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 ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who was reviewing allegations against Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, thanked the “service members who bravely spoke out” shortly after Jackson withdrew his nomination Thursday morning.

“It is my Constitutional responsibility to make sure the veterans of this nation get a strong, thoroughly vetted leader who will fight for them,” Sen. John Tester (D-MT) said in a statement Thursday. “The next secretary must have a commitment to reform a strained health care system and a willingness to stand up to special interests who want to privatize the VA. My sleeves are rolled up and ready to work with Chairman (Johnny) Isakson (R-GA) to vet and confirm a Secretary who is fit to run the VA.”

In the statement, Tester also said he is urging Congress to “continue its investigation into the White House Medical Unit.”

Jackson announced his withdraw on Thursday morning, after facing multiple allegations this week that he created a hostile work environment, had issues with “excessive drinking” on the job and  overprescribed medication. Jackson has denied all the allegations, but said he would withdraw to avoid being a “distraction.”

Tester and Isakson announced Tuesday they were postponing Jackson’s confirmation hearing while they looked into allegations that were surfaced by at least 20 current and former military personnel, Tester said.

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In a wide-ranging and, at times, off-the-rails interview with “Fox and Friends” on Thursday morning, President Donald Trump said his former FBI director lied when he said Trump didn’t stay overnight in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.

 “He didn’t write those memos accurately,” Trump said, referencing James Comey’s documentation of his conversations with Trump, which TPM published last week. “He put a lot of phony stuff, for instance, I went to Russia for a day or so, a day or two because I own the Miss Universe pageant. … Everybody knows, the logs are there, the planes are there, he said I didn’t stay there a night. Of course I stayed there, I stayed there a very short period of time, but of course I stayed.”

Then, just after casually confirming that he stayed in Moscow the night that the Christopher Steele dossier alleges he paid prostitutes to urinate on each other and a bed the Obamas had slept in, Trump tore into CNN, “fake news” and his own Justice Department for not doing “their job.”

In his memos, Comey said that Trump asked him to investigate the so-called “pee tape” allegations made in the dossier, as he reportedly bragged to Comey about how he’s not “a guy who needs hookers.” He also reportedly said he didn’t want his wife Melania Trump to believe the prostitute allegations.

According to the memos, Trump also told Comey that the allegations couldn’t be true because he didn’t stay in Moscow overnight during the Miss Universe pageant.

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Following White House physician Ronny Jackson’s decision to withdraw as the nominee to run the Veterans Affairs Department, President Donald Trump on Thursday told “Fox and Friends” that the next nominee will be “somebody great” with “political capability.”

“I do, actually,” Trump said when asked whether he had a replacement VA nominee in mind. “Better not give it — maybe I do it on the next call. I think we’ll have somebody great. Somebody that is more — look, the admiral is not a politician, which is what I liked. … Somebody with political capability, yes.”

Trump went on to praise Jackson, claiming all the allegations that have surfaced against him in recent days were “made up.” He then blamed Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) — the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who, along with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), was reviewing the allegations against Jackson — for the physician’s decision to drop out.

“For Jon Tester (D-MT) to start bringing up stuff like ‘candy man’ and the kind of things he was saying, well you know, that are statements that are made up,” he said. “There is no proof of this. And he has a perfect record. He has this beautiful record, unblemished. … I think Jon Tester has a big price to pay in Montana. I don’t think people in Montana — the admiral is the kind of person that they respect and admire. And they don’t like seeing what’s happened to him.”

He then bragged about his popularity in Montana — “a state I won by over 20 points, you know they love me and I love them.”

Trump also revealed that he told Jackson “a day or two ago” to brace for the impact of “false accusations.”

“I saw where this was going,” he said.

Jackson announced Thursday morning that he was withdrawing his nomination as VA head, and denied all the allegations that have been lobbed against him in recent days. Both Tester and Isakson were vetting allegations from current and former military people who complained of a hostile work environment under Jackson as well as the physician’s alleged issues with “excessive drinking” on the job and improper dispensing of medications.

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The ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday said Mick Mulvaney should resign as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over his “pay to play” remarks to bankers.

“Deciding who you will meet with based on campaign contributions is the kind of ‘pay to play’ that understandably makes Americans furious,” Brown said in a statement Wednesday. “Mr. Mulvaney should resign, and the White House should quickly nominate a permanent CFPB Director with bipartisan support and a moral compass. Banks and payday lenders already have armies of lobbyists on their sides a they don’t need one more.”

Brown’s calls for Mulvaney’s resignation follow a report that Mulvaney told banking officials on Tuesday that while he was in Congress, he usually only spoke to lobbyists who donated to his campaign.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney said at an American Bankers Association, according to the New York Times. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Mulvaney also reported said that he regularly talked with constituents who visited his office, too, “regardless of the financial contributions.”

The comments have sparked backlash, but Brown is the first to call for Mulvaney’s resignation, both from the CFPB and his post as the head of the Office of Management and Budget, he told CNN Thursday.

