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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

Roger Stone, a longtime confidante to President Donald Trump, told ABC News Sunday that he failed to tell congressional investigators about his meeting with a Russian official during the 2016 campaign because “I just didn’t remember.”

“2016 was a pretty busy year,” Stone told ABC. “I don’t think a failure of memory constitutes a perjury.”

Stone said he “never discussed” his meeting with Henry Greenberg — who asked Stone for $2 million in exchange for damaging information on Hillary Clinton — with Trump or anyone in the campaign, despite having exchanged texts with Trump communications staffer Michael Caputo about the meeting.

“I flatly rejected this proposal as ludicrous and frankly forgot about it,” he told ABC.

The Washington Post was first to report on Sunday about the meeting between Stone and Greenberg. Both Caputo and Stone’s attorneys have sent letters to the House Intelligence Committee asking to correct their clients’ testimony in response to questions about whether they were offered damaging information about Clinton.

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For those tracking our weekly list of VIPs and their unscrupulous behavior, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt could handily qualify as our Duke of the Week every Saturday.

It’s not only that the man tasked with safeguarding the environment isn’t clear on whether carbon dioxide  is causing climate change — before heading the EPA, he spent his time attacking the agency. And now he’s using his tenure as administrator to make it easier for his buddies in Big Oil to pollute.

That aside, Pruitt is also comically high maintenance, and has repeatedly used his department’s staff to help him meet his lavish personal needs.

For the past several months, Pruitt has been plagued with media coverage unveiling on a near-daily basis his unprecedentedly poor behavior as a member of a President’s cabinet. In his first year as administrator, he’s spent more than $100,000 to feed his appetite for luxury travel, while simultaneously tossing an easy $3.5 million on his round-the-clock security detail, which has seemingly accompanied him everywhere, from college basketball games to the Rose Bowl to a family trip to Disney World.

(His defense, that he’s faced a historic number of death threats, is false. People just yelled curse words at him in the airport a few times.)

On top of their guard-dog duties, he also apparently required his security detail to drive him from one Ritz Carlton to the next while he scoured the hotels for his favorite brand of lotion. He even made agents retrieve his dry cleaning.

Other items in a nowhere-near-exhaustive list of unethical behavior:

  • For months last year, he rented a condo from an energy lobbyist at an economy price while concurrently meeting with said lobbyist and approving the expansion of a pipeline connected to said lobbyist and lying about his contacts with said lobbyist.
  • He used a loophole in order to give two of his favorite staffers — who’ve been around since his Oklahoma days — massive raises, even after the White House shot down his request to swell their salaries by tens of thousands of dollars.
  • He directed his drivers to use sirens to unlawfully cut through D.C. traffic so he could get to his fancy dinner reservations on time and then targeted a career staffer who confronted him about it.
  • He spent at least $3,000 at a Washington, D.C. boutique, ordering personalized fountain pens and leather-bound journals emblazoned with his signature.
  • He asked his top aide, Millan Hupp — who is reportedly finally calling it quits — to go house hunting for him, buy plane tickets for his personal travel, set up meetings with Chick-fil-A executives to discuss his wife becoming a chicken shop franchisee, and fulfill other absurd requests, like obtaining a used mattress from a Trump Hotel.

In just this past week, the Washington Post reported that the Chick-fil-A request for Marlyn Pruitt wasn’t a one-off; Pruitt routinely asked his department aides and big time Republican donors to find his wife a job.

While conservatives have been keen on Pruitt because the thought of losing him — and his penchant for dismantling every regulation the Obama administration enacted to protect the only planet we have left — is too much to bear, their abiding love may have started to dissolve this week.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, peeved by reports that he was using his Cabinet position to work as a headhunter for his wife, tweeted that Pruitt has “GOTTA GO.” Fellow Republican and Oklahoman, Sen. James Inhofe, the Senate’s climate change denier in chief, said he would like a word with the administrator about his “spending and management decisions.” His deregulatory allies are even turning on him. In a campaign-style TV ad, the American Future Fund — a dark money group funded by conservative megadonors including the Koch brothers — called Pruitt a “swamp monster” who is “embarrassing President Trump.” Even Trump, an ardent supporter of Pruitt’s deregulatory prowess, admitted on Friday he’s “not happy about certain things” Pruitt has done.

For behavior so shady that even this cast of right-wing pundits and environmental villains can’t manage to get behind it, Pruitt is our Duke of the Week.

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Lawmakers, advocates and journalists are outraged at the the mural of President Donald Trump at a holding center for migrant children in Texas, labeling the painting and subsequent quote from Trump’s “Art of the Deal” book “Orwellian” and un-American.

“These children were torn from their mothers and shuttled into a de-facto prison, only to be greeted by a triumphant mural of the man who put them there,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) tweeted on Thursday. “This Orwellian propaganda is frightening.”

After touring the facility in Arizona on Wednesday, MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff said the kids in the center are “effectively incarcerated” and surfaced a photo of the mural on Twitter. The painting features Trump’s face smiling above the White House, with an American flag. It’s accompanied by a quote from Trump’s book “Art of the Deal,” where Trump describes his efforts to evict tenants from a building that he wanted to tear down in the 1980s.

