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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

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators met with President Trump lawyers on the same day as the FBI’s raid of Trump’s personal lawyer’s house, hotel and office this week, CNN reported.

According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with CNN, the meeting was previously scheduled as part of the efforts to prepare Trump for a potential interview with Mueller. No formal decision has been made about whether Trump will agree to be interviewed by Mueller.

The FBI raided Trump’s layer Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel on Tuesday and seized documents, including information about Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election. The money was reportedly used to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade ago.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning suggested that the U.S. plans to strike Syria in retaliation for what world leaders suspect was a chemical attack on the Syrian people over the weekend.

On Wednesday, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon reportedly warned that Russia would shoot down any missile launched at Syria and would target the launching area, according to the Associated Press. Trump responded to those warnings via Twitter, telling Russia to “get ready” because an attack with “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles was imminent.

“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” he said, referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump also lamented that the U.S.’s relationship with Russia is “worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” He claimed there was “no reason for this.”

While Russia and Syria have denied the suspected chemical weapon attack that killed at least 40 people in a rebel-held town near Damascus, the United Nations health agency on Wednesday said it had received reports from its partners in Syria that said at least 500 of the patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals, according to the AP. The report did not confirm outright that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.

Trump’s tweet confirms reports that the U.S. is at least mulling retaliating against Syria. According to the AP, the U.S., France and Britain are in extensive conversations about launching a strike as early as the end of the week, likely launching from France as the French president doesn’t need parliamentary approval to launch a military strike. The three countries are considering a military option that would be more damaging than just one retalitatory strike, according to an official who spoke with the AP.

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The White House on Tuesday confirmed its stance that President Donald Trump has the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

When asked outright if Trump “believe(s) he has the power to fire” Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “certainly.”

“Certainly he believes he has the power to do so,” she said, after deflecting questions about whether the Mueller-directed raid of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s house, hotel and office was actually an “attack on this country,” as Trump said it was.

“I think the President has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far,” she said.

In the past, Trump has attempted to tip-toe around his apparent desire to fire the special counsel, but has in recent been a bit more explicit. In March, Trump slammed former FBI Director James Comey in a tweet and specifically called out Mueller for the first time, saying his probe should “never have been started.”

After news of the Cohen raid broke on Monday, Trump said that people have told him he should fire Mueller, but stopped short of confirming his reported interest in doing so.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said Monday.

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Following news that the FBI raided the office, home and hotel room of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen on Monday, Trump had an outburst in front of reporters, calling the raid an “attack” on America, while musing that “many people” had told him that he “should fire” special counsel Robert Mueller.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had a simple message for Trump on Tuesday: “Don’t even think about it.”

Speaking from the Senate floor, Schumer called Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election “critical to the health of our democracy” and demanded the investigation “must be allowed to continue.”

Special counsel Mueller has uncovered a deep and detailed pattern of Russian interference in our elections,” Schumer said. “It has led to several indictments and guilty pleas. It has also led the Trump administration itself to level sanctions against Russian individuals for meddling in our elections. That is proof positive that Mueller’s investigation is not a so-called witch hunt.”

Schumer also criticized Trump for calling the FBI raid an “attack on our country” and suggesting the only person “engaging in an attack on American values” is “unfortunately President Trump.”

“With due respect, President Trump, America has been around for over two and a half centuries,” he said. “An investigation of your personal attorney is not an attack on our country. The Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor was an attack on our country. 9-11 was an attack on our country. When Russia interfered with our elections, that was an attack on our country. Investigating your personal lawyer with a high standard to be met is certainly not an attack on our country.”

Trump’s frustration with the raid — which came as a directive from Mueller — still isn’t sitting well with the President, following his Monday meltdown. On Tuesday morning he tweeted claiming “attorney-client privilege is dead!” and apparently calling Mueller’s investigation “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”

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Jamie Allman, a conservative commentator for a St. Louis Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate station has reportedly resigned following his Twitter threats to sexually assault Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg, who has increasingly become the target of conservatives and the far-right’s ire.

“We have accepted Mr. Allman’s resignation and his show has been cancelled,” Ronn Torossian, a public relations executive who is working as a spokesman for the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, told TPM in an email Tuesday. Torossian did not confirm the correlation between Allman’s tweets and his resignation.

In a tweet posted two weeks ago, Allman said that he had been “hanging out getting ready to ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass tomorrow.” The tweet has since been deleted, but The Riverfront Times and St. Louis Dispatch published the content of the tweet over the weekend.

The conservative commentator resigned as advertisers reportedly started pulling their support from his TV and popular radio show, according to the St. Louis Dispatch, which compiled tweets from several local businesses who said they were cutting ties with the conservative commentator.

Allman has reportedly attacked Hogg on his former KDNL show, the “Allman Report,” as well. In a segment last week, Allman caviled about Hogg and his recent tiff with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who lost advertisers for her show after Hogg called Ingraham out for her tweet mocking him for not getting into college.

In the segment, Allman said Hogg couldn’t complain about criticism just because he’s a high school student.

