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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

At a county board meeting Monday evening in Alamance County, North Carolina, a group of concerned citizens appeared before the board to request that a Confederate statue in the county be left alone, according to Times News, a local newspaper.

While no vote was taken on the removal of the monument, the request pushed one member of the Alamance County board to defend the statues as part of the community’s heritage and say that he is “not ashamed” of his great grandfather who had what he called “workers” on his farm, not slaves.

Commissioner Tim Sutton — who ran for his seat as a Republican in 2016, Times News reported — said he would never vote to remove Confederate statues, which have become a topic of debate at the local and national level after a recent white nationalist protest against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.

If it comes down, it goes back up. To heck with facts,” Sutton said, after other county commissioners responded to the request from the Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC) group. “The emotions have just gone haywire. I am not going to be a victim of political correctness. I am just not going to do it. Label me all you want, say what you will about me.”

He went on to say he wasn’t ashamed by his great-grandfather for doing “what he did” because the “workers” — whom he apparently wouldn’t call slaves — on his family farm were given land.

“It is my understanding that when (my great-grandfather) died, from Sarah, my grandmother, that some guys on the farm, you can call them slaves if you want to, but I would just call them workers, that they raised a good bit of my family,” he said, according to Times News.

“When the time came, my great-grandmother gave them land. I am not going to be an assault on logic, an assault on the history of this country and the heritage of this area and this country. Not going to do it,” he said.

This past weekend, opposing groups of protesters gathered at the Confederate soldier statue, which is 30-feet tall and located in the heart of downtown Graham, N.C. The protest was peaceful, local news outlet WFMY News reported.

While Sutton did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment, criminal justice writer Josie Duffy Rice confirmed on Twitter that she spoke with Sutton who said he wasn’t ashamed of his remarks and said the workers were “part of the family, and they were happy.”

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In the wake of mass resignations from one of President Donald Trump’s committees, actor Kal Penn said members of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities finally decided they didn’t want their names associated with Trump anymore.

The final straw was the President’s response to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he blamed both sides — white nationalists and counter-protesters — for the violence that broke out, resulting in the death of one counter-protester.

“I think most of us didn’t feel like it was appropriate anymore and didn’t want our names associated with him anymore,” Penn said, appearing on CNN’s “New Day.”

He said Trump’s attacks on transgender service members, his calls to end Obamacare and the pull out of the Paris Climate Accord were also major issues.

As cultural advisers to the President, many of whom were holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration, Penn said the group felt they needed to take a stand on Charlottesville because it was “very much a cultural issue.”

“His response was the worst of who we are and we felt that’s not who we are at all,” he said. “This was a point where an opportunity to resign en masse would send a stronger message about what I think the majority of Americans really are.”

On Friday, after Penn and the rest of the department turned in their letter of resignation, the White House responded vy saying the President had already decided not to renew funding for the committee.

Penn responded on Twitter mocking the President. 

He said that kind of behavior is consistent with how Trump has handled most backlash since moving into the oval office.

“Look, you’re dealing with a tiny fingered vulgarian who loves to tweet crazy things as his way of getting policy done. Come on. We’re better than that,” Penn said Tuesday, referencing “Spy” magazine, the defunct publication that consistently mocked Trump. 

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President Trump has reportedly considered pardoning former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court last year. But the controversial former law enforcement official has no idea if it will happen.

“So what’s the scoop? Will he pardon me?” Arpaio asked NBC News when the network reached him for comment. “Do you think he’ll do it tomorrow? Who knows, I don’t know.”

Trump is planning to be in Arpaio’s home state on Tuesday, hosting a 2020 campaign for himself at a rally in Phoenix. But the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff” won’t be attending. He wasn’t invited, but he told CNN he would be there if he got an invitation.

Last week, Trump told Fox News he was seriously considering pardoning Arpaio, which would erase the convictions against him for boasting about a court order that stops the detention of undocumented immigrants. He was also charged with forcing immigrants to sleep in tent cities, NBC News reported.

He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration,” Trump said. “He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him,” Trump told Fox.

Arpaio is well-liked in the conservative world. He is known for his aggressive immigration policies and in 2013, a judge found that he had discriminated against Latinos.

He endorsed President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

He served as the sheriff for 24 years and was not reelected last November.

“That’s a legal matter. So I’m not going to comment. But let me say: I don’t surrender. A lot of things about all this — you’ll probably not believe me — about the judges, the bias. You don’t think we’ve heard it all? No way,” he told NBC News.

