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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

A 20-year-old Oregon man on Monday filed lawsuits against Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods for refusing to sell him a firearm, just a week after both retailers announced they would not sell guns to anyone under the age of 21.

Tyler Watson, a 20-year-old from Gold Hill, Oregon, alleged in lawsuits filed separately against both retailers that they discriminated against him based on his age when they refused to sell him firearms.

Watson claimed that he attempted to purchase a .22 caliber Ruger rifle from Dick’s on Feb. 24 and then tried to buy a gun from Walmart on March 3. According to the lawsuit, both retailers refused to sell Watson a firearm because of his age. Oregon state law allows anybody to purchase rifles or shotguns starting at the age of 18, but federal law requires a person to be 21 in order to purchase a handgun, though that restriction does not extend to shotguns or rifles.

The lawsuits were filed the week after both retailers announced new restrictions on gun sales after a 19-year-old allegedly opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died.

Dick’s announced on Feb. 28 that it will no longer sell assault-style rifles and that a customer would have to be 21 years old in order to purchase any gun from its stores. Walmart stopped selling AR-15s and other types of semi-automatic weapons in 2015, but also announced last week that it will no longer sell firearms or ammunition to anyone under 21 years of age.

Watson in his lawsuits demanded that both retailers “stop unlawfully discriminating against 18, 19 and 20-year-old customers” in Oregon. He is also seeking punitive damages for “illegal age discrimination” in violation of state law.

Watson’s attorney Max Whittington told the Oregonian in an interview published Monday that his client is the first to file suit against the retail giants for their policy change. Whittington said Watson did not know about the new policy when he attempted to purchase the weapon.

“He was really just trying to buy a rifle,” Whittington told the Oregonian.

Whittington did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

A Walmart spokesperson told the Oregonian that the corporation plans to stand by and defend its new policy. A Dick’s Sporting Goods spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment. 

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested there may soon be more turnover in the White House, less than a week after the resignation Communications Director Hope Hicks, one of his longest serving aides.

In a tweet Tuesday, Trump dispelled reports that there’s “CHAOS” in the White House and claimed “people will always come and go.”

“I want strong dialogue before making a final decision,” he said. “I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

It is unclear who the “some people” Trump referenced may be.

The tweet follows reports that Trump is looking to oust his family members and senior aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump has asked his chief of staff John Kelly for help in pushing the couple out of the White House. Two people familiar with the Trump’s thinking told the Times that Trump has become increasingly frustrated with Kushner over his downgraded security status and scrutiny in the press over Kushner’s family’s business ties.

Trump is reportedly also mulling replacing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. NBC reported last week that Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis are orchestrating the move. 

CNN reported last week that the Pentagon was quietly searching for a four-star military position in either the Army or Department of Defense for McMaster that could be considered a promotion. The move comes after months of mounting tensions between President Donald Trump and McMaster, according to CNN. The White House has denied those reports.

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Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is selling his three-bedroom home just outside of Washington, D.C. in order to pay the legal bills associated with his guilty plea for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, Flynn’s brother confirmed to ABC News Monday.

The house has been on the market since December, at an asking price of $895,000, ABC News reported. The house sale isn’t the first sign that Flynn is struggling to fund his own defense. Flynn’s siblings set up a legal defense fund in September and asked the public to donate to help pay his legal bills.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this has been a trying experience” for Flynn and his family, Flynn’s brother Joe Flynn told ABC News Monday. “It has been a crucible and it’s not over.”

Flynn pleaded guilty in December for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the transition. The retired general was indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the foreign power’s efforts to disrupt the election.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee is planning to question social media giants Reddit and Tumblr over reports that the Kremlin may have used their sites to spread false information during the 2016 election.

According to The Washington Post, Senate Intel staffers are soon holding a meeting with Tumblr and are seeking additional information from Reddit after website officials said Monday that the company shut down hundreds of accounts in 2015 and 2016 that they deemed suspicious. The Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency — that was tied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals last months — used both platforms to spread disinformation, according to information first reported by the Daily Beast.