“Not just was he sort of border line bribery in the House, but he’s going in front of 1,300 bankers, his agenda is ‘You bankers, most powerful people in the country, lobby me, lobby congress to weaken this consumer bureau, to strike the word consumer out of the consumer bureau fundamentally,'” Brown told CNN. “That’s what is so troubling, that a leading official in the Trump administration would go to banks and say ‘Stop the consumer agency from representing consumers.’ That’s as bad as it gets.”

Mulvaney is a longtime vocal critic of the power of the CFPB and has been pushing legislative proposals to undermine the agency’s authority since he was appointed as acting director.

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The 43-year-old Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison last month for filling out a provisional ballot while she was still on supervised released for a felony tax fraud conviction has requested a new trial.

Crystal Mason and her attorney, Alison Grinter, filed a motion for a new trial in Tarrant County, Texas on Wednesday, arguing that not only did Mason not actually vote — her provisional ballot was rejected — in the 2016 presidential election, she may have been eligible to vote in the state of Texas, Grinter told TPM Wednesday.

According to the motion shared with TPM, in the state of Texas it is legal for a person to vote if they have a state felony conviction, but only if they are out prison, are off probation and off parole or supervision. When Mason cast her provisional ballot — which she filled out with an election official because her name was not on the voter roll — she was on federal supervised release, which is a period of interaction with federal authorities that is tacked on to the end of every federal prison sentence.

Mason, who is currently out of custody on an appeal bond, served 57 months of her 60 month sentence for inflating tax returns for clients in 2011 and had been out of prison for more than a year before the incident occurred, Grinter said.

On the day she cast her ballot, Mason “believed” she was done with her federal prison sentence, she wrote in an affidavit attached to the motion.

“Supervised release is designed to help you integrate back into society,” Grinter said. “Basically Crystal didn’t have to report to a probation officer or take a drug test, she just had to log in online once a month and verify her address and her phone number there and confirm she hadn’t been arrested.”

In the court filing, Grinter argued that state law is unambiguous about when a person convicted of a felony by the state of Texas is allowed to vote, but that state law doesn’t anticipate what that means for a federal conviction.

“Had Crystal come to me at the time and asked if she were eligible to vote, I would have said ‘I don’t know,’” she said.

Grinter also argues that there were several flaws in the initial court proceedings — Mason waived her right to a jury trial and argued her case before Tarrant County Judge Ruben Gonzalez — that landed Mason with the “absolutely ridiculous” five year sentence.

Namely, the evidence of bias in the initial case was not explored. The witness who made the initial report about Mason’s vote, a man named Karl Diedrich, who was serving as the election judge at her precinct, is Mason’s neighbor. As the election judge, Diedrich testified that he gave Mason her provisional ballot, swore her to it and signed off on her ID.

“He knows Crystal well and knows that she went to prison previously,” the motion said. “That the record does not show any follow up questioning on why he did not admonish Crystal Mason on her potential ineligibility, but instead waited a couple of days and then called the District Attorney to report her, is a disservice to the interests of justice. There is clear evidence of Diedrich’s bias or potential bias against Crystal Mason in his silence on the matter of her potential ineligibility, and that crucial evidence was not brought to the attention of the Court as the finder of fact.”

Before Judge Gonzalez sentenced Mason to five years in prison in March, Mason reportedly told him that she would not have knowingly broken the law or “jeopardize(d)” her freedom just to vote.

“I feel like the GOP broadly really wants to make it look like in-person voter fraud is a real thing,” Grinter told TPM Wednesday. “The numbers have shown that it’s not, but if they can drum up enough cases like this, then they have the ability to at least make the claim that it exists. … Stories like this will scare people away from voting and it will make us a less democratic country.” 

Read the motion for a new trial below (TPM has removed some personal information related to Mason):

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During French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) compared President Trump’s closest global ally to the “dark future” of the Democratic Party.

Massie called Macron a “socialist militarist globalist science-alarmist” in a tweet during Macron’s speech.

While Macron and Trump’s cozy relationship has been well-document, the French president broke with Trump on a few key topics throughout his address to Congress, most unsurprisingly on the topic of the Paris climate agreement.

“There is no planet B,” he said. “I’m sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement.” 

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The White House again beefed up its support of embattled Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Ronny Jackson on Wednesday, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling the allegations against him “outrageous.”

When asked about President Trump’s meeting with Jackson in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Sanders said she wasn’t going to go “line by line on every outrageous thing out there right now,” but said some of the allegations were discussed in the meeting.

“There is probably not a person around that has managed a department of 300,000,” she said, responding to questions about Trump’s acknowledgment on Tuesday that there were questions about whether Jackson had the experience necessary to run the VA. “Certainly he’s a very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and in the medical community and that’s something that we strongly feel that veterans need in the VA.”

