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

Valerie Plame, the former CIA operative at the center of the case against a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, said Friday morning that President Donald Trump’s impending decision to pardon the aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was about no one but Donald Trump.

“This is definitely not about me. It’s absolutely not about Scooter Libby. This is about Donald Trump and his future,” she said Friday appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “What he’s putting out there is the idea that you can pardon people for serious crimes against national security. I think he has an audience of three, perhaps more. That would be Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.”

She said the “message” being sent is “you can commit perjury and I will pardon you if it protects me and I deem that you are loyal to me.”

The White House announced Friday afternoon that Trump had pardoned Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff who was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in 2007. The conviction stemmed from a probe into the leak of the identity of Plame, who had been working for the CIA as an undercover agent overseas. Plame was married to Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and a critic of the George W. Bush administration’s case for the war in Iraq. Libby was never charged with leaking Plame’s name to the press.

Plame drew parallels between Libby’s case and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, claiming Trump was attempting to send a message to Flynn and Manafort about his pardoning power as president. 

Watch a clip of the interview below:

Read More →

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:

President Donald Trump pardoned former Vice President Dick Cheney aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby on Friday.

Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in 2007 stemming from a probe into the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, who had been working undercover overseas. Plame was married to Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and a critic of the George W. Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

While Libby was never charged with leaking Plame’s name to the press, he was indicted in 2005 and sentenced to 2 and a half years in prison and a $250,000 fine in 2007. After the sentencing, Cheney asked Bush to pardon Libby, but Bush would only grant him a commutation, which allowed him to avoid jail time.

In a statement Friday Trump said he had “heard” that Libby had been treated unfairly.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby,” Trump said, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly.  Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

Read the full statement below:

“Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) to I. “Scooter” Lewis Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Richard Cheney, for convictions stemming from a 2007 trial.  President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s sentence shortly after his conviction.  Mr. Libby, nevertheless, paid a $250,000 fine, performed 400 hours of community service, and served two years of probation.

“In 2015, one of the key witnesses against Mr. Libby recanted her testimony, stating publicly that she believes the prosecutor withheld relevant information from her during interviews that would have altered significantly what she said.  The next year, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously reinstated Mr. Libby to the bar, reauthorizing him to practice law.  The Court agreed with the District of Columbia Disciplinary Counsel, who stated that Mr. Libby had presented “credible evidence” in support of his innocence, including evidence that a key prosecution witness had “changed her recollection of the events in question.

“Before his conviction, Mr. Libby had rendered more than a decade of honorable service to the Nation as a public servant at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the White House.  His record since his conviction is similarly unblemished, and he continues to be held in high regard by his colleagues and peers.    

“In light of these facts, the President believes Mr. Libby is fully worthy of this pardon.  “I don’t know Mr. Libby,” said President Trump, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly.  Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

Read More →

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, taunted the President on Friday for taking “two and a half days” to secure counsel for a hearing for his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

“It’s our view that at the very moment that those raids were conducted on Monday, that a non-waivable conflict of interest occurred between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump that mandated, required, that he get new counsel. So I’m not surprised by that,” he told reporters outside the a Manhattan federal court Friday. “What I’m surprised at is it appears to have taken him two, two and a half days to get new counsel in place. In my view, he should have had new counsel by the close of business Monday.”

“It’s shocking to me that the President of the United States is not able to obtain competent legal counsel for 48 hours after the raid was made,” he continued. “That’s rather shocking to me.”

In recent weeks, reports have surfaced alleging President Trump has had difficulties securing attorneys to join his legal defense in the Russia probe. At the Friday hearing for Cohen, Trump was represented by a new lawyer, Joanna Hendon, a partner at the New York-based Spears and Imes firm.

At Friday’s hearing Cohen sought to keep the government from using the materials that were seized when his office, hotel and house were raided by the FBI on Monday until after he had a chance to review them.

As Avenatti confirmed Friday, among the items seized were documents related to a $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Daniels just before the 2016 election. The payment, along with a non-disclosure agreement that Daniels signed, were intended to keep Daniels quiet about an affair she had with Trump a decade ago. Cohen has claimed he made the payment without Trump’s knowledge, but Daniels is suing Trump because he didn’t signed the NDA, making the agreement void, she claims.

“We’re here to ensure that this process is as public and as open as possible,” Avenatti said. “And we’re here to ensure that the American people have as much access to documents and information concerning this critical investigation as possible. We’re also here to support the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s office from the southern district of New York to ensure that this privilege review is conducted in a fair and equitable manner, that above all else, maintains integrity of these documents.

Read More →

President Donald Trump asked former FBI director James Comey if he looked “like a guy who needs hookers” after Comey informed Trump about the most salacious details of the now famous and largely unverified Christopher Steele dossier, ABC News reported. 

According to Comey, the conversation took place not long after the 2016 election and he scheduled a meeting with Trump to “alert” him to the allegations.

“I started to tell him what the allegation was, that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had filmed the episode and he interrupted very defensively and asked: ‘Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?’ And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically,” Comey told ABC News in a clip, broadcast this morning, from the highly anticipated interview set to air Sunday. “I didn’t answer that and then I just moved on and explained, ‘Sir I’m not saying we credit this, I’m not saying we believe it, I just thought it very important that you know.’”

Comey called the conversation an “out-of-body experience” and said the President brought up the topic again during a private dinner at the White House weeks later and asked Comey to investigate the allegation because he didn’t want his wife, Melania Trump, to believe the claims. He said Trump told him “If there’s even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that’s true, that’s terrible,” Comey said.

