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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

In 1984, when President Donald Trump was a 38-year-old budding real estate mogul, a Trump Organization aide called the reporter who was developing the annual Forbes 400 list to try to convince him that Trump was a billionaire, not a $200 millionaire, as the magazine had suggested the year before

That aide, according to an op-ed from the former Forbes reporter in the Washington Post Friday, was actually Trump himself.

According to reporter Jonathan Greenberg’s account of his interactions with Trump, the then-private citizen put Greenberg through the wringer to convince him how “loaded” he was.

From the beginning, Trump was obsessed,” Greenberg wrote. “The project could offer a clear, supposedly authoritative declaration of his status as a player, and while many of the super-rich wanted to keep their names off the ranking, Trump was desperate to scale it.”

When the Forbes 400 was first published in 1982, Trump tried to persuade Greenberg he was worth $900 million. The magazine estimated his worth at $100 million. The following year, Trump’s lawyer Roy Cohn got involved, attempting to manipulate Greenberg into publishing that Trump was worth $700 million because of his recent sale of a casino in Atlantic City. The magazine instead published that Trump and his father Fred Trump were worth $200 million each.

The next year, Greenberg got a call from John Barron, a spokesperson for Trump, who the Post has since reported is actually Trump’s alter-ego, with a thicker New York accent.

Per Greenberg’s op-ed:

“When I recently rediscovered and listened, for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and other phone calls, I was amazed that I didn’t see through the ruse: Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. ‘Barron’ told me that Trump had taken possession of the business he ran with his father, Fred. ‘Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump,’ he said. ‘You have down Fred Trump [as half owner] ... but I think you can really use Donald Trump now.’ Trump, through this sockpuppet, was telling me he owned ‘in excess of 90 percent’ of his family’s business. With all the home runs Trump was hitting in real estate, Barron told me, he should be called a billionaire.”

Forbes has since lamented the magazine’s difficulty with assessing Trump’s actual wealth over the years — in 1982 Trump was actually only worth $5 million, not $100 million, Greenberg said.

Read Greenberg’s full account and listen to the audio of phone call with “Barron” here.

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President Donald Trump is concerned that his Supreme Court darling Justice Neil Gorsuch — whose appointment is regularly cited by the White House as a top accomplishment under Trump — is too liberal, The Washington Post reported.

According to administration officials who heard about Trump’s complaints and spoke with the Post, Trump was frustrated by Gorsuch’s recent vote against the administration on an immigration case, which reportedly pushed him to question whether Gorsuch was going to be a reliable conservative voter on the high court. Another Trump adviser who spoke with the Post said Trump was just complaining about that specific case, not Gorsuch’s dependability overall.   

Earlier this week, Gorsuch sided with the four liberal Supreme Court justices — and was the deciding vote — in a case focused on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump’s administration’s efforts to deport immigrants who have committed crimes. Gorsuch and the four liberal justices ruled that a provision in the Immigration and Naturalization Act that calls for the deportation of undocumented and legal immigrants who have committed violent crimes was unconstitutionally vague because it doesn’t properly define what a violent crime is

While he reportedly grumbled about Gorsuch in private, in public, Trump responded by passing the buck to Congress in a tweet.

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During a meeting at the White House last Thursday, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly assured President Donald Trump that he was not the target of the special counsel’s Russia probe or the investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

That offering was enough to make Trump back off of Rosenstein, who he’s been fixed on firing for months, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

According to several people familiar with the discussion who spoke to Bloomberg, Rosenstein brought up the investigations himself during the meeting. After the discussion, Trump reportedly told his close advisers that “it’s not right” to remove either Rosenstein or special counsel Robert Mueller because he’s not the subject of their investigations, according to Bloomberg. One source told Bloomberg that Trump said he didn’t want to do anything that would make the investigation last longer.

Trump has become increasingly irked with Mueller and Rosenstein in recent weeks, particularly after the FBI raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel last week, calling the seizure of Cohen’s records an “attack on our country.” While that raid was approved by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, it was conducted based on a referral from Mueller’s team.

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The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency said it will review Administrator Scott Pruitt’s use of a security detail during personal visits to Disneyland, the Rose Bowl and college basketball games, according to a Democratic senator who requested the review.

Last month, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote a letter to the EPA IG’s office, notifying the agency watchdog that Pruitt had used EPA security agents during family trips and requesting the IG add the additional details to its review of Pruitt’s expensive travel and round-the-clock security expenses. According to a statement from Whitehouse on Thursday, EPA IG Arthur Elkins responded, saying the issues raised in the letter were “within the authority of the OIG to review, and we will do so,” he said.

Elkins told Whitehouse that the audit of the use of security detail on the personal trips would be reviewed separate from the IG’s current review of the travel and security concerns.

According to the letter Whitehouse sent to the IG last month, Pruitt used between two and three dozen different security agents over the course of six weeks and the agents reportedly accompanied Pruitt to the Rose Bowl, a family vacation to Disneyland and to a University of Kentucky basketball game, as CNN was first to report.

As Pruitt is embroiled in audits from his agency’s watchdog, lawmakers have called for his resignation as the EPA chief has been hit with consistent reports of impropriety in recent weeks.