“We have to be allowed to refute what you’re saying… or to respond to it, you can’t be all the time grabbing your blanket when the going gets tough,” he said, according to the Riverfront Times.

Hogg has been the subject of conservative ire following his outspoken comments about gun controlling after a former student opened fire at his high school in February, killing 17 people. Hogg and his classmates led a nationwide school walk out and a march on Washington, D.C. to oppose gun violence.

Sinclair — which currently owns 173 local TV stations in 81 broadcast markets across the U.S. — has recently come under increased scrutiny for its corporate policy that mandates local news anchors to read scripted promotional material on the air. A video compilation of dozens of anchors from Sinclair-owned stations reading the same script denouncing “fake stories” went viral in recent weeks, highlighting the conservative-leaning company’s influence across the U.S.

Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media is currently being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to determine whether the $3.9 billion buy-out is in the public’s best interest. If the merger is approved, Sinclair will reach more than 70 percent of households across America.

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President Donald Trump’s indignation over the FBI’s raid of his personal attorney’s office, home and hotel didn’t ease over night and spilled out on to Twitter early Tuesday morning.

After having a bit of a meltdown while speaking to reporters Monday during a meeting with the Vice President and top military and national security officials at the White House, where he called the raid “disgraceful” and a “whole new level of unfairness,” Trump tweeted Tuesday that “attorney-client privilege is dead” and proclaimed special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!”

The New York Times was first to report the raid on Monday, in which officials seized records related to several topics, including materials relevant to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election and a $150,000 payment Ukraine to a Trump charity. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance law violations.

Formal federal prosecutors and criminal justice experts told TPM on Monday that the FBI likely had to jump through a series of hoops to be authorized to seize an attorney’s records that would normally be protected under attorney-client privilege.

Per TPM’s Monday reporting:

The Justice Department has extensive rules about seizing records of lawyers that could typically fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors are required to consult with the the Criminal Division at Main Justice, and to get the sign off of the U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation or the relevant assistant attorney general. It’s also recommended that a special team of attorneys who are walled off from the prosecutors overseeing the inquiry be set up to review the potentially privileged documents.

Read the TPM’s full analysis of the raid here.

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Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson is taking the fall for the controversial, hefty raises given to two of Scott Pruitt’s closest aides who joined the EPA after working with Administrator Pruitt in Oklahoma.

The Atlantic was first to report on Monday, citing EPA internal emails, that Pruitt was aware of the new salaries for aides Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. CNN obtained those emails, which reportedly indicate at least twice that “the administrator” had signed off on the salary increases.

In one email between Greenwalt and the EPA’s human resources department, Greenwalt asks what her salary increase will be, according to CNN. When HR responds to the email saying there wouldn’t be one, Greenwalt says that “the administrator” told her she would have a raise. An EPA spokesperson told CNN that there’s no way to prove what Greenwalt said was true, and claimed that people commonly claiming that “the administrator said this or that,” the EPA spokeswoman told CNN.

A second email from the liaison between the White House and the EPA mentioned that the White House was concerned about the raises, but said the administrator had said to move forward with it, according to CNN. The same spokesperson told CNN that that person meant to say “the administrator’s office,” not Pruitt personally.

Pruitt’s chief of staff has said that the responsibility for the raises falls solely on himself and the EPA’s human resources department, distancing Pruitt from the decision entirely, according to Politico.

After news of the raises — of $56,765 for Greenwalt and $28,130 for Hupp — became public, Pruitt gave an interview with Fox News where he said he had no knowledge of the salary increases until reports came out. The raises have since been reversed.

Democratic senators have asked the department’s inspector general to probe the raises after The Atlantic reported that Pruitt used a provision under the Safe Drinking Water Act to move forward with the raises, which allows the administrator to appoint 30 staffers without the White House’s permission.

The controversial raises are just one of many scandals plaguing Pruitt’s office in recent weeks as reports indicate that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly wants Pruitt out. 

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Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who ran with Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) in 2008, said Sunday she would fun for office “again in a heartbeat.”

Palin was asked about her 2008 bid by Fox News host Mark Levin during his show “Life, Liberty and Levin” Sunday and whether she was “glad” she ran for vice president.

Oh yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she told Levin. “I woulda pushed back harder on some of those who were trying to mold me into something that I was not during the campaign. I would’ve pushed back and gotten more truth out there, but heck yeah.”

Palin told Levin she was “surprised” by some of the negative press she got while running with McCain given her “very high” ratings in her home state of Alaska where she was serving as governor. She said she was “mostly shocked” by how little the McCain-Palin campaign did to defend her.

I was surprised because in Alaska, as I mentioned, my ratings were very high, things were going well in the court of public opinion so I was mostly shocked, Mark, that the campaign itself didn’t defend against a lot of the lies that were being spewed during the campaign, and then when that narrative was created, they created a caricature of Sarah Palin and the Palin family, once that bell is wrung, it’s hard to unring,” she said.

