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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.

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A former communications director for Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) alleged the congressman was verbally abusive, sexually demeaning and he regularly called staffers “fucktards,” according to an exclusive CNN interview with the staffer.

Michael Rekola told CNN he had to start going to counseling and developed stress-related stomach issues that caused him to vomit daily at one point. Rekola has approached the House Ethics Committee and plans to share his accounts of Farenthold’s behavior with the investigative staff, according to CNN.

In a sweeping interview with the news outlet, Rekola shared multiple stories of abusive behavior by Farenthold, highlighting a particularly jarring incident that led Rekola to finally resign from his post. In July 2015, Rekola was leaving the office so he could go get married that weekend, and Farenthold told him he “better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” Farenthold also joked about whether Rekola’s fiancée should be allowed to wear white on her wedding day.

Rekola said Farenthold was also known for his screaming fits and often slammed his fists on desks. Rekola alleged the congressman often commented on the size of women’s breasts and buttocks and aides often made jokes about being on “redhead patrol” because Farenthold was attracted to women with red hair, he said.

“Every time he didn’t like something, he would call me a f**ktard or idiot. He would slam his fist down in rage and explode in anger,” Rekola told CNN. “He was flying off the handle on every little thing. I couldn’t find a way to control it.”

CNN corroborated Rekola’s story with his wife, friends, colleagues and also reviewed his medical records and correspondence with friends and colleagues at the time.

Lauren Greene, a former communications director for Farenthold, mentioned this detail in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the congressman. That suit was dropped after both parties agreed to a $84,000 settlement, which was paid with taxpayer funds from the Office of Compliance. The Ethics Committee is also looking into those allegations. Farenthold has denied all of her accusations.

Elizabeth Pearce, who was hired to work on the communications team in May 2015 when Rekola started having his stomach issues, confirmed that Farenthold regularly called aides “fucktards” and said she also heard the jokes the congressman made about Rekola’s fiancée.

Farenthold told CNN that he never made the comments about Rekola’s fiancee, but said he did regularly call his aides “fucktards,” but said the comments were made “in jest, not in anger.”

“In hindsight, I admit it wasn’t appropriate,” he told CNN.    

Read the full CNN report here.

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The Department of Justice is backing former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his effort to appeal a district court’s decision to keep his contempt of court conviction on his criminal record, according to court documents.

In October, a federal judge denied Arpaio’s request to erase the conviction from his record, claiming that President Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was an “executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial record-keeping,” Judge Susan Bolton said at the time.

Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after he was convicted for violating court orders that barred his office from conducting discriminatory policing practices. The conviction came after a civil lawsuit was filed against Arpaio. His office was issued a court order to halt its practice of racially discriminatory traffic stops. The suit argued he targeted and detained Latinos living in his county.

Arpaio appealed the October ruling and the district court in Arizona requested the support of the DOJ, according to the court documents. In a statement to the U.S. appeals court, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said the DOJ doesn’t intend to defend the court’s order.

“The government intends to argue, as it did in the district court, that the motion to vacate should have been granted,” Cronan wrote.

The DOJ’s move to back Arpaio isn’t particularly surprising.

In September, the Justice Department asked the Arizona federal judge to toss the case against Arpaio after Trump pardoned the former Arizona sheriff. Bolton dropped the case, but ruled against removing the conviction from his record.

When reached by TPM, a DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on the decision.

Read the statement below:

 

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith will run for Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) seat in a November 2018 special election, contrary to initial reports that she would just hold it until then to allow for a wide-open Democratic primary, according to reports from the Associated Press and the local Star Tribune.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton officially announced the appointment of Smith to replace Franken in a press release on Wednesday morning.

It was widely assumed that Dayton would choose Smith ever since Franken announced his resignation last Thursday after facing weeks of public scrutiny for mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Smith was elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor in 2014 and has been a longtime close ally of the governor, according to the Star Tribune.

“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability,” Dayton said in a statement. “There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office. I know that she will be a superb senator, representing the best interests of our state and our citizens.”

