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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

Several White House staffers who reportedly regularly share information about the Oval Office with Axios told the news outlet that they often try to impersonate one another when leaking to the press to avoid getting caught.

“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” one current White House official told Axios.

Others reportedly said they’re motivated to leak information in order to settle personal vendettas and to “make sure there an accurate record of what’s really going on” in the President Trump administration. Another official told Axios that leaking is a form of self-perseveration in this White House, which he referred to as a “Mexican standoff.”

“You have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff.’ Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first,” the source said.

Read the full Axios report here.

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Fox News host Sean Hannity is one of a few dozen friends and family members who have direct access to President Donald Trump through his official line at the White House.

And he takes full advantage of that arrangement, according to New York Magazine.

Hannity tends to call Trump most weeknights after his Fox News show is over around 10:00 p.m. EST. Hannity first communicates with an operator, who then dispatches him to Trump, who, according to New York Magazine’s sources, is always by himself on the third floor of the executive residence by 7 p.m. EST most evenings.

The two usually speak about “the latest developments,” per New York Magazine, and sometimes talk several times a day. White House staff are aware of the regular phone calls because Trump will speak about their conversations or will even call Hannity from his desk phone while aides are present. Sources described Hannity as the “center” of Trump’s group of outside associates with whom he regularly contacts for affirmation.

“Generally, the feeling is that Sean is the leader of the outside kitchen cabinet,” one White House official told New York Magazine.

In April, The Washington Post reported that White House advisers refer to Hannity as the “shadow” chief of staff.

Read the full profile here.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is backpeddling on how he described President Donald Trump’s feelings about the Russia probe.

During an interview with NPR on Thursday evening, Kelly said Trump was “somewhat embarrassed, frankly” about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But he took it back on Friday.

After Trump’s announcement on drug price policy in the Rose Garden, Kelly told CNN that he was not doing an interview, but said “embarrassed” is not the word he word he wanted to use to describe the Russia probe. He told CNN “distracted” was a better descriptor.

 

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 2:30 p.m. ET Friday. Watch live below:

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), on Friday responded to reports that a White House staffer made a joke about her father “dying,” by criticizing the “environment” of the White House.

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable and you can come into work the next day and still have a job, and that’s all I have to say about it,” she said Friday on ABC’s “The View.”

On Thursday, The Hill was first to report that White House special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked John McCain for “dying,” by saying his opinion on the nominee to run the CIA didn’t matter because he was “dying anyway.”

Watch Meghan McCain’s response below:

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is facing strident backlash for making crass comments about undocumented immigrants.

Again.

During an interview NPR published Thursday evening, Kelly said that the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants are not “bad people” or “criminals,” they’re just “rural people” who lack skills and education and don’t assimilate well. 

Here’s the full comment, via NPR:

“Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. … But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. … The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

Kelly was responding to a question about Attorney General Jeff Sessions new “zero tolerance” policy for crossings at the border.

Some former Obama administration officials and journalists lashed out against the basis of his claims.

Thursday is not the first time Kelly has come under fire for his comments about immigrants. During a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Kelly reportedly said that some young undocumented immigrants who are eligible to sign up for DACA benefits are “too lazy to get off their asses” and enroll.

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AT&T regrets hiring President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, the giant telecom company’s CEO Randall Stephenson said Friday in a staff memo obtained by Reuters and CNBC. 

“Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” he wrote. “There is no other way to say it — AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”

He went on to assure employees that no laws were broken when the company’s Washington, D.C. team hired Cohen to help AT&T gain insight on how to work with the Trump administration, but said the “vetting process clearly failed.”

“I take full responsibility for that,” he said.

In the same memo, Stephenson announced that the company’s senior executive vice president of the External and Legislative Affairs group would be retiring.

The move follows an onslaught of headlines this week, revealing that AT&T — and other companies, like the U.S. affiliate of a firm owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration — paid Cohen large sums of money to do political consulting work for the company, namely, to garner influence with Trump.

AT&T confirmed Thursday that it had cooperated with questions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, who are investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The payments to Cohen have come under scrutiny because Cohen is under federal investigation for a number of reasons, notably for a $130,000 payment he made to a porn actress just ahead of the 2016 election, reportedly to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago.

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The White House official who mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for “dying” called McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, on Thursday to apologize for the remark, according to The Hill and Politico.

The conversation “didn’t go so well,” according to a source who spoke with Politico reporter Annie Karni.

The Hill was first to report on Thursday that White House special assistant Kelly Sadler said that John McCain’s opposition to President Trump’s CIA director nominee Gina Haspel didn’t matter because he’s “dying anyway.” The comment was reportedly meant as a joke, but it did not go over well with the rest of the people in the White House meeting, according to sources who spoke with the Hill.

John McCain’s wife Cindy McCain responded with a direct tweet to Sadler on Thursday, pointing out that “my husband has a family, seven children and five grandchildren.” Meghan McCain retweeted her mother.

John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer last year and has been home in Arizona in recent months recovering from treatments. 

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Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) plans to escalate the feud between conservative House Republicans and the Justice Department by requesting that a federal financial watchdog audit the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia probe, The Washington Post reported.

Meadows announced his plans during a taping of C-SPANS’s “Newsmakers” show, which is set to air on Sunday, according to the Post. During the taping he claimed the audit is necessary in order to obtain an unredacted version of the August 2017 memo that outlines the scope of the Mueller investigation.

“We believe that the American people need to know what the scope of the investigation [is],” Meadows said Thursday, according to the Post. “Now some would say, ‘Well, you’re getting involved in an ongoing criminal investigation.’ Well, it is an investigation, but the scope of that investigation is not part of the investigation. It just says, we’re going to look at all of this. We believe because we’re funding it that we should be able to look at that scope.”

Meadows plans to direct the audit request at the Government Accountability Office as early as next week, but he is still working on gaining support from other lawmakers, according to the Post.

Meadows is just one of many President Trump loyalists within the House who are irked with deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department overall for refusing to release documents requested by conservative House members related to the Russia probe and other federal investigations, including the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Justice Department officials claim releasing an unredacted version of the scope memo could compromise the Mueller investigation, according to people familiar with the DOJ’s thinking who spoke with the Post.

Read the Post’s full story here. 

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The Swiss pharmaceutical company that paid President Trump’s personal lawyer $1.2 million in 2017 for access to the President, paid Michael Cohen nearly four times more than any of the actual lobbyists it employs to garner influence in Washington.

According to a Stat News review of Novartis’ 2017 and 2018 filing the Swiss drug company has spent $11.92 million on formal federal lobbying since Trump came into office, but none of the contracts with nearly four dozen lobbying firms were as expensive as the one it brokered with Cohen’s shell company Essential Consultants LLC.

Novartis did pay one single firm $80,000 in one quarter since Trump’s inauguration, a payment that doesn’t hold a candle to the $100,000 a month Cohen required. The contract in closest competition with the Cohen deal was with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which Novartis paid $950,000 in 2017, according to Stat News.

Stat News noted Novartis does not have to disclose how much it pays its eight in-house lobbyists.

Read the full report here.

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