“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war,” it says.

To be fair, each wing of the facility is named after a different President and features a painting of each with a quote, according to a Washington Post report on the facility. The quote alongside the painting of former President Barack Obama could be considered more inspiring to migrant children who were forced to stay in the facility after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, either on their own or after being forcibly taken from their parents.

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”

Amy Siskind, an advocate and president of The New Agenda, tweeted a story that suggested the 1,500 10- to 17-year-old boys who are housed at the facility, called Casa Padre, were frightened by the Trump image. She called Trump a “dictator.”

Some journalists compared the mural and conditions to concentration camps and Nazi Germany propaganda.

Washington Post columnist Radley Balko said the image left him speechless.

Select journalists were allowed to tour the facility on Wednesday after public outcry over Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) being barred entry from the facility earlier this month.

While only 5 percent of the boys housed at Casa Padre were younger children separated from their parents after crossing the border, the issue has received increased attention in recent weeks as the Trump administration cracks down on its “zero tolerance” policy of arresting adults who caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally. The children of those incarcerated are then taken from their parents, often in inhumane ways, to be housed separately.

Trump told reporters on Friday that he “hates” that families are being pulled apart at the border, but insisted Democrats must change the law.

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Responding to the Justice Department inspector general report on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, President Donald Trump on Friday claimed the report “totally discredited” special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump and Russian interference in the election.

What they did during the election was a disgrace, it probably has never happened in our country before and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s going to happen when we go further? And there was total bias, total bias,” he told “Fox and Friends” during an impromptu interview. “It is a very unfair situation but the IG report totally exonerates, if you look at the results, if you look at the head investigator is saying ‘We have to stop Trump from becoming President.’ Well, Trump became President.”

“I think the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited,” he added later Friday morning as he headed back to the Oval Office, claiming the report exonerates him of obstruction over his decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey.

During the interview with “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy, Trump also claimed what Comey did was “criminal,” but stopped short of suggesting he should be “locked up.” He said it was “probably the funniest thing” that the IG report revealed that Comey used a private email for FBI business while he was investigating Clinton for a similar offense. The IG report released Thursday concluded, among many things, that Comey and other FBI officials pivoted from agency norms in some of their actions, but were not politically motivated. 

“I would never want to get involved in that, certainly, they look like criminal acts to me,” he said. “What he did was criminal. What he did was a terrible thing to the people. What he did was so bad in terms of our Constitution, in terms of the wellbeing of our country. What he did was horrible. Should he be locked up? Let somebody make a determination.”

He also questioned why FBI official Peter Strzok — who sent the text saying “we’ll stop” Trump from getting to the White House — was still working at the agency and called his “vicious” text messages a “criminal” offense.

Before wandering outside the White House for an unplanned interview with his favorite show, Trump tweeted similar comments, repeating one of his favorite lines– that he did a “great service to the people in firing (Comey). Good instincts.”

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Manhattan Federal prosecutors are probing whether President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen illegally worked as a secret lobbyist, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

According to people familiar with the expansive investigation into Cohen’s business dealings who spoke with WSJ, in recent weeks prosecutors have contacted the companies that paid Cohen to work as a consult and are investigating whether he violated federal disclosure laws by lobbying for the companies without properly registering.

After Trump was elected president, Cohen reportedly began selling his access to Trump to companies like AT&T and Novartis AG, earning about $1.8 million for his discernment of the Trump administration.

While Cohen sold himself as the person with the “best relationship with the President on the outside,” several of the companies have said they never actually worked with Cohen, realizing quickly after signing contracts with him that he couldn’t provide the insight promised. 

According to the WSJ’s search of federal indexes, Cohen never registered as a lobbyist. He entered into contracts with the companies through his shadow consulting firm Essential Consultants LLC, the same company through which he secured a $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election.

In April, Cohen’s house, hotel and office were raided by the FBI and millions of documents were seized, including those related to the Daniels payment, which was made as part of a broader non-disclosure agreement to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago. 

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President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani used the recent release of a Justice Department inspector general report as just another pawn in his quest to pummel and discredit the probe into Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

During an appearance on Fox News’ Sean Hannity show Thursday night, the increasingly unhinged lawyer suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe should be suspended “tomorrow” (Friday) and that FBI official Peter Strzok should be jailed by next week.

“I believe that Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves and that chance comes about tomorrow, it doesn’t go beyond tomorrow,” he said. “Tomorrow Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought it, impartial people to investigate these people like Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.”

The slipshod messaging from Trump’s top lawyer comes in stark contrast with bipartisan warnings that Trump has received over the past year: Don’t fire Mueller.

But far-right Trump allies are using the highly anticipated DOJ IG report that dove into the FBI’s handling of its probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as fodder for their case of a “deep state” within the FBI.

In the report, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz concluded that while some FBI officials, like Strzok and former director James Comey, deviated from departmental norms, their actions were not politically motivated.