Smith accepted the appointment, though, she said, she “never anticipated this moment.” In his statement, the governor did not confirm reports that Smith plans to run for Franken’s seat in the 2018 election, saying only that she’s set to serve a one-year term in the Senate.

“Minnesotans will choose a U.S. Senator to serve the remainder of the term being vacated by Senator Al Franken in a Special Election, which will be held concurrently with the 2018 General Election on November 6, 2018,” the press release said.

Dayton was reportedly initially eyeing Smith because she wasn’t interested in running for election, which would have left November open for a Democratic primary.

However, the Associated Press reported that Dayton was pressured to choose a candidate who wanted to run in the November special election so the Democratic party could have a prominent front runner. Smith decided she would run amid that mounting pressure, a Democratic operative told the AP.

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Beverly Young Nelson, who accused former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was a teen, said Wednesday she was “excited” that Moore won’t be serving in the U.S. Senate, but said she’s “not giving up” on pursuing a case against him.

“Roy Moore’s loss means to me the fact that Alabama is about to make some changes, and I believe it’s going to be in the positive side of things. I’m very excited,” she said, appearing on CNN’s “New Day” the morning after the Republican candidate’s defeat. “There’s no reason for me to go and lie on television when this was the truth from day one. I intend on still pursuing it. I’m not giving up. … I believe he should be investigated. … I’m demanding it.”

Nelson was one of the multiple women who came forward in recent weeks alleging Moore pursued relationships or made inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. Nelson claimed Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16, when the two were parked in his car outside the restaurant where she worked. She provided alleged evidence of her relationship with Moore, publicly sharing a signature that he apparently left in her high school yearbook.

Moore flatly denied all the allegations against him and specifically attacked Nelson. He claimed she forged the signature and his lawyers demanded that her lawyer, Gloria Allred, hand over the yearbook so it could be examined by a neutral party for authenticity.

Nelson said it “really upset” her that so many called her character into question over the yearbook.

“Why would I write that myself in my own yearbook? My name was stamped on the front of it. He knew it was my yearbook. He asked if he could sign it, I told him gladly he could sign that book.”

Allred said they had the yearbook examined by a former FBI agent who worked in the documents division, who determined the signature was authentic.

“She should have her reputation back,” Allred said. “To accuse her of forgery, that’s a crime. That is defamation and Beverly is one of the more honest people you will ever meet in your life. And she deserves her reputation back.”   

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Republicans members of Congress and conservative media are united in blaming one person for their party’s loss in the deep red state of Alabama Tuesday night: Steve Bannon.

In a scathing editorial published late Tuesday evening, the Wall Street Journal ignited the revolt, declaring that “Bannon is for losers.”

The Alabama result shows that Mr. Bannon cares less about conservative policy victories than he does personal king-making,” the editorial board wrote. “He wants to depose Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader even if it costs Republicans Senate control. GOP voters, take note: Mr. Bannon is for losers.”   

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) lashed out on Twitter early Wednesday morning, encouraging his fellow Republicans to “DUMP Steve Bannon.”

In an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning, King took it further.

Saying Bannon looks like a “disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage,” he said the former White House official does not belong on the national stage.

“He sort of parades himself out there with his weird alt-right views that he has and to me it’s demeaning to the whole government and political process,” he said. “This is not the type of person we need in politics and last night’s election was a manifestation of the revulsion by the American people.”

Conservative members of the media and other prominent Republicans followed suit.

Meghan McCain, the outspoken media pundit and daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), had a simple message for the former White House chief strategist.

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, said the Republican defeat in Alabama should be a lesson to other states where Bannon “wants to run a fringy candidate.”

Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff and campaign manager for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), tweeted his harsh criticism for Bannon, as well as Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, before the race was even called for Democrat Doug Jones. He thanked Bannon for “showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union.”

The Senate Leadership Fund also released a statement blaming Bannon for the shocking blow to the party’s grip in the Senate.    

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has been vocal about his disdain for Moore, was one of the few Republican members of Congress to respond to the loss in Alabama Tuesday night.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Moore was accused by multiple women of pursing relationships or making inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s, revelations that likely led conservatives in a deeply Republican state to question their party allegiance.

