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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

Calling Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) decision to retire — and publicly blast President Trump — a “personal decision,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) claimed on Wednesday that there’s not “some crisis in the Republican party.”

His remarks come after two Senate Republicans were highly and publicly critical of President Donald Trump on Tuesday, with Flake saying he couldn’t run for reelection because it would mean he’d had to “pretend” like Trump’s behavior is normal.

Despite the unprecedented move for a senator to lash out on the sitting President of his party from the Senate floor, Kennedy said he doesn’t think the remarks are indicative of a larger problem.

“I’m not going to say Jeff’s right or wrong. You know, those are his feelings. And he’s entitled to express them. But I don’t think there’s some crisis in the Republican party,” Kennedy told CNN Wednesday. “There’s certainly no crisis in the conference among senators, who happen to be Republican. We are focused on tax reform and we’re going to get it done, hopefully, by Thanksgiving.”

Kennedy said if there’s any issue within his party, it’s the fact that Congress hasn’t been able to accomplish many of its goals, like Obamacare repeal.

“I think what Americans want right now are some results. I think that’s the biggest problem with my part, at least in the Senate on Capitol Hill,” he said. “We’ve been here nine months and a lot of people are frustrated, including me, that we haven’t done more.”

Kennedy said he tries to not comment on Trump’s tweets and doesn’t like to get involved in the “drama” of political “namecalling.”

The things that kids do in a junior high cafeteria, it makes for interesting television, but I don’t think that’s what Americans are focused on. It doesn’t bother me. I believe in the First Amendment,” he said. “Just because some people like drama doesn’t mean I have to attend the performance.”

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Leon Wieseltier, a longtime former editor at the New Republic who was working on launching a new magazine, apologized Tuesday after being accused of workplace sexual harassment and inappropriate advances toward female colleagues, The New York Times reported.

Several former New Republic colleagues claimed that Wieseltier kissed them on the mouth in front of other staff members, asked for details about their sex lives, forced them to look at photos of a nude sculpture and often commented on what women wore to work, telling them their dresses weren’t tight enough, according to an anonymous source who spoke with the Times. The person had seen a chain of emails between women at The New Republic who shared personal accounts of Wieseltier’s inappropriate behavior.

“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness,” he wrote in an emailed statement to the Times. “The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them I will not waste this reckoning.”

The for-profit group that was financing his new magazine, Emerson Collective, pulled out of the deal after the allegations began to surface, according to the Times.

“Upon receiving information related to past inappropriate workplace conduct, Emerson Collective ended its business relationship with Leon Wieseltier, including a journal planned for publication under his editorial direction,” they said in a statement Tuesday. “The production and distribution of the journal has been suspended.”

The allegations came to light after Wieseltier was accused of workplace harassment on an anonymous list that was circulating around media groups. The list began spreading among female members of the media shortly after allegations of decades-worth of sexual harassment and sexual assault by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were widely reported earlier this month.

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A Democratic member of Congress is calling for an investigation into the $300 million contract that was awarded to a small utility company in Montana to help restore power to Puerto Rico.

The company is reportedly financed by major donors to President Donald Trump and has ties to the Trump administration.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said legislators “need to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available,” according to PBS News Hour.

The call for a probe follows reports that the utility company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, is based in Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s hometown and Zinke is friendly with the company’s CEO. A partner at Whitefish was also a big Republican donor. He gave a total of $74,000 to various Trump groups and another $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Daily Beast reported.

The connection between the company and the Trump administration was first reported by the Weather Channel last week.

The director of Puerto Rico’s power authority said Whitefish was one of two companies the government was considering, but went with Whitefish because the other company wanted a $25 million down payment.

“They’re doing an excellent job,” Ricardo Ramos, the power director, told PBS.

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President Donald Trump wants everyone to know his relationship with Republicans is fine, “outside” Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN). Trump called his meeting on the Hill Tuesday “a love fest.”

The comments on Wednesday came after both Flake and Corker publicly blasted Trump Tuesday, demonstrating a growing rift in Trump’s party.