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Bringing up the viral image of President Donald Trump staring at the sun without protective glasses during Monday’s solar eclipse, Fox News host Tucker Carlson appeared to joke that the move was “not a complete surprise” on his show Monday evening.

“Even the President saw it, but in a move that is not a complete surprise, he looked directly at the sun, without any glasses, perhaps the most impressive thing any President has ever done,” he said.

Carlson later confirmed that he was, in fact, kidding. “It was a test to see if liberals are really as slow and humorless as people claim,” he said in a statement. “Turns out they are.”

Twitter was debating whether Carlson was being sarcastic in his comments.

Watch the clip below:

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Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, apparently made her Instagram profile private Monday after bragging about flying on a government plane to Kentucky with her husband and tagging fashion brands — like Hermès, Tom Ford and Valentino — in her photo.

Followers posted comments on the photo, calling it distasteful for Linton to tag such high-end brands in her posts and saying sarcastically they were glad that taxpayers could pay for her trip. Linton argued back touting her and her husband’s wealth, The Washington Post reported.

“Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!” she said, according to a screen shot of the post. “Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”

A Treasury Department spokesperson said Monday’s flight to Kentucky — where Mnuchin advocated for congressional overhaul of the U.S. tax code — was approved by the proper channels and that the Mnuchins covered Linton’s travel, The Post reported.

Before being named secretary of the Treasury, Mnuchin was a Hollywood producer and a banker. Linton is a Scottish actress.

Late update: Linton apologized for her post on Tuesday, saying the comments were “inappropriate and highly insensitive.”

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After reversing course on his “original instinct” to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan and declaring on Tuesday an unannounced approach to military operations in the country, GOP lawmakers praised President Donald Trump for his new strategy.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, commended the President for his “big step in the right direction” and calling his decision “long overdue.”

During a prime time speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening, Trump outlined his plans for the U.S. in Afghanistan, saying he wanted the U.S. to focus on unannounced attacks on terrorist cells, nondisclosure of troop numbers and unfixed schedules. He said there were going to be several “pillars” to his strategy.

“The unfortunate truth is that this strategy is long overdue, and in the interim, the Taliban have made dangerous inroads. Nevertheless, I believe the President is now moving us well beyond the prior administration’s failed strategy of merely postponing defeat,” McCain said in a statement. “It is especially important that the newly announced strategy gives no timeline for withdrawal, rather ensures that any decision to reduce our commitment in the future will be based on conditions on the ground.

A frequent critic of Trump, McCain warned that the President would need to “conduct himself as a wartime commander-in-chief.”

“He must speak regularly to the American people, and to those waging this war on their behalf, about why we are fighting, why the additional sacrifices are worth it and how we will succeed,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made similar remarks, saying on Fox News Monday evening that he was “proud” of Trump.

“President Trump has the smarts and the moral courage to listen to his generals and take their advice rather than go the political way,” he said.

The President reversed Tuesday on the message he has consistently expressed as a candidate and a citizen — to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan — but said after speaking with generals and studying the conflict he came to “fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.”

After denouncing the President for not fully condemning the white nationalists in Charlottesville last weekend, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) touched on Trump’s speech during a town hall hosted by CNN.

He said he was in support of Trump’s plans to move away from former President Barack Obama’s timetable-based withdraw strategy.

“It (the Taliban) believe that we have some end date, some timetable, then they will wait us out and then they will come back and fill that vacuum with terror,” he said.

Other GOP lawmakers to support the Presidents plans include Sen. Bob Corker (R-SC) — who said he looks forward to “receiving additional details” but likes Trump’s new direction — and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

“The president gave a strong speech tonight, and I support his decision on Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks in that country, and it’s the one place where we’ve largely dislodged its network, though there’s clearly more work to be done after several recent years of drift,” Cotton said. “We cannot allow it to fall back into the hands of Islamist terrorists-because they’ll use it to launch even more attacks against us. The rise of ISIS in Iraq was a terrible lesson in the dangers of precipitous withdrawal.”

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The Secret Service announced Monday it has enough funding to protect President Donald Trump, his administration and 18 of Trump’s family members through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The announcement came after USA Today reported Monday that the agency has already met the cap for salary and overtime work that was supposed to last the whole year, for over 1,000 of its agents.

The strain is due in part to the size of Trump’s family and how much they travel, USA Today reported.