“And I remember thinking, ‘How could your wife think there’s a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?’ I’m a flawed human being, but there is literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true,” Comey said. “So, what kind of marriage to what kind of man does your wife think [that] there’s only a 99 percent chance you didn’t do that?”

Watch the excerpt below:

Read More →

The raid on President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer earlier this week “significantly complicated” negotiations between Trump’s legal team and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators over a potential presidential interview, NBC News reported Thursday evening.

According to several people familiar with the matter who spoke with NBC, both sides are moving forward with the presumption that a Trump interview will likely not take place. Trump’s lawyers and Mueller’s team were reportedly zeroing in on the final details of a potential interview, including negotiating the length of the discussion. One source told NBC that the President’s legal team was talking about hiring someone new to help prepare Trump for an interview.

Now that the interview is likely off, Mueller’s obstruction of justice case may close more quickly than expected because the special counsel’s team won’t need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what Trump would have said during it, NBC reported.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb told NBC Thursday that it was “untrue” that the interview will likely not happen.

Trump has repeatedly publicly claimed he would enthusiastically sit for an interview with Mueller, but he has been increasingly irked by the probe. His frustration increased this week after the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s home, hotel and office. While the raid was executed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI agents received the warrants after receiving a referral from Mueller.

The FBI reportedly seized documents related to payments made just before the 2016 election to two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — who allege they had affairs with Trump.

Read the full NBC report here.

Read More →

President Donald Trump responded to former FBI director James Comey’s “pee tape” claims with a rage-filled round of tweets Friday morning, calling Comey a “LEAKER,” a “LIAR,” and an “untruthful slime ball” and saying it was “my great honor to fire” him.

According to reports about Comey’s new memoir, and an excerpt of his upcoming interview with ABC News, Trump asked Comey to investigate claims made in the now-famous Christoper Steele dossier that Trump paid prostitutes to pee on each other while he was in Moscow in 2013 and that Russians recorded the encounter.

Comey claimed that Trump was concerned that his wife Melania Trump thought the reports about the “pee tapes” claims were even “one percent true.” He reportedly asked Comey to try to disprove the claims.

Comey told ABC News that he still has his doubts about whether the incident happened.

“I honestly never thought this words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,” Comey said, according to an excerpt of the interview. “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

The rest of the ABC interview will air on Sunday as Comey launches his publicity tour for his new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” set to release Tuesday.

Read More →

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly had a penchant for recording conversations with associates, and that has Trump allies are concerned.

Following the FBI’s raid on Cohen’s house, hotel and office this week, Trump associates are questioning whether agents seized those tapes, which he was known for saving digital copies of, The Washington Post reported.

According to people who interacted with Cohen and who spoke to the Washington Post, Cohen would record business and political conversations, save the tapes and often play them for colleagues. He was also reportedly known for using taped business calls for leverage. Trump campaign staffers often avoided him because of his reputation for secretly recording discussions, according to the Post’s sources.

While it is unknown whether Cohen recorded conversations with Trump, the President has a times baselessly bragged that he had recordings of conversations, as he did after he fired former FBI director James Comey.

As the Post noted, when The New York Times reported last year that Trump had asked Comey for loyalty during a one-on-one dinner and Comey declined, Trump tweeted suggesting that he may have “tapes” of their conversation. After raising speculation over whether he actually recorded the conversation with Comey, Trump tweeted, after a full month, saying he he didn’t know if there actually were tapes.

During the Cohen raid, FBI agents reportedly seized documents related to payments made to two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — who have alleged affairs with Trump, just before the 2016 election.

Read More →

The White House is privately launching new efforts to publicly undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by working with President Trump’s allies to paint Rosenstein as too conflicted to properly oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, CNN reported Thursday evening.

The talking points of the effort are still in their infancy, according to people familiar with the effort who spoke with CNN, but the White House has asked Trump associates to not only undermine Rosenstein in public, but also to attempt to cast Rosenstein and former FBI Director James Comey as close colleagues, even though Rosenstein helped carry out Comey’s firing. A source close to Rosenstein told CNN that the two are not friends.

CNN’s sources say that the White House is hoping if Comey and Rosenstein are seen as allies, Trump’s supporters can argue that Mueller’s expansive Russia probe could be seen as retribution for Comey’s firing. A White House spokesperson, however, told CNN that Trump allies’ seemingly coordinated calls for Rosenstein’s firing are not part of a unified effort.

The increased animosity toward Rosenstein stems from Trump’s frustration over the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s house, hotel and office earlier this week. While the raid was executed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI agents received the warrants after getting information from Mueller’s team. Trump has become increasingly convinced that Mueller and Rosenstein have taken the investigation too far and is reportedly still irate about the raid.

“He’ll be pissed about it until he dies,” one source told CNN, referencing the Cohen raid.

Read the full CNN story here.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to push back on The Washington Post’s report that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was influencing how the White House handles special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

On Wednesday night The Washington Post reported that Bannon has been quietly pitching White House aides on a plan to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Ty Cobb, the lawyer who is overseeing the White House’s response to the Russia investigations.

In a Thursday afternoon tweet Trump did not defend Rosenstein, but he did suggest that he’s not planning to fire Mueller, and he defended Cobb, whom he called “my Special Counsel.”

The comment comes as reports surface alleging Trump has become increasingly interested in firing Mueller. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump made moves to fire Mueller in December, but refrained. Trump denied those reports Thursday morning by attacking the Times as “fake news.”

After the FBI raided his personal attorney’s office, hotel and home on Monday, Trump told reporters that he had been encouraged by “people” to fire Mueller, but only offered: “We’ll see what happens.”

Read More →