While Corker announced his retirement last month, Flake’s announced his decision to note seek reelection while delivering a moving speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, commenting on Flake’s departure for the first time, saying the only reason Flake and Corker are retiring is because they “had zero chance of getting elected. Now act so hurt and wounded!” he said.

He then claimed that his meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill Tuesday “was a love fest with standing ovations” from everyone “outside of Flake and Corker.”

Likely referencing an August poll from Public Policy Polling, Trump said Flake has an 18 percent approval rating and refuted Flake’s claims that many of his colleagues have qualms with the President.

“Really, they just gave me a standing O!” he said.

Both Corker and Flake have been highly critical of Trump in recent months, with Corker calling the White House an “adult daycare” center and Flake repeatedly and publicly asking his colleagues to not be complacent in the age of Trump.

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Moments after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced he would not seek re-election and hammered President Donald Trump over his “reckless” behavior, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) praised his fellow Arizonan’s honesty and “integrity.”

“It’s been one of the great honors of my life to have the opportunity to serve with a man of integrity, honor and decency and commitment to not only Arizona, but the United States of America,” McCain said from the Senate floor after Flake announced his decision. “I have seen Jeff Flake stand up for what he believes in knowing full well that there would be a political price to pay.”

McCain was likely referencing the stance Flake has taken in recent months, openly criticizing the President as well as his fellow conservative Republicans for being complacent in the age of Trump.

The President has publicly criticized Flake, calling him “weak” and suggesting he would back one of Flake’s Republican challengers in the primary election. In his speech from the Senate floor, Flake said the “path” he would have to take to run for re-election would be one that he is “not willing to take” because it would “require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone.”

During his speech on the Senate floor, Flake called on his colleagues to “stop pretending” like Trump’s conduct is “normal” and called the President’s demeanor “dangerous to democracy.”

McCain praised Flake for his courage.

“As we look, all of us, at some point in our time that we have spent here, whether it be short or whether it be long, we look back and we think about what we could have done, what we should have done, what we might have done and the mistakes we made and the things we’re proud of,”McCain said. “Well, when the Flake service to this country is reviewed, it will be one of honor, of brilliance and patriotism and love of country.”

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Another top Republican senators is throwing his weight behind Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore, the controversial conservative candidate who beat out the state’s President Donald Trump-backed incumbent candidate in the primaries.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced his support for Moore on Tuesday in a statement, saying Moore has a “lifelong passion for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and he has the courage of his convictions.”

“This December, the people of Alabama have a clear choice. They can choose a liberal Democrat, who will stand with Chuck Schumer to raise taxes, weaken our military, open our border, and undermine our constitutional rights,” Cruz said in his statement, referencing Alabama Democratic candidate Doug Jones, who is fully embracing the party’s more liberal positions on abortion, immigration and climate change. “Or they can choose to elect Judge Roy Moore, a conservative who will proudly defend Alabama values.”

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are also reportedly headlining a campaign fundraising event for Moore in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 1, according to a party invitation obtained by Politico. Both Lee and Paul have already announced their support of Moore’s candidacy. 

Cruz’s show of support isn’t particularly surprising. The Texas Republican is an outspoken conservative and Moore is about as right-wing as they come. Backed by the religious right, Moore was twice ousted from his seat as the chief justice on the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse and telling probate judges to not issue same-sex marriage licenses after it became law in 2015.

Last year, Moore said the legalization of same sex marriage was “worse” than the notorious 1857 Dred Scott case that denied citizenship to African Americans, a ruling credited with helping spark the Civil War.

Cruz is one of the only Republican senators up for re-election that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon vowed to not go after in his “war” against the GOP establishment. Bannon backed Moore during the Republican run-off primary election, despite his former boss’ endorsement of Moore’s rival Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). 

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Bill O’Reilly is blaming everyone but himself for the allegations of sexual harassment against him, which effectively ended his career at Fox News.

His latest target? God himself.

