitt or Ms. Hupp if the information obtained by our offices is correct.”

Read the full letter below:

H/t: WaPo

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Senior administration officials have privately confessed that it’s anyone’s guess what President Donald Trump will eventually decide to do on trade, Politico reported Thursday evening.

That fickleness has led to private infighting between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s senior trade adviser Peter Navarro– a feud that spilled out into public view this week.

Just a few days after Mnuchin declared the trade war with China was “on hold,” the Trump administration announced it would impose trade levies against China and Navarro made critical comments to NPR about Mnuchin. He called Mnuchin’s “on hold” remark an “unfortunate sound bite.” People within the administration considered Navarro’s public rebuke of Mnuchin a fireable offense, but one senior administration official told Politico that they didn’t think Trump would act on it.

The feud between the two officials — combined with Trump’s lack of patience over what he thinks are incessant negotiations on a variety of trade issues — has led to the creation of a trade policy “that’s nearly impossible for anyone to understand or predict,” in Politico’s words.

“(Trump’s) fed up with feeling like the negotiating partners aren’t ever going to give in to his demands,” a former administration official told Politico. “He’s tired of waiting to do big things on trade.”

Read Politico’s full story here.

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Former FBI director James Comey was recently questioned about his former deputy Andrew McCabe by investigators from the Washington, D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, The Washington Post reported.

According to a person familiar with the matter who spoke with the Post, the interview signals that the U.S. Attorney’s Office may believe that McCabe broke the law by misleading federal agents and could be charged with a crime.

The D.C. attorney’s office was directed to probe McCabe after the Justice Department inspector general determined in April that McCabe deceived investigators and Comey about the approval of a media disclosure. DOJ IG Michael Horowitz determined he misled Comey at least four times, three of which were under oath.

McCabe has denied the allegations that he intentionally misguided Comey or investigators and has claimed that Comey knew about the media disclosures. Comey begs to differ and has said he “could well be a witness” against McCabe if charges were brought forward by investigators.

McCabe, whom Trump has used as a punching bag to justify his belief in an anti-Trump bias within the FBI, was fired this spring, just 26 hours before he was set to retire from the agency. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him based on the IG report and advice from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Read the Post’s full story here.

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After publicly admitting that he wishes he had picked someone else to be his attorney general on Wednesday, President Donald Trump continued his months-long diatribe against Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

Late Wednesday, Trump tweeted a quote from attorney Joe diGenova calling “the recusal of Jeff Sessions” an “unforced betrayal” of Trump. diGenova made the comments during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Wednesday.

The White House announced earlier this year that diGenova had been hired along with his wife, Victoria Toensing, to work on Trump’s legal team, but the new gigs never materialized because both attorneys had conflicts associated with representing Trump in the Russia investigation.

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In endorsing incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) over his Republican opponent, convicted felon and former Rep. Michael Grimm, President Donald Trump reminded voters about the shambles surrounding a recent Alabama Senate race, which ended with a Democrat winning a Senate seat over a Republican — and accused child molester — for the first time in a quarter-century.

“Very importantly, @RepDonDonovan will win for the Republicans in November … and his opponent will not. Remember Alabama,” he tweeted Wednesday evening.

While both candidates have attempted to paint themselves as friends of Trump in the Staten Island and Brooklyn district, Trump likely wants to steer clear of Grimm, as he attempts to make a resurgence after serving seven months in prison for a federal tax fraud conviction.

Despite Trump’s glowing endorsement of Donovan as someone who “voted for Tax Cuts and is helping me to Make America Great Again,” Donovan actually opposed the Republican tax reform measure and voted against it in every form, according to Politico. The congressman even told the media at one point that he couldn’t support the legislation because it was a “tax hike on the people I represent.”

In the Alabama Republican Senate primaries for Attorney General Jeff Sessions former seat, Trump endorsed incumbent candidate Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who lost the GOP nomination to Roy Moore.

While the White House was hesitant to embrace Moore — who was twice unseated as the state chief justice, had a history of making controversial statements and was accused by several women of sexual misconduct when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s — Trump eventually gave him his full-throated support ahead of the election which ended in a shocking victory for Democrat now-Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

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