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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

During a new sit-down interview with NPR published Thursday evening, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that despite the President’s consistent insistence that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt” President Trump is also “embarrassed” by the whole ordeal.

“It may not be a cloud, but certainly the President is, you know, somewhat embarrassed, frankly,” he said. “When world leaders come in, it’s kind of like you know Bibi Netanyahu is here and he who’s under investigation himself and it’s like, you know, you walk in and you know the first couple of minutes of every conversation might revolve around that kind of thing.”

When asked if he would consider special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign a “witch hunt,” as Trump so faithfully reiterates, he said he believes there is “nothing there.”

“Something that has gone on this long without any real meat on the bone, it suggests to me that there is nothing there, relative to our president.”

Listen to the full interview here.

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Michael Cohen was pitching his close access to President Donald Trump to private companies and potential clients without the President’s knowledge, according to Trump’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“I talked to the President only one time about this and that was the first day it came out and he wasn’t aware of that situation that now, I guess, the facts are getting a little contorted,” Giuliani told CNN Thursday.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday evening that Cohen bragged about his access to Trump and even showed pictures of himself and Trump to potential clients. A Republican strategist who spoke with CNN said that Cohen would tell clients that they should “fire” their current lawyers and hire him because “I’m closest to the President. I’m his personal lawyer.”

Trump “wasn’t aware of the situation in which he got money from any of that group that was mentioned originally,” Giuliani added. “I doubt it. Yeah, I doubt it. He didn’t know about any of the original stuff.”

It was revealed on Tuesday that several companies paid Cohen’s consulting firm in order to gain insight into the Trump administration, including AT&T and the American affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration.

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Town & Country magazine apologized to Monica Lewinsky in a tweet on Thursday after reportedly uninviting her from an event because former President Bill Clinton decided to attend.

On Wednesday, Lewinsky cryptically called out the magazine on Twitter for rescinding her invitation to the Town & Country Philanthropy Summit, which she said was centered on “social change.”

“Emily Post would def not approve,” she said, referencing the author famous for writing about etiquette.

According to Town & Country’s Twitter, Clinton was invited to introduce guest speaker Emma Gonzalez, who has become well-known for her advocacy work for gun control following an attack at her high school in Florida in February when a former student opened fire and killed 17 people.

Clinton’s press secretary said on Twitter Wednesday that the former president was unaware of Lewinsky’s “invitation or it being rescinded.”

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Wednesday called on his Senate colleagues to reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA, saying her “refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” he said in a statement released Wednesday. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.” 

McCain’s dissent isn’t entirely surprising given his history as a decorated veteran who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years and was tortured.

During her hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, Haspel was peppered with questions about her role in the George W. Bush administration’s ruthless interrogation program, which used tactics like waterboarding to torture captives into submission. Haspel vowed to never employ a torture program as head of the CIA, but would not answer questions about its immorality.    

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While pitching potential clients on his access to President Donald Trump last year, Michael Cohen reportedly showed clients photos of himself and Trump and bragged about his access to the President, The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening.

“I’m crushing it,” Cohen reportedly said, according to an associate who spoke to Cohen in the summer of 2017 who spoke with the Post.

Cohen would meet with potential clients like AT&T and Novartis — which reportedly ended up paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars — in his office on the 23rd floor of the Rockefeller Center in New York City last summer. Cohen would reportedly brag about how close he was with Trump and frequently mention that he was still Trump’s personal lawyer, associates told the Post. Cohen even asked people to share news articles that referred to him as Trump’s “fixer.”

It was revealed on Tuesday that several companies paid Cohen’s consulting firm in order to gain insight into the Trump administration, including the American affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration. 

Read the Post’s full story here.

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AT&T said in a statement released Wednesday evening that it had been approached by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators last year and had “cooperated fully” with their requests for information about payments they made to President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

In a message sent to employees on Tuesday, the telecom company explained that Cohen’s firm was just one of several other companies that AT&T had been paying to better understand the new administration.

