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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 on Monday claimed that the leaking problem within the White House is just another issue that’s been over-exaggerated by the “Fake News Media.”

But also, leakers are “traitors and cowards,” who will be caught, he said. 

The doublespeak comes as the White House grapples with the latest round of leaked information to the press, most notably, comments made during an internal meeting last week when White House special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for “dying.” 

Late last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly reprimanded the press shop for the leaked comment. The contents of that meeting were later leaked to Axios.

The White House on Monday said it had dealt with the Sadler matter “internally” and painted the scandal as a betrayal by Sadler’s colleagues.

Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who is married to White House aide Mercedes Schlapp, told CNN on Monday that Sadler is actually the “victim” because her private remarks were shared with the media. 

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Despite finishing last place in the West Virginia Republican primaries last week, Don Blankenship is still releasing advertisements attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who funneled thousands of dollars into that race to oppose him.

In a new 60-second spot shared on Blankenship’s Facebook page over the weekend, the failed Senate candidate attacked McConnell for making light of Blankenship’s “cocaine Mitch” moniker for the majority leader.

“Cocaine Mitch’s family shipping business was caught with cocaine onboard one of their ships,” the narrator of the advertisement says, while the screen displays a photo of McConnell’s face on a boat surrounded by cocaine. “That’s not funny to families who have lost loved ones to cocaine overdose deaths, it’s only funny to those making money by shipping and selling cocaine.”

Cocaine Mitch – Narcos

Posted by Don Blankenship on Saturday, May 12, 2018

The advertisement implies that McConnell started the cocaine spectacle when his campaign tweeted out a picture of McConnell photoshopped onto a Netflix advertisement for “Narcos,” a show about cocaine drug lord Pablo Escobar. The meme features McConnell’s face superimposed over Escobar’s body, surrounded by white power that’s meant to depict cocaine.

However, Blankenship was first to make drug jokes to assail McConnell, releasing a different ad on Facebook earlier this month about how he planned to “ditch” “cocaine Mitch” if he were elected to the Senate. Blankenship later clarified that he was referencing reports that drugs were discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

McConnell was a vocal opponent of Blankenship’s senate bid, claiming the ex-coal baron was too controversial of a candidate to win the general election against Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Blankenship has made several racially charged comments in the past and is most known for serving a one-year sentence in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that kill 29 of his workers. Blankenship has claimed the prison-stint was orchestrated by the “deep state.”

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The White House aide who reportedly mocked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for “dying” during an internal meeting last week is “a little bit of a victim here” because her comments were leaked to the press, according to the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“Kelly is my friend and I feel bad she is going through this,” Matt Schlapp told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday morning, referencing White House special assistant Kelly Sadler, who reportedly made the comment. “She showed character to immediately call to apologize, but she’s also a little bit of a victim here. I don’t blame anyone like you, Chris, for running with leaks out of the White House, it’s your job. … The problem is none of us were in that room. The people who leaked what she said are clearly people who have an animus against her and that’s the problem in this White House.”

Schlapp — whose wife Mercedes Schlapp works in the White House and told Axios this weekend that she supports Sadler — also defended Sadler over the remarks about McCain, claiming her comment may not have been a morbid joke, but rather a factual observation about how McCain, or a “replacement” senator, might vote on the nomination of Gina Haspel to run the CIA.

It is a perfectly logical thing to say, ‘Hey, will there be a McCain replacement? Will there be a McCain? Will he not be able to come to Washington?’ She could have meant it very matter of factually, she could’ve meant it in a different way,” he said, before noting that the White House made a mistake when it commented on the leak. “You will never be able to appropriately run your agenda and you shouldn’t comment on it.”

Schlapp’s remarks come as the White House faces criticism for not punishing Sadler or condemning her reported remarks about McCain. During a meeting discussing Haspel’s nomination last week, Sadler reportedly said that McCain’s opposition to the nomination didn’t matter because he’s “dying anyway.” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said over the weekend that Sadler’s comments were “awful,” but not necessarily a fireable offense. 

McCain has been battling brain cancer since last fall and is currently home in Arizona recovering from treatments.