Tumblr reportedly found 21 accounts linked to the troll farm and content produced by the Internet Research Agency was shared widely on Reddit, according to the Daily Best.

Reddit officials revealed Monday that the the website had also found and removed “a few hundred” suspicious accounts, Steve Huffman, Reddit’s chief executive, said in a post on Monday.

Last year, congressional investigators grilled company executives for Facebook, Twitter and Google over Russian use of their platforms to spread disinformation and sow political division ahead of the presidential election.

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President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon again suggested that if he’s pleased with the renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, then he may reconsider his decision to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

If not, “we’re not backing down,” he told reporters during a pool spray with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday.

“No, we’re not backing down,” Trump said in response to questions about the proposed new tariffs. “We’ve had a very bad deal with Mexico, a very bad deal with Canada. … We are renegotiating NAFTA as I said I would, and if we don’t make a deal, I’ll terminate NAFTA. But if I do make a deal which is fair to the workers and to the American people, that would be, I would imagine, one of the points that we’ll negotiate, will be tariffs on steel for Canada and for Mexico. We’ll see what happens, but right now 100 percent, but it could be a part of NAFTA.”

It was not clear whether that meant he wouldn’t impose tariffs on just Mexico and Canada or all foreign imports of aluminum and steel.

Trump tweeted Monday morning suggesting he might ditch plans for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum if renegotiations of NAFTA go smoothly. Republicans and foreign leaders have expressed concern over the tariff proposals he announced last week. On Monday afternoon, Trump said that the U.S. has been “ripped off by virtually every country in the world, whether it’s friend or enemy,” but said the “biggest problem” is China.

We lost, over the last number of years, $800 billion a year. Not a half a million dollars, not 12 cents, we lost $800 billion a year on trade,” he said. “Not going to happen. We got to get it back. Of course, the biggest problem is China. We lost $500 billion. How previous presidents allowed that to happen is disgraceful, but we’re going to take care of it.”

Facing backlash from foreign leaders around the world and lawmakers at home, Trump threatened over the weekend to place tariffs on European cars and suggested it was time for the U.S. to “change” its steel and aluminum industries.

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President Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, on Monday claimed CNN was “totally irrelevant” because it only had one show in the Top 25 total viewership ratings report for February, while Fox News had 15.

“Congratulations @FoxNews: Fox has 15 of the top 20 shows with @SeanHannity and @TuckerCarlson leading the pack at 1st and 2nd respectively,” he tweeted. “CNN has become totally irrelevant.”

While Fox News had more shows in the Top 25 for total viewership, those statistics aren’t as relevant when it comes to news networks making money.

Advertisers base their media buys off of viewership within the 25 to 54-year-old demographic category. Fox News still has 15 shows in the Top 25 for that category, but CNN fares far better among 25-54-year-olds. It had four shows in the Top 25 for that category, making this month the second best February the network has had in 10 years.

See the ratings for cable news shows among 25-54-year-old below:

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President Donald Trump on Monday morning questioned why the Justice Department under President Obama launched an investigation “into the Trump campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing)” before the 2016 election and claimed the probe was “unprecedented” and “bigger than Watergate!”

“Plus Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling,” he tweeted Monday.

It is unclear what prompted Trump’s Monday morning tweet, but the President has increased his criticism of the Obama administration in recent weeks, ever since special counsel Robert Mueller announced indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for interfering in the 2016 election.

Former FBI Director James Comey said last year that the bureau opened its investigation into Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign was involved in efforts to influence the election in July 2016, under the Obama administration. But Trump’s claims that the probe was part of an effort to boost Trump’s then-opponent Hillary Clinton is unfounded. The FBI was already publicly open about the fact that it was investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server to classified information when she was Secretary of State. 