New text messages exchanged between Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page were released as part of the report, revealing that Strzok told Page that “we’ll stop” Trump from reaching the White House. While Republicans have seized on the texts as incriminating evidence of their belief of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI, Strzok was investigating Clinton, not Trump, at the time the text was sent. Strzok even penned the first draft of the letter that Comey eventually sent to Congress announcing he had reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats have lambasted Comey for the public announcement, claiming it was a negligent move that cost Clinton the election.

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Key allies of President Donald Trump on the House Judiciary Committee, Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have asked the Justice Department to hand over all unrevised drafts of the inspector general report that was released Thursday, amid concerns that “people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings.”

The letter to DOJ IG Michael Horowitz argues that lawmakers should have the opportunity to review the drafts because members of the Justice Department reviewed the report before it was made public and were allowed to respond or dispute any of the allegations made against them.

We are concerned that during this time, people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, over the past year, the DOJ has repeatedly fought requests by Congress to produce documents related to this investigation, and when the DOJ actually provided documents, the materials have been heavily redacted. Past and present DOJ officials have asserted security concerns, even though the documents we have seen do not legitimately contain these issues.”

The lawmakers are referencing Republican lawmakers efforts to obtain documents from the Justice Department about the launch of the Russia probe, pointing to the FBI’s deployment of a government informant to meet with Trump campaign officials as evidence of a “deep state” bias against Trump within the agency. The Justice Department was attempting to protect the identity of an agent by sharing redacted material, but eventually opted to meet with a small group of lawmakers to discuss the classified information.

In the letter, the lawmakers said they have every reason to believe the IG report — which detailed the FBI’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails — is “thorough and accurate,” but asserted that “the trust of the American people depends on it.”

The more than 500-page report released Thursday divulged, among many things, that while former FBI director James Comey’s actions in the reopening of the Clinton probe did not follow typical FBI protocol, he was not politically motivated.

H/t: The Washington Post

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The White House took a firm stance on Rudy Giuliani’s romantic affairs on Thursday.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected on questions from Daily Mail editor David Martosko about President Donald Trump’s lawyer’s relationship status and whether Giuliani has become too much of a “distraction” to serve as a lawyer to the President.

“I’m not today, or tomorrow, or at any point ever going to comment on Rudy Giuliani’s love life,” she said. “I will be glad to leave that to you and the reporter that spoke with him.”

Several media outlets reported this week that Giuliani’s divorce from his third wife was fueled by an affair he was having with a married woman in New Hampshire.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the new Justice Department inspector general’s report on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails in 2016 reveals a “number of significant errors” by the those in leadership at the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama’s administration.

“The Inspector General’s report reveals a number of significant errors by the senior leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI during the previous administration,” Sessions said in a statement, according to CNN. “Accordingly, this report must be seen as an opportunity for the FBI — long considered the world’s premier investigative agency — and all of us at the Department to learn from past mistakes. The Department is not above criticism, and it is accountable to the Chief Executive, Congress, and most importantly, the American people.” 

The highly anticipated IG report came out Thursday afternoon, revealing that former FBI director James Comey conduct in 2016 was “insubordinate” but not politically motivated.

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Former FBI Director James Comey frequently used his personal email account for official FBI business, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton probe.

The Clinton investigation, of course, hinged on the former secretary of state’s use of her personal email account for official — and sometimes classified — business.

In Comey’s case, he regularly used his personal email to conduct unclassified FBI business, which was found to be inconsistent with DOJ policy, according to the report. The report cites five instances in which Comey forwarded emails from his work account to his personal account. Those emails included sensitive documents, such as requests from the special counsel’s office, all-staff messages and drafts of the opening statements he planned to make during his March 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

When asked about his use of private email, Comey said it had to do with a technical issue — he didn’t have an unclassified FBI connection at home. He said he did it infrequently and took pains to follow records-keeping laws.

Because it was incidental and I was always making sure that the work got forwarded to the government account to either my own account or Rybicki, so I wasn’t worried from a record-keeping perspective and it was, because there will always be a copy of it in the FBI system and I wasn’t doing classified work there, so I wasn’t concerned about that,” Comey told IG investigators.

Two other FBI officials who have found themselves at the center of accusations of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI — Lisa Page and Peter Strzok — used their personal accounts for work as well. Strzok used his personal email on “several occasions,” including forwarding an email from his work account to his personal account that contained records related to the investigation into disgraced former New York lawmaker Anthony Weiner that were “under seal at the time.”

Page told IG investigators that she also used her personal account for work, but both she and Strzok cited restraints associated with FBI issued cellphones as rationale for using the private accounts.

Page said that she was regularly frustrated by the lack of an autocorrect function on the FBI devices, which was the “bane of literally every agent of the FBI’s existence.”

[I]n particular, the autocorrect function is the bane of literally every agent of the FBI’s existence because those of us who care about spelling and punctuation, which I realize is a nerdy thing to do, makes us crazy because it takes legitimate words that are spelled correctly and autocorrects them into gobbledygook,” she said. “And so, it is not uncommon for either one of us to just either switch to our personal phones or, or in this case, where it was going to be a, a fairly substantive thing that he was writing, to just save ourselves the trouble of not doing it on our Samsungs. Because they are horrible and super-frustrating.”

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