While the ousted Fox News host mostly blames the media for uprooting his cable news reign — by reporting on his sexual harassment settlements with multiple women — he said Monday evening he’s also “mad at God” for the latest reports on his $32 million settlement with an accuser.

“Yeah, I’m mad at him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him,” O’Reilly said during his most recent episode of “No Spin News,” according to CNN.

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that O’Reilly reached a $32 million settlement with a former Fox News analyst. Saturday’s news followed reports from the Times in April that O’Reilly and Fox News had paid settlements to five women over the course of 15 years, at the cost of $13 million.

During a Monday morning interview on Glenn Beck’s radio show, O’Reilly claimed the new reports were part of a “hit job” by publications like The New York Times, CNN and Media Matters.

During his “No Spin News” program on Monday evening — which has become his main outlet for political commentary since being forced out of Fox — he said if the Times “could literally kill me, they would.”

“I truly believe that these people at the New York Times are out to hurt people with whom they disagree,” he said. “They don’t want me in the marketplace. That’s what this is all about.”

He continued his typical line of defense — that he did nothing wrong and he agreed to settlements with multiple women in order to protect his children — O’Reilly said that if he “die(s) tomorrow” and gets the opportunity to talk to The New York Times, he’d ask “‘why’d you guys work me over like that?’”

“‘Didn’t (you) know my children were going to be punished? And they’re innocent,” he said, a comment reflective of remarks he made to the Times about the impact sexual harassment allegations can have on a person’s family, citing an incident with fellow former Fox News host Eric Bolling.

Bolling’s son died hours after Fox announced Bolling would leave the network after allegations that he sent inappropriate text message to female colleagues. O’Reilly claimed that Bolling’s son died because of the allegations made against his father, a remark Bolling quickly denounced. O’Reilly apologized on Twitter later Monday. 

Watch a clip from his show below: 

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said journalists’ use of anonymous sources is a “big disservice to the American people” and that the White House is trying to work “more on the record.”

During a lukewarm panel discussion between Sanders and members of the White House Correspondents Association at George Washington University Monday night, the press secretary and prominent members of the media spoke candidly about their relationship, which Sanders said will always have “tension because we have very different jobs to do.” She railed against the hostility that she says the media aims at President Donald Trump’s administration and the way journalists ask questions.

“So often I feel like, certainly, the question comes from a place of, like, an accusation instead of just asking, looking for information. It’s more like, ‘You’re a horrible person, please tell us why,’” she said. “I do think that the tone matters.”

Since Sanders took over as White House press secretary, she said she’s been working to be more transparent and offer more “on the record” opportunities for reporters.

“That’s something that we’ve tried, I think, to do with some success over the last couple of months, is working more to do on the record, certainly on camera briefings to allow that sense of access and sense of transparency,” she said. “But I think that goes both ways.”

She said her press shop is “constantly having to compete with anonymous sources,” which aren’t “credible.”

“It’s a big disservice to the American people that there (isn’t) more credible sourcing,” she said. “I do think that the anonymous sourcing is a really big problem and something that as much as we can move away from we should.”

Watch the full discussion below:

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To hear Bill O’Reilly tell it, he’s just the target of a media hit job.

Appearing on Glenn Beck’s radio show Monday in the wake of a blockbuster New York Times report that revealed that the former Fox Host reached a massive settlement over sexual harassment allegations, O’Reilly claimed the claims against him are all part of a “hit job” by The Times, CNN and Media Matters to “get me out of the market.”

“This was a hit job to get me out of the market place and then you’ll have the left say ‘Oh, you’re paranoid,’ but I can back that up 50 different ways, okay?,” he said. “Media Matters is involved, CNN is involved and it’s beyond any doubt.”

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that O’Reilly reached a $32 million settlement with a former Fox News analyst, Lis Wiehl, after she accused him “of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material.”

Saturday’s news follows reports from the Times in April that O’Reilly and Fox News had paid settlements to five women over the course of 15 years, at the cost of $13 million.