“That aspect was perplexing and frustrating,” she continued. “But I have learned a lot in these 10 years and I don’t put up with as much as I had back then and I don’t let things bother me. I obviously didn’t let a lot of things bother me then either otherwise I’d be crawled up in a fetal position under that table and just want to go away.”

During the 2008 campaign Palin was criticized in the media — and mocked on late night — for a plethora of shortcomings, including a lack of foreign policy knowledge, outrageous wardrobe spending and a penchant for lashing out during impromptu press appearances.

H/t: The Hill.

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Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) on Sunday offered a simple solution for the “chucklehead” Environmental Protection Agency chief to avoid the scandal that has plagued his office in recent weeks.

“If you don’t need to fly first class, don’t,” Kennedy said of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s penchant for pricey travel Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Don’t turn on the siren on your SUV just to watch people move over, you represent the President of the United States. All of this behavior is juvenile, it’s distracting from the business that we’re trying to do for the American people.”

Kennedy offered Pruitt some advice — “stop acting like a chucklehead, stop the unforced error, stop leading with your chin” — but stopped short of suggesting Pruitt should resign, offering that that decision is “up to the President.”

“I know what I would do if I were Mr. Pruitt, I would call a press conference tomorrow and I would say, ‘Okay let’s talk about your criticisms of me,’” he said. “I would do a full blown press conference and say ‘Okay here are your criticisms. That’s fair. I’m going to stop doing it. Here’s what I think is not fair.’ But, but these people are hurting the President and I’m not saying he’s not a good person. But — but the appearance of impropriety matters. And you can’t put lipstick on a pig.”

Kennedy also argued that “some” of the attacks on Pruitt are politically motivated, but “all of it isn’t,” specifically calling out Pruitt for reportedly renting a room in a house owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist for $50 a night last year.

“Why do you want — in his position — why do you want to rent an apartment from a lobbyist for God’s sake?” he said. “There are a lot of problems we can’t solve. But you can behave. I’m not, I don’t mean to denigrate Mr. Pruitt, but doggone it he represents the President of the United States and it is hurting his boss and it needs to stop.”

Pruitt has faced widespread scrutiny for his housing last year, his reported use of round-the-clock security agents — who he claims he needs because he’s faced unprecedented threats, like people yelling curse words at him in public — and his excessive spending on ventures like first class flights and a sound proof phone booth.

Pruitt has also been lambasted for reportedly requesting the use of sirens to get through D.C. traffic and defying the White House in order to give two close aides a significant raise.

While four Republicans have now called for Pruitt’s resignation, President Donald Trump last week tweeted about Pruitt, indicating the embattled EPA chief was secure in his position and praising Pruitt for his work in rolling back environmental regulations.

Watch a video of Kennedy’s comments below:

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Sinclair Broadcast Group has allowed a critical advertisement by a liberal consumer watchdog group to run, but it is running its own defense before and after the negative ad, CNN reported.

The 30 second ad produced by Allied Progress condemns Sinclair for mandating its anchors to read scripted promotional content, specifically citing the videos that went viral in recent weeks showing local news anchors parroting the same message attacking one-sided journalism. Allied Progress’ message also calls on viewers to stop Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media, which would expand Sinclair’s reach to 72 percent of American households.

“Americans trust local media to deliver objective news about the communities where they live and work, but those watching scores of Sinclair stations around the country last week were instead force-fed politically inspired, anti-media propaganda that should have earned President Trump a writing credit,” Executive Director of Allied Progress said in a statement to TPM when the ads went out last week. 

“That so many local anchors would have to choose between providing for their families and demonstrating sound journalistic integrity only underscores the importance of stopping Sinclair’s stated goal of controlling every local news station in the country. The Sinclair/Tribune merger must be rejected,” he said.

The 30 second advertisement —which is running on four Sinclair-owned stations in Washington, D.C., Des Moines, Seattle and Baltimore — is preceded by a 15 second Sinclair ad that states the company thinks “the ad is misleading” but they wanted to let viewers decide.

This station, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, is proud to present both sides of issues. For that reason, we have agreed to air the commercial you are about to see, opposing Sinclair’s acquisition of additional television stations,” the Sinclair ad says, according to CNN. “We think the ad is misleading, but wanted to let you decide. Thank you.”

The Allied Progress advertisement follows that message, warning viewers that “this” is what happens when “local news isn’t local,” before showing the now famous Deadspin compilation of videos of anchors around the country assailing “fake” stories and bias in journalism. The ad then goes on to ask viewers to oppose the merger, calling it “extremely dangerous to our Democracy.”

 

Right after that ad, the following message is read, via CNN:

“The misleading ad you just saw focused on a brief promotional message that simply said we’re a source for truthful news. It ignored thousands of hours of local news we produce each year to keep you informed. The ad was purchased by a group known for its liberal bias, and we hope you won’t buy into the hysteria and hype.” 

Sinclair has come under fire in recent weeks for its mandated promotional messages that require local news anchors to read scripted content, often with a conservative leaning message. The Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department are reviewing the Tribune-Sinclair merger to determine whether it’s in the public’s best interest.

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