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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

President Donald Trump was seemingly shocked to learn from “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday morning that the FBI has not been able to confirm all the salacious claims made in the Christopher Steele dossier, which former FBI Director James Comey himself called “salacious and unverified.”

“WOW,” Trump tweeted, tagging and apparently quoting his favorite show “Fox and Friends” Tuesday.

“‘Dossier is bogus. Clinton Campaign, DNC funded Dossier. FBI CANNOT (after all this time) VERIFY CLAIMS IN DOSSIER OF RUSSIA/TRUMP COLLUSION. FBI TAINTED,'” he said. “And they used this Crooked Hillary pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump Campaign!”

While it was unclear which particular discussion Trump was attempting to quote, “Fox and Friends” hosts did discuss the Steele dossier on Tuesday morning. The Blaze’s Buck Sexton appeared on the program during the 6:00 a.m. EST hour and spoke about a new report from The Washington Times, citing unnamed sources, about the FBI’s inability to confirm the substance of the dossier. Former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who once chaired the House Oversight Committee, also appeared on the show Tuesday morning and called the document “bogus.”

The dossier was the result of an opposition research project the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign funded, via a law firm. The project, which was led by the private intelligence firm Fusion GPS, was initially funded by the conservative website, The Washington Free Beacon. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to compile the dossier after Democrats took over the project’s funding.

Tuesday’s tweet is not the first time Trump has tried to discredit the famous Steele dossier. In October he tweeted suggesting the document was funded by “Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all).”

While many of the claims in the dossier have not been substantiated, some of them have been bolstered by new information.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was duped by his home state newspaper.

In a scathing Christmas morning editorial, the newspaper named Hatch its “Utahn of the Year” – a designation that recognizes a person who has had a large impact on the state, “for good or for ill.” The newspaper then called on Hatch to step aside.

But Hatch (or his staff) seemed to have missed the point of the piece, tweeting the editorial Monday afternoon and saying he was “grateful for this great Christmas honor.”

It appears Hatch didn’t read the article.

The newspaper called Hatch, who is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, a politician with an “utter lack of integrity” who has an “unquenchable thirst for power.” While the newspaper praised Hatch for his role in passing tax reform last week, it said that legislative victory, coupled with Hatch’s efforts in the “dramatic dismantling” of Utah’s national monuments, signal it’s time for an exit.

“Over the years, Hatch stared down a generation or two of highly qualified political leaders who were fully qualified to take his place … Hatch is now moving to run for another term — it would be his eighth — in the Senate,” the editorial said. “Once again, Hatch has moved to freeze the field to make it nigh unto impossible for any number of would-be senators to so much as mount a credible challenge. That’s not only not fair to all of those who were passed over. It is basically a theft from the Utah electorate.”

While sources close to Hatch have told TPM that the senator, who has served for 42 years, is leaning toward retirement, Hatch has publicly rejected the idea. During President Trump’s speech in Utah announcing his significant reduction of two national monuments, Trump flat-out urged Hatch to seek reelection, a move likely spurred by Trump’s distaste for Mitt Romney, who’s been floated as a replacement for Hatch if he decides to retire.

Nearly 24 hours after the initial tweet, Hatch’s office claimed the statement from the senator’s account was just “tongue-in-cheek,” his spokesperson said on Twitter Tuesday.

Read the full Salt Lake Tribune editorial here.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the headline mistakenly said the paper called for Hatch’s resignation, instead of his retirement.

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Outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s behavior is “inviting” a Republican or Independent challenger in 2020.

And he’s not opposed to being the one to step up to that plate.

“I haven’t thought that deeply about it,” Flake, a longtime vocal critic of Trump, said Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” when asked about a potential presidential bid. “But I do believe if the President is running for reelection, if he continues on the path that he’s on, that that’s gonna leave a huge swath of voters looking for something else.”

Trump’s political discourse and alienation of Republicans outside his base will likely prompt a challenger from his own party in 2020, especially if Democrats back a “far left” candidate, Flake said.

“I do worry, that in the future we’ll be faced with a President Trump running for reelection on one side, drilling down hard on a diminishing base and on the other side you might have you know somebody like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren on the far left of the Democratic Party,” he said. “That leaves a huge swath of voters in the middle, that may be looking for something else.”

In a fiery speech from the Senate floor in October, Flake announced his plans to retire when his term is up. At the time, the Arizona senator said his decision was based solely on a desire to not be “complicit” in the age of Trump.

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified,” he said in October. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Flake did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election and has been articulate about his contempt for the President for months. The senator published a book this summer, criticizing conservatives in his party for backing Trump.

Watch a clip from the ABC interview below:

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Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are asking the Justice Department to review why it released copies of anti-Trump texts before the department’s Inspector General had completed its probe into the FBI officials who exchanged the messages.