The current White House has previously claimed that Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor and has said Obama is to blame for Russian meddling as it happened under his administration.

Obama slapped new sanctions on Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats for its interference in election activity in the U.S. in December 2016. Meanwhile, Trump has declined to implement new sanctions — that passed with bipartisan support in Congress — against the foreign power, with the administration claiming the threat of sanctions served as enough of a deterrent.

Trump’s tweet follows remarks from the National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers last week, who said he had been given no guidance from the White House on thwarting Russian cyber threats to the 2018 election.   

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Many unpaid interns working on Capitol Hill are required to sign non-disclosure agreements on their first day in Congress, Vox reported Monday. 

The agreements are reportedly designed to keep interns from speaking up about anything that happens in a lawmaker’s office, even in cases of harassment or abuse. 

Vox obtained and examined the non-disclosure agreements from the officers of a Democratic House and Senate member and spoke with 20 interns who said they were required to sign a similar document. Lawyers told Vox that the language used in some of the agreements was broad in scope, lacked an exception for interns who wanted to speak up about harassment and came with no guarantee that interns would receive a copy of the signed agreement.

The agreements apply even after an intern leaves Capitol Hill and is reportedly designed to keep lawmakers and their office staffers safe, despite being touted as agreements to protect sensitive information, Vox reported.

Read the full Vox report here.

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The State Department has not yet spent any of the $120 million that was to be allocated toward combatting foreign interference in elections, the New York Times reported Sunday.

Toward the end of former President Barak Obama’s administration, Congress voted to direct the Pentagon to give the State Department $60 million for combatting Russian and Chinese “anti-democratic propaganda,” according to the Times. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took nearly seven months to decide what to do with the funding and the Pentagon ultimately decided to keep it. The Department had another $60 million available for the next fiscal year, but decided last week to only take $40 million, the Times reported.   

That money will reportedly be transferred to the State Department and its Global Engagement Center in April, which will counter Russian meddling efforts with anti-propaganda counter-attacks. Currently, the Global Engagement Center doesn’t have someone who speaks Russian on the team and it is primarily focused on countering jihadist and other forms of extreme propaganda, according to the Times.

The news of the unspent millions comes as National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate armed services committee last week that President Donald Trump has not yet directed his department to work to thwart Russian cyber threats to the 2018 election.

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Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) say Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee questioned White House Communications Director Hope Hicks in a manner that forced her to acknowledge she sometimes tells “white lies” for President Donald Trump.

“It truly was just a setup of this witness, who was trying to be forthright and honest,” Stewart told CNN Friday. “The question was so broad. It was, ‘In any circumstances, regardless of what it might be, have you ever felt any pressure to be deceitful or to be dishonest regarding any subject?’ And she answered it honestly. And that is, anyone in that circumstance, there is none of us in our lives that can say we have always been 100 percent honest.”

On Tuesday, Hicks spent nine hours testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee and reportedly admitted that she occasionally tells “white lies” for Trump.

Stewart also told CNN that Republicans interrupted the Democrats line of questioning to clarify whether Hicks had been untruthful in connection with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and she answered saying “no, absolutely not.”

Rep. Rooney made similar claims on Wednesday, saying the line of questions — which was reportedly led by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) — was “bullshit” and a “trap.”

“They sent her down a rabbit hole that she could not get out of. And it was completely unfair,” Rooney told CBS News. “I think the fair representation is that it was a setup: Use an extremely gratuitously broad question to make her look bad and ignore the rest of the nine hours that we were down there,”

Swalwell countered Rooney’s comments and said it was simply “a question that is asked of every witness every day across America — and most people don’t have a hard time answering it,” he told CBS News.

Hicks resigned from her post at the White House a day after her interview with the House Intelligence Committee, but The New York Times and several other outlets report the decision was not because of the testimony and she’d been planning to leave for some time.

Read CBS’ News account of the back-and-forth over questioning Hicks here.

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