The defense of Jackson follows new reports that the White House physician — whom Trump nominated to replace David Shulkin, who Trump fired amid a travel ethics scandal — was nicknamed the “candy man” for his leniency in handing out prescription medication like Ambien to White House staffers and even journalists on long flights. Jackson also reportedly drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee during a trip overseas in 2015 so loudly that the Secret Service had to get involved to keep him from waking then-President Obama.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced Tuesday that it was postponing Jackson’s confirmation hearing while it reviews the allegations of hostile work behavior, excessive drinking on the job and impropriety in dispensing medication, brought forward by at least 20 current and former military members. Jackson has reportedly denied all the allegations in conversations with senators on Capitol Hill.

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As White House physician Ronny Jackson vows to continue with the battle to become the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, new allegations have surfaced outlining the extent to which Jackson may have behaved improperly as a presidential physician.

During an interview with CNN Tuesday evening, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) outlined some of the allegations he had learned while speaking with at least 20 current and former military members about Jackson. Tester is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which postponed Jackson’s confirmation hearing — originally set for Wednesday — to review the mounting allegations against Jackson.

Tester told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Jackson was nicknamed the “‘candy man’ because he handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.”

“That’s not a nickname you want in a doctor and when you consider the prescription drugs we have a problem with in this country right now, it’s not the example we need to have set,” he said.

He said that he was told that most of the allegations about Jackson’s reported issues with drinking on the job were during former President Barack Obama’s administration, particularly during trips overseas. Tester said Jackson would drink in “social” situations while on trips, but that “there were comments” made about the drinking getting out of hand.

“There were comments about him being in the hotel room and he couldn’t respond because he had been drinking too much,” he said, and confirmed that someone else was asked to fill in. “If you’re drunk and something happens with the President, it’s very difficult to go in and treat the President how it needs to be done. So this is totally unacceptable under this environment and multiple people told us this was the case on several different trips.”

Later Tuesday evening, CNN reported that Jackson was so intoxicated during a 2015 trip overseas that he banged on the hotel room door of a female employee. According to four sources familiar with the incident who spoke with CNN, Jackson became so loud that the Secret Service stopped him out of concern that he would wake Obama. Two additional sources who previously worked in the White House medial unit confirmed the incident to CNN, and said it happened in the middle of the night and made the female employee uncomfortable. On Wednesday, Tester confirmed on CNN that this allegation was among the testimonies the committee was reviewing.  

The new allegations expand on recent reports that allege Jackson created a hostile working environment in the White House and had issues with excessive drinking on the job. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said Tuesday that it was going to delay Jackson’s confirmation hearing while it eyed the allegations. Tester and the committee chair, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent a letter to the White House Tuesday asking for documents related to Jackson and any records of allegations against him.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon that in 2012 the Navy’s medical inspector general suggested that the White House consider replacing Jackson and his colleague Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman for “unprofessional behavior.”

The White House has stood behind Jackson and doubled down on its support of the embattled nominee on Tuesday evening. Trump has also maintained his support of Jackson, but told reporters that he “wouldn’t” stick it out if he were Jackson.

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The White House on Tuesday evening reinforced its support of President Trump physician Ronny Jackson, who faces an arduous battle to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs after allegations surfaced this week that Jackson improperly dispensed medications, created a toxic work environment and drank on the job.

White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp appeared on Fox News on Tuesday evening to amplify Jackson and cast doubt on the accusations.

“I mean, these are false allegations. Let’s just start from there,” she told Fox News. “We know for sure that he has not been a target of an IG report. We’ve seen Democrats and Republicans come out in favor of Ronny Jackson. In fact, you had President Obama basically saying that Admiral Jackson was poised under pressure, that he should be promoted. … I just think it’s unfortunate that what we are seeing in these confirmation processes are these very qualified, honorable individuals being dragged through the mud. That needs to stop. Let Dr. Jackson have his hearing.”

Unnamed White House aides also told CNN that Jackson had “improved unit morale” during his time overseeing the White House medical unit and that his record as a physician was “impeccable.” Anonymous White House officials told The Washington Post that they were aware of the allegations against Jackson, but said the claims were overblown. Jackson never gave out narcotics and sometimes gave Ambien to staff and even reporters on long flights, according to the Post’s sources, which also reportedthat Jackson never drank while working at the White House, but may have had too much to drink during an occasional overseas trip.

The White House also released documents that painted Jackson in a positive light on Tuesday evening, like a 2016 note from former President Barack Obama praising Jackson for being “poised under pressure,” according to the Post.

In private meetings with senators on Tuesday, Jackson reportedly denied all of the allegations and has vowed to stick it out — according to sources who spoke with CNN and Reuters — even after Trump offered him an out on Tuesday when he postulated that he wouldn’t put himself through the ringer if he were Jackson.

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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is set to be the keynote speaker at a St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association prayer breakfast this week. But a spokesperson for  St. Louis County prosecutor questioned whether it was appropriate for the governor, who faces charges for offenses related to computer tampering and taking a nonconsensual nude photo of a woman, to speak at the religious event.

“Chiefs, Are you sure you want a guy currently charged with a felony as your guest speaker?” county prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s spokesperson Ed Magee wrote, according to a copy of the email obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That will not be good press wise.”

Read the full Post-Dispatch report here and TPM’s most recent coverage of the charges lobbed against Greitens here. 

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