On Tuesday night, the DOJ released the text messages exchanged between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page during the 2016 presidential election. The messages refer to President Trump as an “idiot” and indicate the two supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The department’s Inspector General is currently probing the two officials’ potential bias and the work they did for the Russia investigation, but that probe isn’t expected to wrap up until April.

Calling the release of the texts to the media an “unusual move,” the lawmakers asked the DOJ’s public affairs official to tell them who reviewed the content of the text messages and who made the final decision to share the texts with the media at the same time they were being sent to Congress. The Democrats, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), also asked for a list of the reporters and news outlets that were invited to the Tuesday night briefing. They asked for a response by Dec. 19, according to the letter, obtained by Politico.

 

A DOJ official told Politico Thursday that the texts were released after members of Congress requested the documents, but said there were some members of the media who had received the messages before they were officially released. That move was not authorized, public affairs director Isgur Flores told Politico.

Republicans are pointing to the text messages as evidence that there was bias in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Strzok was the head agent on the Clinton investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said this week that he would investigate the matter and one Trump attorney has called for a separate probe into bias on Mueller’s team.

Speaking to reporters before heading to Virginia to attend the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Trump said it was “a shame what happened with the FBI” and said he was going to “rebuild” the agency, “bigger and better.”

“It’s very sad when you look at the documents and how they have done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a lot of angry people that are seeing it,” he said. “It’s a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that. I am going today on behalf of the FBI, their new building, and when everybody— not me, everybody, the level of anger and what they have been witnessing with respect to the FBI, it’s certainly very sad.”

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President Trump has always been clear about his preference for winners. And embattled former Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is no exception.

Speaking to reporters at the White House Friday morning, Trump said Moore should “certainly” concede to his Democratic opponent Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-AL).

“I think he should. He tried,” he said, responding to questions about whether Moore should give it up. “I want to support, I always want to support the person running, we need the seat, and we would like to have the seat, but I think we are doing very well on the taxes and we will see what happens. … It will be the biggest tax decrease or tax cut in the history of our country, but as far as Roy Moore, yeah, it’s— I would certainly say, yeah, he should.”

The White House took a similar stance on Thursday. When asked if he should concede, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “it should have already taken place.”

Jones beat Moore by 1.5 percentage points, according to unofficial results, but Moore has refused to concede. On Wednesday night, his campaign released a video of Moore suggesting that provisional and military ballots could still change the outcome of the results. The Alabama secretary of state has not yet certified the ballot results, but has already said that it’s unlikely that Moore could win given the current margin of the race.

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo will likely stay at his post within the intelligence agency instead of taking over the State Department, according to a new report in The Washington Post Friday.

Last month, multiple outlets reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly was orchestrating a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with Pompeo. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) was floated to replace Pompeo, but his D.C. office denied those claims.

In a sweeping report on the swelling tensions between Tillerson, Trump and his own staff, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed White House officials, that Pompeo will likely stay in his current position because Trump enjoys his daily briefings. The New York Times reported in November that Trump has become increasingly fond of Pompeo, as the former three-term Congressman tends to offer the President advice on issues far outside his reach as CIA director.

The White House has publicly denied that its developing plans to push out Tillerson after the first of the year — “Rex is here,” Trump told reporters last month. But a senior Trump official told The Washington Post that U.S. allies “know at this point that (Tillerson’s) not really speaking for the administration.”

Trump is currently particularly peeved by Tillerson’s stances on how to quell mounting tensions with North Korea and Tillerson is reportedly at his wit’s end with the White House over its delay in filling key State Department positions, according to the officials who spoke with The Washington Post.

Tillerson and Trump have been at odds for months. Over the summer, Tillerson reportedly threatened to resign and called Trump a “moron.”

Trump has in turn claimed he has a higher I.Q. than Tillerson and publicly criticized Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts in North Korea, saying the secretary of state is “wasting his time.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign’s data operation in the months leading up to the election, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Mueller reportedly asked the data firm, Cambridge Analytica, to provide his investigative team with emails of employees who worked with the Trump campaign, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with the WSJ.

The House Intelligence Committee, which is also probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power, also requested similar documents from the data firm earlier this year. Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, the people familiar with the investigation told WSJ.

Mueller’s request for the emails was earlier this year, before it was widely reported that Nix was in contact with WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica began working for the Trump campaign in mid-May 2016 after former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon introduced Nix to then-candidate Trump. The firm provided the campaign with data, polling and research, WSJ reported.

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Count the White House out of Roy Moore’s quest to challenge the results of the special election in Alabama.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Moore “should have already” conceded to Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-AL).