The Secret Service provides protection for 42 people under Trump, including 18 members of his family. Former President Barack Obama had 31 people under Secret Service’s protection.

The Secret Service has the funding it needs to meet all current mission requirements for the remainder of the fiscal year and compensate employees for overtime within statutory pay caps. The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017. Our agency experienced a similar situation in calendar year 2016 that resulted in legislation that allowed Secret Service employees to exceed statutory caps on pay,” Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said in a statement released Monday.

He said the department is working with the Department of Homeland Security, the administration and Congress to come up with a “legislative” solution.

Alles has been in talks with some lawmakers about raising the federally mandated salary and overtime compensation cap for agents from $160,000 a year to $187,000, USA Today reported.

The department is also hoping to hire more agents over the next several years to remedy the federal salary and overtime cap mandate. 

Alles combatted USA Today’s reporting, saying the issue is larger than the fact that Trump has a big family that likes to travel. The agency has had issues retaining staff for “nearly a decade.”

“This issue is not one that can be attributed to the current Administration’s protection requirements alone, but rather has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo,” he said.

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized President Donald Trump Monday, saying the President needs to learn to be a team player and “quit stepping on himself” if he wants to earn the support of Republicans in Congress.

Gingrich, a vocal supporter of Trump, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Monday and outlined three steps the President needs to take in order to unite with legislators, the first of which “he has already taken” by hiring John Kelly as his chief of staff.

“He understands Washington very well and he’s respected on both sides of the aisle. … Step number two, the President’s got to learn to think in team terms,” he said, equating the President’s White House strategy to that of his golf game.

The game he’s now in is a team sport, and I think he needs to think like a team leader and team builder, and that’s a very big change for somebody who is used to playing an individual sport.”

Referencing the President’s press conference last week — in which he diverted from the talking points to blame both white supremacists and counter-protesters for the violence that broke out at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — Gingrich said Trump has to “be more disciplined” about the things he says.

“The last thing he has got to do, I’m being very candid here, he has got to quit stepping on himself. He had a very good infrastructure press conference the other day, and then he stepped on it, blew it, guaranteed that it wouldn’t get covered,” he said. “And then I think generally, he could end up being a remarkably great President. But he’s got to make a couple of mid-course corrections.”

Watch the clip below:

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Former spokesperson for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Katrina Pierson, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning to defend keeping Confederate statues on display as politicians and activists call for their removal, saying Americans love their “good and bad” history.

“Those monuments have been there for a very long time and suddenly Nancy Pelosi wants to actually help these anarchists and these violent protesters tear down pieces of America, American culture and American history,” she said. “Americans actually love their history, their culture, good and bad, because it helps them learn and it helps keep people educated about why America is so great to begin with.”

John Hopkins University professor Wendy Osefo, the other guest, pushed back, saying people should understand the actual history behind many of the Confederate monuments, which she said were erected after 1865 as a way for the Ku Klux Klan to revolt against African Americans gaining political power.

So this is not a symbol of patriotism. This is a symbol of hatred and division. And while it is a piece of American history, it’s not necessarily the good part of American history. It’s actually nefarious,” Osefo said, saying the statues should be placed in museums, not on state grounds.

“It absolutely deserves a place because bad history is still good history for this country,” Pierson said.

“Slavery is good?” Osefo asked.

“Considering where we are today, where we are today. Absolutely,” Pierson said.

When asked to clarify what she meant, she said the statues should stay up as a history lesson to children.

“During those times, during those times — think about it for a second. Where would we be today if not for that Civil War? How would our children even know… How would our children even know how special and how wonderful this country is that we can even be having this discussion today?” she said.

“How special slavery is? Do you know how many people died?” Osefo said, prompting co-host Ainsley Earhardt to try to rein the two guests back in.

“This country was founded on slaveowners who actually put into place — to change the laws,” Pierson said.

“You’re completely out of line,” Osefo said.

Watch the interview below:

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The Republican National Committee, Republican Governors Association, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and at least 25 other congressional campaigns have spent a collective $1.3 million this year at Trump entities, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

The most popular Trump-owned location for Republican fundraising has been the President’s new hotel in Washington, D.C., where about 300 Trump supporters paid $35,000 each to attend an RNC event in late June.

Eighteen other political committees have rented out space at the D.C. hotel so far this year, including the Trump campaign, which has spent nearly $15,000 for lodging there in 2017.

Other GOP lawmakers whose campaign committees have rented out space at the Washington Trump hotel include Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

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