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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 last month sent letters to NATO allies threatening to reduce the number of American troops stationed abroad if they didn’t increase their countries’ defense spending, according to excerpts of the letters shared with The New York Times.

In the letters, Trump told European leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that frustration is growing in Congress and the executive branch over how much the U.S. spends in the defense of European countries.

As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised,” Trump wrote to Merkel. “The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound. This is no longer sustainable for us.”

Trump is particularly vexed with Merkel, according to the Times. His administration is reportedly looking at what a sweeping withdraw of U.S. troops from Germany could look like and the President told Merkel in his letter that she should be more cognizant of her influence over other members of NATO.

“Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model,” he wrote.

The letters to NATO allies have been met with alarm because it’s the first time Trump has threatened a consequence for what he views as inadequate defense spending, according to the Times. However, a White House official told the Times that Trump is committed to sticking with NATO, but wants to allies to “share our common defense burden, and to do more in areas that most affect them.”    

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Several Republican senators are mulling whether they should change the definition of national security to cramp President Donald Trump’s habit of imposing trade tariffs on U.S. allies, Politico reported.

Those senators reportedly think Trump has abused his authority on steel and aluminum tariffs and are discussing whether they should combat Trump’s justification of the new tariffs as a matter of national security.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), fear Trump is sabotaging his own economic gains and are pushing for legislation that would abate Trump’s ability to take action on trade. According to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Politico, those Republicans are looking at at least five different modifications that could be made to the law that controls national security tariffs.

“I’d like to kill ‘em,” Hatch reportedly said, referencing Trump’s tariffs.

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President Donald Trump issued a proclamation ordering American flags be lowered in honor of those killed in a shooting at an Annapolis, Maryland newspaper last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told TPM early Tuesday.

“Last night, as soon as the President heard about the request from the Mayor he ordered the flags to be lowered and a proclamation is going out momentarily,” she said. “I spoke with the mayor last night and again this morning to let him know the President’s decision.”

Trump issued the proclamation just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, ordering that the flag be flown at half-staff until sunset.

“Our nation shares the sorrow of those affected by the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland,” he wrote. “Americans across the country are united in calling upon God to be with the victims and to bring aid and comfort to their families and friends.”

The announcement comes on the heels of reports that Trump initially declined a request from the city’s mayor to lower flags to half staff in honor of the victims.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Mayor Gavin Buckley submitted a formal request to the White House over the weekend to lower flags in honor of the five employees of the Capital Gazette who were killed in a mass shooting at the newspaper last week, but it was originally declined.

Buckley said he had hoped lowering the flags would keep the attack at the center of national attention and was “disappointed” by the initial decision.  

“Obviously, I’m disappointed, you know? … Is there a cutoff for tragedy?” Buckley told the Baltimore Sun before Trump ultimately ordered the flags to be flown at half-staff. “This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”

The governor of Maryland had already ordered that flags in the state be lowered from Friday until Monday.

Trump has ordered American flags be lowered to half-staff for nearly every fatal mass shooting that’s received national attention since coming into office, including the attacks at U.S. schools in recent months.

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A former aide who worked for Roger Stone during the 2016 campaign has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators, the New York Times reported Thursday. 

The aide is Andrew Miller, a libertarian who helped arrange media interviews for Stone during the campaign, according to the Times and Stone press releases with Miller listed as the media contact.

A lawyer named Paul Kamenar filed a motion on Thursday on behalf of a client subpoenaed by Mueller arguing the special counsel’s appointment was “unconstitutional, according to the Times. The motion did not name Miller.

Stone has become a focus of Mueller’s probe in recent weeks after it was revealed that he met with a Russian national during the campaign who asked for money in exchange for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post was first to report on the meeting between Stone and the Russian, Henry Greenberg. Stone has argued that he didn’t tell congressional investigators about his meeting with Greenberg because he didn’t remember it.

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

Miller did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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An unabashedly racist Republican candidate in a North Carolina state house race — whose website contains vile conspiracy theories about African Americans, Jewish people and former President Barack Obama — has been dropped by the state Republican Party.

“Based on recent behavior and previous statements, the North Carolina Republican Party is unable and unwilling to support the Republican nominated candidate for North Carolina House District 48,” GOP chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement to the local News and Record Tuesday about candidate Russell Walker. “The NCGOP along with our local parties in Hoke, Scotland and Robeson Counties will be spending our time and resources supporting Republican candidates that better reflect the values of our party.”

Among the racist remarks on his website, Walker claims that God is a racist and that Jewish people are descendants of the devil.  

“What is wrong with being a white supremacist? God is a racist and a white supremacist,” Walker wrote on his website. “Someone or group has to be supreme and that group is the whites of the world … someone or something has to be inferior … In all history in sub-Saharan Africa, no two-story building or a waterproof boat was ever made.”

Walker reportedly aligns with “Christian Identity” theology, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Christian Identity is an irrational sect of Christianity that follows wildly anti-semitic and racist interpretations of Christian scripture and argues primarily that Jewish people are descendants of Eve and Satan.   