Among those scandals: He reportedly spent $25,000 on a soundproof phone booth, regularly requests per diem lodging expenses above the government’s daily spending rate, rented a room in a home owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, defied a White House in order to give two close aides massive raises and consistently flies first class in order to avoid the public shouting curse words at him.

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Conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) pushed back on Republicans’ hesitancy to offer full throated support of President Donald Trump’s 2020 bid on Thursday, telling CNN that that is “not something I’m hearing back home in my district.”

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While Rex Tillerson was secretary of state, his State Department was regularly plagued with rumors of his impending departure.

And Tillerson reportedly knew who was behind the whispers, according to an excerpt from Ronan Farrow’s new book “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence” published in The New Yorker Thursday.

According to several people who spoke with Farrow, who heard Tillerson speak about the matter behind closed doors, he “knew” it was Jared Kushner, one of the President’s closest advisers and son-in-law.

During an interview with Tillerson in January, Farrow asked the then-secretary of state about the rumors of his demise. Tillerson responded by asking Farrow how many people there are working in the White House who “matter,” who “might have an interest in whether I stay or leave, there’s about one hundred and sixty of them,” Tillerson reportedly said.

“I know who it is. I know who it is. And they know I know,” he told Farrow.

According to a State Department official who spoke with Farrow, the department suspected that Kushner was responsible for planting negative press items that undermined some of Tillerson’s moves. A White House official laid the blame for the feud between the two on Tillerson, who would “never” call Kushner back or respond to his requests for meetings.

“Here’s what I saw: a President who surprised [Kushner] on the spot and said, ‘You’re doing Mideast peace,’ after the campaign. A guy who tried to brief Rex every single week but could never even get a call back or a meeting,” the White House officials told Farrow. “And it wasn’t just Jared. It was many people across the government, including fellow Cabinet members, who complained.”

Read the full excerpt published in The New Yorker here.

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), along with a slew of other Republicans interviewed by CNN, dodged questions about whether President Donald Trump had their support in the next presidential election, with Johnson claiming it’s “way too early” to talk Trump 2020.

“Chris, you know it’s way too early to be talking about 2020,” he said Thursday, responding to CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “It could be a completely different world in 2020. We have a 2018 election first. So, you know, listen, I understand the kind of ’gotcha’ question you’re engaging here. But it’s just way too early to even be talking about it.”

Johnson’s not alone, according to CNN’s Manu Raju, who said Thursday he interviewed more than two dozen lawmakers — including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) — who were all either uncertain about whether Trump would run or said it was too early to offer blanket support for the President. This comes despite Trump’s clear reelection fundraising and campaign rallies.

Outgoing Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) — a vocal Trump critic — took his party’s loose support for the President even further, telling CNN Thursday morning that it “very questionable” if Trump even runs in 2020.

“I have no idea who’s going to run for president in 2020 and I’m not about to say who I will support for that, so we have no idea who’s going to run,” Corker said. “Whether the President runs again or not is questionable, candidly.”

“Why wouldn’t he?” CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked.

“I don’t know, why would he?” Corker said.

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If the President’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is faced with criminal charges, he will likely turn on President Trump, according to a longtime Trump legal adviser and former prosecutor.

Jay Goldberg told the Wall Street Journal and CNN that Trump called him on Friday seeking advice and he cautioned him against trusting Cohen. He even warned Trump in their 15 minute conversation that Cohen could even agree to wear a wire.

“Michael will never stand up (for you)” if he’s charged, Goldberg told the WSJ, recalling what he told Trump last week. He said he told Trump to “be alert” no matter what Cohen tells him.

Goldberg represented Trump during the 1990s and early 2000s on real estate matters and his divorces from Ivana Trump and Marla Maples and told CNN that he advised the President based on his own experience as a prosecutor.

“Anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up,” he told CNN. “Without exception, a person facing a prison term cooperates.”

Cohen’s office, hotel and home were raided by the FBI last week. Agents seized documents related to his alleged hush payments to a porn actress who reportedly had an affair with Trump a decade ago, as well as his taxi business, the WSJ and other outlets have reported.

Goldberg is not the only Trump ally who is nervous about the President’s personal lawyer’s cooperation and the records the FBI may have seized.

While Cohen has not been charged with any crimes, he is reportedly known for recording business and personal conversations as collateral. Many people within Trump’s inner circle are concerned about whether the recordings were seized and what they might entail and have told the media in recent days that they think Cohen will likely flip on Trump.

Read the WSJ’s full report here. 

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Former White House Communications Director turned Anthony Scaramucci told MSNBC Wednesday he’s confident that Michael Cohen will remain loyal to President Trump.

“If you said to me and I had to flip a coin is he going to turn on President Trump or turn on other people? I would say adamantly no,” he said.

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In pure “feel the Bern” fashion, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) postured his affinity for millennial culture on Wednesday by retweeting a quote from rap sensation Cardi B, who recently dropped her encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. presidents in an expansive interview with GQ.

In that interview, Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, took a deep dive into her self-professed obsession with the 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she said was the “real ‘Make America Great Again’ President because if it wasn’t for him, older Americans wouldn’t even get Social Security.”

A longtime advocate for expanding Social Security, Bernie retweeted that quote to champion his push for reform, which was a key part of his platform in his 2016 presidential bid.

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