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

A Georgian-American businessman, who said he attended a key 2016 meeting at Trump Tower under the pretense of serving as a translator, has been questioned by both Senate and House intelligence committees, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Congressional investigators were already aware the businessman, Irakly Kaveladze, attended the June 9, 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials, but recently became more interested in Kaveladze upon learning he attended a private dinner with President Trump and Aras Agalarov in 2013, according to sources familiar with the interviews who spoke to Reuters. The 2013 dinner was held to celebrate an agreement between Trump, then-owner of the Miss Universe pageant, and Agalarov to bring the pageant to Moscow, according to Reuters’ sources.

Congressional investigators are seeking more information about Kaveladze’s role in orchestrating the meeting and whether there was any discussion of lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia, Reuters reported.

Information about the June 9, 2016 meeting, which included Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, was first reported this summer. Trump Jr. initially claimed the meeting was held to discuss Russian adoptions, but later revealed it was arranged with the promise of receiving damaging information about Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. A chain of emails Trump Jr. released this summer show he was made aware that the conversation would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” according to one email.

Trump Jr., who has also been questioned by congressional investigators, later said he never actually received any information from the Russian lawyer.

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Joseph Flynn, the brother of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser and campaign aide Michael Flynn, said Tuesday it is “about time” the President pardons his brother.

“About time you pardon General Flynn who has taken the biggest fall given the illegitimacy of his confessed crime in the wake of all this corruption,” Joseph Flynn reportedly tweeted Tuesday afternoon and deleted 15 minutes later. Newsweek confirmed with Joseph Flynn that he had sent the post, which he said he tweeted in response to Trump’s post attacking the FBI and Hillary Clinton for the famous Christopher Steele dossier.

Earlier this month, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. The plea deal was part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power to win the election.

Joseph Flynn told Newsweek that he stands by his original tweet, even though he deleted it and later sent another, toned-down tweet to Trump asking for a pardon on Tuesday evening.

“Mr. President, I personally believe that a pardon is due to General Flynn, given the apparent and obvious illegitimacy of the manner in which the so called ‘crimes’ he plead guilty to were extracted from him,” he said. “I ask for quick action on this. Thank you and keep up the good work!”

The White House has said the discussion of a pardon for Michael Flynn isn’t necessary until “you get further down the road,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in the aftermath of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea.

Trump has said he feels “bad” for his former national security adviser, but he isn’t ready to talk about pardons yet.

“We’ll see what happens. Let’s see,” he said.

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Former President Barack Obama would like to see people in leadership find ways for the public to “recreate common space” on the Internet, he said in his first interview since leaving the White House, broadcast Wednesday.

While the former president did not once mention his successor President Donald Trump by name, he pointedly remarked on the importance of using the internet and social media to unite rather than divide, a tactic Trump is known to ignore, with his near-daily Twitter rants against the media, individuals and even members of his own administration.

“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities,” he said in the interview with BBC’s Radio 4 Today, which was guest edited by Prince Harry Charles Albert David. “They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases. … The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanization of society and allows ways of finding common ground.”

In the lukewarm 40-minute interview, which was recorded in September, Obama fielded questions about everything from his new foundation to whether he prefers boxers over briefs (he didn’t answer that question).

The former president said he felt a sense of “completion” when he left the White House in January.

“That was mixed with all the work that was still undone and concerns about how the country moves forward. But overall there was a serenity there, more than I would have expected,” he said.

Watch the full interview below:

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Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) office was totally just joking when it tweeted an image of the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune, thanking the newspaper for naming him “Utahn of the Year.”

Taking the tweet at face value, Hatch seemingly didn’t read the actual article — a scathing editorial, which called on the eight-term senator to retire when his term expires next year.

Hatch (or his staffers) were apparently just being “tongue-in-cheek” with the gracious tweet, in which Hatch called the distinction a “great Christmas honor,” spokesperson Matt Whitlock said Tuesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after Hatch’s tweet.

Whitlock poked fun at reporters, saying “you’d have to be very new to Twitter Hatch” to think the senator’s tweet was earnest.

In a second tweeted statement, Whitlock mocked the Tribune — which called Hatch a politician with an “unquenchable thirst for power” — saying he hoped the editorial board found some holiday spirit in something “beyond baselessly attacking” Hatch to “satisfy their unquenchable thirst for clicks.”

Whitlock also said this wasn’t the first time the Tribune has called on Hatch to retire, and proceeded to post a list of legislation that he claims would have fallen flat if it weren’t for the senator, who has been in Congress for 42 years.

While Whitlock did wait almost a full day before clarifying that Hatch was just joshing, the senator — through Whitlock — has inserted humor into his official statements in the past. In September, Hatch’s office released a statement advocating for new medical marijuana research legislation that was littered with weed puns. 

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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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