Walker also claims on his website that women are the “weaker sex” because they are “more willing than men to accept non Israelites … in the voting booth and in bed.”

“This is the weak link in our society and the Caucasian race is declining and on its way to extinction because of it,” he said.

Walker’s views are so repugnant that the local News-Journal had to stop printing his letters to the editor. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Walker now regularly protests outside the newspaper’s office with a sign that says “God is racist” and “What is wrong with being racist.”

Walker did not respond to TPM’s phone call or Facebook message requesting comment.

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Former President Barack Obama is expected to hit the campaign trail this fall to advocate for Democratic candidates running for the House, Senate and in gubernatorial races, CNBC reported late Wednesday.

According to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNBC, Obama will operate off the guidance of Democratic leadership — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

No timeline or specific locations have been decided on yet, but two sources familiar with the Obama team’s plan told CNBC that he will start in September.

In recent weeks, Obama has been criticized for remaining relatively silent on President Donald Trump’s attempts to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy, particularly on issues related to the Trump administration’s immigrant family separation policy.

Read CNBC’s full report here.  

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A Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin loaned jailed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort $10 million, Reuters reported.

In a recently unsealed copy of a search warrant application, an FBI agent reportedly claimed he had reviewed tax returns for a Manafort-owned company and saw Oleg Deripaska had loaned Manafort the cash. That July 2017 search warrant application was approved and led to a predawn search of Manafort’s Virginia home, which has provided crucial evidence for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Manafort is currently in custody for witness tampering while he awaits trial for failing to register as a foreign agent and a slew of other financial crimes unearthed by Mueller’s probe.

The search warrant application, which was unsealed Wednesday, also revealed that Deripaska funded some of Manafort’s work as a consultant in the Ukraine.

Deripaska is one of the Russian oligarchs the U.S. sanctioned in April.

Read Reuters’ full report here.    

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As early as last Thursday, moderate Republicans in the House knew their efforts to cobble together a compromise immigration bill would likely sink, largely due to a rift that formed between moderates and members of the House Freedom Caucus as negotiations went sour, Politico reported in a lengthy Wednesday story on the past week of House GOPers’ negotiations.

According to 20 lawmakers and staffers who spoke with Politico, moderate Republicans and members of the Freedom Caucus led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) had been negotiating on immigration for weeks, but conservatives’ list of demands seemed to expand each time both sides felt they were coming to an agreement. Tensions reportedly mounted to a boiling point last Thursday, just two days after President Donald Trump visited Capitol Hill to meet with House Republicans about legislation (and ended up repelling members by mocking their colleague Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina).

Moderate Republicans came across an email that a Freedom Caucus chief staffer had sent out, warning hardliners that they’d be punished by voters if they voted in favor of any measure that included even a trace of “amnesty.” Moderates accused Meadows of trying to deter conservatives from voting in favor of the compromise bill, which included a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The moderates confronted Meadows about the email in a meeting that erupted into a shouting match. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) read the email out loud as Rep. John Katko (R-NY) lamented his decision to trust the Freedom Caucus and vowed “that he’d never make that mistake again,” in Politico’s words.

“This is bullshit,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) told Meadows, who denied any knowledge of the email.

According to Politico’s reporting, that meeting, along with a score of other misleading moves by the Freedom Caucus led to the compromise bill’s demise. The measure — which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers, offered $25 billion for the border wall, complicated the asylum process and made cuts to legal immigration — tanked on Wednesday by a 121 to 301 vote.

Read Politico’s full report here.

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In true Trumpian form, the President used the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as an opportunity to brag about himself to supporters.

At a rally in North Dakota on Wednesday, President Donald Trump made the baseless claim that the “very special guy” (Kennedy) chose to retire during his presidency because Kennedy thinks Trump will pick the “right” replacement.

“I’m very honored that he chose to do it during my term in office because he felt confident for me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy,” he said in remarks met with shouts and applause from supporters. “That’s why he did it.”

Trump also told the crowd that his SCOTUS pick would sit on the high court for 40 to 45 years.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he would begin the search for a nominee “immediately” and said the pick would come from the list of 25 conservative judges that his campaign compiled early on during the 2016 election.

Kennedy, who served on the Supreme Court for 30 years, announced on Wednesday that he would retire at the end of July, which has already ignited a partisan skirmish in Congress over whether lawmakers should confirm a Supreme Court justice during an election year.

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President Donald Trump reacted to news that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring in real time on Wednesday, telling reporters that the search for a new justice will begin “immediately.”

“Hopefully we’re going to pick somebody who will be just as outstanding,” he said, referencing Kennedy.

Trump thanked Kennedy for his years of service and said he is a man of “tremendous vision” and “tremendous heart.”

“So I just want to thank Justice Kennedy for the years of tremendous service,” he said. “He is a very spectacular man. Really is a spectacular man. And I know that he will be around hopefully for a long time to advise and I believe he will be teaching and doing other things. So thank you to Justice Kennedy.”

He told reporters that his pick will come from an existing list of 25 “highly educated, highly intelligent, hopefully tremendous” conservative judges that he’s been referencing since the early days of his campaign.

Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday afternoon, effective at the end of July.

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