Bannon, who has vowed to campaign against multiple establishment Republican members of Congress up for reelection this year, was a Moore supporter from the start, breaking with President Trump who backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the primaries.

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Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) said Tuesday she has received at least one angry phone call from a Roy Moore supporter claiming to be an Associated Press reporter since she warned the Senate Sergeant at Arms of Roy Moore’s “predatory” behavior.

Gwen Moore tweeted that “another Roy Moore supporter” had called her office pretending to be an AP reporter and “started screaming and called me and my staff the n-word and other racial slurs” when the caller’s cover was blown.

She said she would not “stop speaking out” or be “intimidated” by the calls.

The alleged harassment comes a day after Gwen Moore sent a letter to the Senate Sergeant at Arms, asking Congress to share what “preventative steps are being taken to safeguard Senate Pages from the predatory conduct of U.S. Senators and Senate staff.” She cited Roy Moore specifically, saying he would be a threat to the “safety of the young men and women” in the page program if he were elected.

Roy Moore, who is the Republican candidate in the Alabama Senate race, has been accused of pursuing relationships or making unwanted sexual contact with multiple women when they were teenagers and Roy Moore was in his 30s.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 3:00 p.m. ET Tuesday. Watch live below:

President Donald Trump was furious that his top United Nations diplomat on Sunday said the women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault should be heard, the Associated Press reported.

“I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” The comments infuriated the President, the Associated Press reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Trump has become increasingly irked by the recent attention that the women who have accused him of misconduct are getting, and has reportedly expressed solidarity with Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, according to the Associated Press.

Multiple women have accused Moore of either pursuing relationships or making unwanted sexual contact with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. At least 16 women accused Trump of sexual misconduct in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

Several of the women who accused Trump of misconduct have re-upped their claims in recent interviews with the media amid a wave of sexual misconduct allegations on Capitol Hill and against other powerful men.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called on the President to resign on Monday over the allegations, and asked the Congressional Ethics Committee to launch a probe into the accusations.

Trump on Tuesday attacked Gillibrand as a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions,” and again denied all the allegations against him. Moore has also denied the allegations against him on the eve of his special election.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is not backing down from her efforts to hold President Trump accountable for the accusations of sexual misconduct against him.

After Trump tweeted calling the senator names and suggesting that Gillibrand was once willing to “do anything” for campaign contributions from him, Gillibrand responded with a simple message: “You cannot silence me.”

Gillibrand has become a prominent force in combatting sexual harassment and assault in Washington in recent weeks. She, along with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), introduced legislation last month that would overhaul the way Congress handles sexual harassment complaints. She was the first to call on her colleague, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), to resign after weeks of mounting allegations against him. On Monday, she called on Trump to resign the same day three of his accusers came forward to shed new light on their claims of sexual misconduct against the President.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that Democrats had given up on the Russian collusion investigation and had moved on to highlight “the fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met.” He called Gillibrand a “lightweight” and “total flunky” for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and claimed she used to come to his office “begging” for campaign donations.

Trump has flatly denied all the allegations and has called the more than a dozen women who have spoken out liars. The White House on Monday said Trump was glad that women feel more comfortable speaking out in today’s climate, but continued to deny all the accusers’ accounts.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Democrats weren’t able to find any “collusion” between his campaign and the Russians, so “they are moving on” to promoting the women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia — so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met,” he tweeted early Tuesday morning. “FAKE NEWS!”

He then moved on to attack Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has led the charge against Trump, saying the President should resign “immediately” on Monday, amid the revival of sexual misconduct allegations against him. She said if Trump doesn’t hold himself accountable, Congress should launch an ethics probe into the allegations.

Trump called the senator “a total flunky” for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), claimed she was disloyal to Bill and Hillary Clinton and appeared to suggest that she was desperate for campaign donations from Trump in the past.

Trump is likely irked by the recent attention being paid to his accusers. On Monday, three of the more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of harassment or assault held a press conference to tell Trump to resign. Over the weekend, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the women who have spoke out against Trump “should be heard.”

Since then, more than 50 Democratic female lawmakers have joined Gillibrand, calling for an ethics investigation into Trump’s behavior.

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