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As President Donald Trump approaches the one-year anniversary of the launch of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, he’s grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks, The Washington Post reported.

The President regularly complains to aides that he needs better “TV lawyers” to properly defend him in the press and is growing increasingly weary of the probe, which he continues to call a “witch hunt.”

Many Trump aides told the Post that they are confident Trump will be exonerated from any wrongdoing, but are privately concerned that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will take out staples of Trump’s inner circle, specifically family members — Donald Trump Jr., his eldest son, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.

The President’s frustration with the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney’s house, hotel and office in recent weeks has not died down, according to aides who spoke with the Post. Trump reportedly vents about the raids “20 times a day,” one source said.

While the raid of Michael Cohen’s work and residences was directed by the Southern District of New York Attorney’s Office, it came after deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided to share information that he had received from Mueller about Cohen with that agency.

Read the Post’s full report on Trump’s thinking ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russia probe here. 

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Several White House staffers who reportedly regularly share information about the Oval Office with Axios told the news outlet that they often try to impersonate one another when leaking to the press to avoid getting caught.

“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” one current White House official told Axios.

Others reportedly said they’re motivated to leak information in order to settle personal vendettas and to “make sure there an accurate record of what’s really going on” in the President Trump administration. Another official told Axios that leaking is a form of self-perseveration in this White House, which he referred to as a “Mexican standoff.”

“You have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff.’ Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first,” the source said.

Read the full Axios report here.

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Fox News host Sean Hannity is one of a few dozen friends and family members who have direct access to President Donald Trump through his official line at the White House.

And he takes full advantage of that arrangement, according to New York Magazine.

Hannity tends to call Trump most weeknights after his Fox News show is over around 10:00 p.m. EST. Hannity first communicates with an operator, who then dispatches him to Trump, who, according to New York Magazine’s sources, is always by himself on the third floor of the executive residence by 7 p.m. EST most evenings.

The two usually speak about “the latest developments,” per New York Magazine, and sometimes talk several times a day. White House staff are aware of the regular phone calls because Trump will speak about their conversations or will even call Hannity from his desk phone while aides are present. Sources described Hannity as the “center” of Trump’s group of outside associates with whom he regularly contacts for affirmation.

“Generally, the feeling is that Sean is the leader of the outside kitchen cabinet,” one White House official told New York Magazine.

In April, The Washington Post reported that White House advisers refer to Hannity as the “shadow” chief of staff.

Read the full profile here.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is backpeddling on how he described President Donald Trump’s feelings about the Russia probe.

During an interview with NPR on Thursday evening, Kelly said Trump was “somewhat embarrassed, frankly” about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But he took it back on Friday.

After Trump’s announcement on drug price policy in the Rose Garden, Kelly told CNN that he was not doing an interview, but said “embarrassed” is not the word he word he wanted to use to describe the Russia probe. He told CNN “distracted” was a better descriptor.

 

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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:

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), on Friday responded to reports that a White House staffer made a joke about her father “dying,” by criticizing the “environment” of the White House.

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable and you can come into work the next day and still have a job, and that’s all I have to say about it,” she said Friday on ABC’s “The View.”

On Thursday, The Hill was first to report that White House special assistant Kelly Sadler mocked John McCain for “dying,” by saying his opinion on the nominee to run the CIA didn’t matter because he was “dying anyway.”

Watch Meghan McCain’s response below:

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is facing strident backlash for making crass comments about undocumented immigrants.

Again.

During an interview NPR published Thursday evening, Kelly said that the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants are not “bad people” or “criminals,” they’re just “rural people” who lack skills and education and don’t assimilate well. 

Here’s the full comment, via NPR:

“Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. … But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. … The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

Kelly was responding to a question about Attorney General Jeff Sessions new “zero tolerance” policy for crossings at the border.

Some former Obama administration officials and journalists lashed out against the basis of his claims.

Thursday is not the first time Kelly has come under fire for his comments about immigrants. During a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Kelly reportedly said that some young undocumented immigrants who are eligible to sign up for DACA benefits are “too lazy to get off their asses” and enroll.

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