While O’Reilly reiterated multiple times in his interview with Beck that he “can’t comment specifically on any case that’s been resolved,”  which puts him “at a disadvantage,” he said over the 20 years and six months he worked at Fox News, “never once was there any complaint filed against me with human resources or anybody’s legal team. Nothing. Zero,” he said, adding that he had, however, settled three “things.”

“And the only reason I did resolve them was to keep my children safe, so I can tell you that,” he said. “The The New York Times obviously hates me. It’s dishonest in the extreme. And it’s frustrating for me, but unless I want another seven or eight years of constant litigation, that puts my children in a kill zone, I have to maintain my discipline.”

He also said The New York Times wants to equate him with Harvey Weinstein and take him out of the market forever, so he “never gets to comment on issues again.”

In the latest Times story about the Wiehl allegations, reporters Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt clearly mentioned the affidavit that Wiehl signed, dropping all claims against O’Reilly and Fox News after the settlement was resolved, but that didn’t go far enough for O’Reilly.

He said they should have “printed” the whole affidavit and “you should have printed it up top because that’s the story.” He also called Schmidt a “weasel” and the “most dishonest man on the face of the earth.”

“I want the story to go away because it’s brutalizing my family. … I’m not going to run and hide because I didn’t do anything wrong, and I think the evidence we put forward is very strong, very compelling that the New York Times wants to take me out of the marketplace,” he said.

O’Reilly’s so-called “evidence” includes the Wiehl affidavit and “letters” that he posted on his website from former Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, which he thinks prove “the truth.” The letters are handwritten notes supposedly from Kelly and Carlson, thanking him for things like baby gifts and for “being my friend,” but there’s no date on either of the notes.

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At least 17 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus are demanding that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly apologize for making inaccurate statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) after she stood up for the family of a fallen soldier who felt “disrespected” by President Trump.

General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies. We, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus, proudly stand with Congresswoman Wilson and demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements,” the members wrote in a statement released Sunday.

The demand comes after Wilson told reporters about what Trump said to a grieving widow of one of the soldiers who was killed in Niger earlier this month. According to Wilson — and now even the widow, who has since spoken out — Trump told Myeshia Johnson on Tuesday that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.”

Trump pushed back on Wilson’s claims, tweeting that the congresswoman “fabricated” the story, which lead to several public back-and-forth insults between Trump and Wilson last week.

Kelly, who himself became a Gold Star family member after his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, spoke to reporters Thursday and defended the President. Kelly said he counseled Trump on how to address families of the fallen.

He also lashed out against Wilson for “listening in” on Trump’s call with Johnson and claimed she bragged about securing funding for a new FBI building in Florida — named in honor of two fall agents — at its dedication in 2015. A video of Wilson’s dedication speech released by the South Florida Sun Sentinel confirms that Wilson did not say what Kelly claimed she did.

He needs to apologize. First of all, he was in error, he did not tell the truth. He knows now that he did not tell the truth, even if he thought he had told it, so he owes her an apology,” Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) said on CNN Monday. “Talking about a member of Congress who has done great work, she serves her constituents. She has served at the local level, at the state level and now she’s in Congress, and she’s doing a tremendous job. For him to try to demean her character and her integrity in this way is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) took her frustrations with Kelly one step further, saying the entire White House and administration should issue an apology for Trump’s “wacky insults.”

General Kelly is a Gold Star member and he has the right to speak about his loss and he did eloquently and I’m sure he brought many to tears, but then he had to defend his boss,” she said on CNN. “His boss is President Trump, who has continued to throw wacky insults, and as an African American woman, I’m not going to stand for it, period.”

Jackson Lee said the continued insults from Trump and Kelly “puts everyone in the barrel,” referencing Kelly’s remarks when he called Wilson an “empty barrel.”

“Congresswoman Wilson deserves an apology, the President owes her an apology. The military owes the United States Congress, the House of Representatives, a full classified briefing on the actions of the Africa command in that region. We can’t go any longer without knowing what’s going on,” she said.

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment on whether Kelly intends to apologize. At a press briefing last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it would be “highly inappropriate” to “get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” after reporters asked about the video that contradicts Kelly’s comments. 

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