While President Trump endorsed Moore in his Senate bid, Trump accepted the election results Tuesday evening and called Jones on Wednesday to congratulate him on his win.

“They had a great conversation, had a positive conversation,” Sanders said. “He likes Doug Jones and looks forward to meeting him in person and hopes that he will come and follow through on his commitment to work with the President on some things that they agree on.”

When asked if Moore should concede to Jones, Sander said “it should have already taken place.”

“Look, the President has called and congratulated Doug Jones and expressed his willingness to work with him and meet with him when he arrives in Washington,” she said.

Jones beat Moore by 1.5 percentage points, according to unofficial results, but Moore has refused to concede to his opponent. On Wednesday night, his campaign released a video of Moore suggesting that provisional and military ballots could still change the outcome of the results. The Alabama secretary of state has not yet certified the ballot results, but has already said that it’s unlikely that Moore could win given the current margin of the race.

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Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) will not seek reelection when his term is up in January 2019, according to multiple reports.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed those reports during a press conference on Thursday. He said he had a “couple conversations” with Farenthold and thinks he’s “making the right decision to retire.”

“There are new stories that are very disconcerting, unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had,” Ryan said.

The House Ethics Committee announced last week that Farenthold is under investigation for the allegation against him.

“As he should be,” Ryan said.

Farenthold’s office and the Republican congressional campaign committee’s press offices did not respond to multiple requests for comments. Aides from both offices told TPM that the communications staff was in meetings.

The news comes after CNN reported Thursday that a former staffer, Michael Rekola, had approached the Congressional Ethics Committee with claims of verbally abusive and sexually demeaning behavior that he experienced while he worked for Farenthold in 2015. Farenthold’s behavior ranged from making lewd comments about women to throwing objects when he was upset to calling staffers “fucktards,” according to CNN.

When reached by CNN, Farenthold denied most of the the staffer’s claims, but said he did regularly call aides “fucktards” but said it was “in jest,” not out of anger.

CNN’s story Thursday is just the latest report in recent days on the environment in Farenthold’s office. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that two other staffers had filed formal complaints against Farenthold, describing a hostile and inappropriate work environment.

One aide complained that Farenthold’s chief of staff treated women differently than men and another alleged that a female staffer made “inappropriate sexualized commentary in the workplace.” Farenthold’s spokeswoman told the Times that an attorney reviewed those complaints and did not find evidence of the inappropriate behavior.

Another aide told the Times that there was regular talk in Farenthold’s office about women’s bodies and that Farenthold was known to have consistent outbursts of ridicule or rage, behavior that Rekola confirmed in his accounts to CNN.

Another former staffer, Lauren Greene, made headlines in recent weeks when it was revealed that the Congressional Office of Compliance paid her $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle her complaints of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and hostile work environment against the congressman. Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, sued Farenthold in December 2014, but dropped the suit after the two agreed to settle. He’s has denied all of Greene’s allegations.

Farenthold is the only lawmaker whom the Office of Compliance has paid out a sexual harassment settlement for in the past five years. Last week, he told local media that he plans to pay taxpayers back for the settlement.

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During an interview with “Good Morning America” Thursday, ousted White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman said she resigned over “concerns.” She also combatted reports that she got into a public argument with Chief of Staff John Kelly and that she was escorted out of the White House by the Secret Service.

“I like to hear all these interesting tales, but they’re 100 percent false,” she said, referring to reports from American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan, who, citing unnamed sources, said that Manigault Newman got into a public fight with Kelly during the White House holiday party and had to be “escorted” off the property after “she tried to go into the residence” to see the President. The Secret Service also denied those reports. 

She said if she had feuded with Kelly in front of 600 people, “where are all the pictures and videos?”

“John Kelly and I sat down in the situation room, which is a very, very quiet room in the White House and we had a very candid conversation,” she said. “(We) had a very straightforward conversation about concerns that I had, issues I raised and as a result, I resigned.”

Manigault Newman said she will stay in the White House until Jan. 20. Until then, mum’s the word on what the “concerns” are that led to her resignation.

“There were a lot of things that I observed in the past year that I was very unhappy with, that I was very uncomfortable with,” she said, when asked questions about reports from The Washington Post that she was unhappy with the President’s response to Charlottesville and the endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore. “Things that I observed that I heard that I listened to— I can’t expand on it because I still have to go back and work with these individuals. … When I can tell my story, it is a profound story, that I know the world will want to hear.”

She also appeared to suggest that her issues were not with President Trump, whom she served as a “senior aide,” but with other individuals in the White House who “had problems with my 14 year relationship with the President.”

Trump tweeted Wednesday night, thanking Manigault Newman for her service.

Watch the full interview below:

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LiveWire