“When we were contacted by the Special Counsel’s office regarding Michael Cohen, we cooperated fully, providing all information requested in November and December of 2017,” the company said in a written statement provided to Dallas Morning News. “A few weeks later, our consulting contract with Cohen expired at the end of the year. Since then, we have received no additional questions from the Special Counsel’s office and consider the matter closed.”

It was revealed on Tuesday that AT&T was one of several companies to pay Cohen’s consulting firm in order to gain insight into the Trump administration, including the American affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch who attended Trump’s inauguration.

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In his new book “The Restless Wave,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) confirmed and defended his decision to give the controversial Christopher Steele dossier to former FBI director James Comey, saying some of the allegations “had to be investigated” and that he “did what duty demanded.”

“I discharged that obligation, and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell,” McCain wrote in his new book, according to an excerpt published in The Guardian Wednesday.

McCain said he agreed to read a copy of the dossier and found the allegations “disturbing,” but couldn’t verify it, so he put it in a safe in his office and called Comey to set up a meeting.

I went to see him at his earliest convenience, handed him the dossier, explained how it had come into my possession,” he wrote. “I said I didn’t know what to make of it, and I trusted the FBI would examine it carefully and investigate its claims. With that, I thanked the director and left. The entire meeting had probably not lasted longer than ten minutes. I did what duty demanded I do.”

The dossier then went on to become the launching point for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, both by congressional committees and a special counsel, which was appointed after President Trump fired Comey. The dossier includes several salacious claims about Trump’s behavior and interactions with Russian officials. Many of the claims have not been verified.

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The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether Michael Cohen’s banking records were leaked after details about Cohen’s financial records were made public Tuesday, the inspector general’s office confirmed to TPM on Wednesday.

The Washington Post was first to report that the inspector general’s office had opened the investigation into possible leaks of Cohen’s banking information.

Rich Delmar, the counsel to the Treasury Department inspector general, told TPM that in response to New York Times reports on payments that Cohen allegedly received from a Russian oligarch’s U.S. affiliate company, the inspector general is looking into whether Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on Cohen’s banking record had been “improperly disseminated.” Banks are required by law to flag to the Treasury Department any transactions of $10,000 or more that appear abnormal, the Post reported.

Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has long been calling for the release of SARs related to Cohen’s bank transactions, was first to allege on Tuesday that Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg made payments to Cohen through a U.S. affiliate of Vekselberg’s firm. CNN and other news outlets later confirmed the payments to Cohen linked to Vekselberg. The Russian oligarch attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration and was reportedly questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team at a New York airport this year.

Avenatti has expressed particular interest in a SAR regarding Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels just before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an affair with Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Cohen’s bank flagged that transaction as suspicious.

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“Cocaine Mitch” beat Don Blankenship, West Virginia’s controversial Republican Senate primary candidate, at his own game on Tuesday evening.

After Blankenship lost the GOP primary Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) 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.

“Thanks for playing, Don,” the meme said, referencing Blankenship, who has attacked McConnell repeatedly in recent weeks, most notably giving him the moniker “cocaine Mitch.”

After his third place finish in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary on Tuesday evening, Blankenship mused whether he’d gone too far in some of his attacks against McConnell, who poured an aggressive amount of cash into the primary race to keep Blankenship from winning. McConnell has been vocal about his opposition to the controversial candidate, who served a one-year sentence in prison for his role in failing to prevent a mine accident that killed 29 workers.

Blankenship responded to McConnell’s opposition with a series of odd and racially charged insults, like calling McConnell’s father-in-law a “China person.” In a campaign ad released last week, Blankenship gave McConnell his “cocaine Mitch” nickname and vowed to “ditch Mitch” if he were elected to the Senate. The drug dig was in reference to a 2014 report in The Nation about drugs that were discovered on a shipping vessel owned by the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife.

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Freshly sworn-in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return to the U.S. early Thursday morning with three Americans who were being held in captivity in North Korea, according to a tweet from the President and reports from several news outlets.

President Trump said the “three wonderful gentlemen” seem to be “in good health.” Pompeo was in North Korea to help prepare for the upcoming summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during which the two leaders plan to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The captives were returned as an apparent gesture of goodwill on Kim’s part ahead of the summit, according to the Washington Post.

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