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

After suggesting last week that American media outlets should be investigated by Congress, President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to threaten NBC’s broadcast license over the network’s reporting on tensions between the President and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

As a businessman and candidate, Trump frequently threatened to sue news organizations over unflattering coverage. But his latest threat of using the power of the federal government to go after media companies represents a dramatic escalation in his ongoing war against the press.

An NBC News report about Trump asking for more nuclear weapons — which reportedly is what pushed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call Trump a “moron” this summer — instigated Trump’s most recent Twitter attacks on the media.

He called the report “pure fiction” that was “made up to demean.”

He then raised the question of challenging news networks’ licenses saying the “fake news” is “bad for our country!”

The remarks are apparently referencing the Federal Communications Commissions’ (FCC) licensing policies, which allow companies like NBC and CNN to use public airwaves to broadcast their programs.

The FCC does not license the TV or radio networks, but rather individual broadcast stations, according to its online policy manual. It also is not responsible for the material that is put on the air.

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The inspector general for the Department of the Treasury is taking a second look at Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s travel records after the agency learned the department didn’t provide accurate information about Mnuchin’s trip to Trump Tower in New York in August, CNN Money reported Tuesday evening.

“The OIG has asked for follow-up information to assure that we have in fact received all relevant records,” Inspector General Rich Delmar told CNN.

The Treasury Department initially gave the IG documents that said Mnuchin had taken a military jet to a New Jersey airport with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and budget director Mick Mulvaney, but a Treasury spokesperson told CNN that Mnuchin had taken a commercial flight to New York on Aug. 15.

The inspector general’s office said it didn’t know that he had flown commercial that day until CNN Money contacted them. The trip reportedly cost taxpayers $15,000.

A Treasury spokesperson clarified that Mnuchin took a commercial flight to New York and a military jet back to Washington “as he needed to access secure communications.”

That information was a “surprise” to Delmar, according to CNN, and prompted the re-launch of the probe.

Mnuchin is one of several cabinet members being investigated for their use of charter travel for official business.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned last month after it was revealed that his penchant for private and military flights cost taxpayers north of $1 million.

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Vowing to not remove any monuments from federal lands, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke defended the Trump administration’s stance about not taking down Confederate statues and said it would upset “native Indians.”

“Where do you start and where do you stop? … If you’re a native Indian, I can tell you, you’re not very happy about the history of General Sherman or perhaps President Grant,” Zinke said during an interview with Breitbart Sunday, referencing the Union generals’ monuments around the U.S. despite their roles in creating federal policy that caused great harm to native Americans.

While Zinke has maintained this opinion about Confederate monuments since at least July, tensions over memorials for Confederate soldiers has risen significantly since August when a counter protester was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The white supremacists gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city.

Zinke said removing the statues will inhibit the U.S. from being able to “learn” from history.

“I think we should never hide from our history or erase our history. I think we should embrace the history and understand the faults and learn from it. But when you try to erase history, what happens is you also erase how it happened and why it happened and the ability to learn from it,” Zinke said.

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Twitter reversed its decision to block Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) campaign video from being promoted on the social media outlet Tuesday, saying there is “room to refine our policies” around this issue, according to Politico.

On Monday Twitter told Blackburn’s Senate campaign that a line in the announcement video, which bashed Planned Parenthood saying Blackburn stopped them from selling “baby body parts,” was inflammatory and against its rules for promoting advertisements. Blackburn was still able to share the video on Twitter, it just wasn’t allowed to be promoted.

Blackburn used Twitter’s decision as a platform to rally her base and to criticize the “Silicon Valley elites” for trying to “impose their values.”

A Twitter spokesperson told Politico Tuesday that it had reversed its decision.

Twitter’s full statement:

“Our ads policies strive to balance protecting our users from potentially distressing content while allowing our advertisers to communicate their messages. Nowhere is this more difficult than in the realm of political advertising and the highly charged issues that are often addressed therein. After further review, we have made the decision to allow the content in question from Rep. Blackburn’s campaign ad to be promoted on our ads platform.

“While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues.”

The cryptic line in her campaign announcement is likely referring to Blackburn’s work leading a House investigation into Planned Parenthood after a video surfaced in 2015 that appeared to show the group profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, which has been illegal since 1993.

Abortion providers can be paid for shipping and handling the material, New York magazine reported. 

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When asked whether President Donald Trump is concerned about alienating himself with his repeated attacks on influential Republican members of Congress — most recently Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) — the White House threw the blame back on lawmakers.

“I don’t think he’s alienated anyone. I think Congress has alienated themselves by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.

She blamed Republicans for not being able to repeal and replace Obamacare as “they all promised and campaigned on” and said the White House is hopeful for a different outcome when it comes to tax reform.

“We are certainly committed to that and think we’ll get there, but time and time again Congress has made promises and failed to deliver. If anyone is being alienated, it’s people who are promising things and not delivering,” she said.

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After alluding in an Forbes interview that he thinks he has a higher IQ than his secretary of state, President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t “believe in undercutting people.”

In an interview with Forbes that was published Tuesday, Trump said he thinks reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron” this summer are “fake news,” but said if the reports are true “I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

When asked by reporters Tuesday if he still has confidence in Tillerson, Trump responded with a simple “yes.” MSNBC’s Kristen Welker then asked if he “undercut” Tillerson with his IQ comments.

“No, I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” he said.

Trump and Tillerson were scheduled to have lunch with Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the White House Tuesday, after reports last week that Tillerson not only called Trump a “moron,” but also wanted to resign over the summer.

Both Tillerson and Trump have denied those reports.

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After calling on Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to resign over his criticism of President Trump, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said he is starting a “coalition” to go after certain Republican members of Congress.

“We’re declaring war on the Republican establishment,” he said, appearing on Fox News’ “Hannity” Monday evening.

One of Bannon’s first targets is Corker, who is retiring next year. Bannon wants conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who just announced a Senate bid, to fill the seat.

“If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately. He should not let those words stand, what he said about the President of the United States,” Bannon said, referencing Corker calling the White House an “adult day care center.

He said Republicans like Corker are the reason he left the White House and vowed to “go after them” in 2018.

“There’s a coalition coming together that’s going to challenge every Republican incumbent instead of Ted Cruz,” he said. “We’re spending a ton of time with grassroots organizations to make sure the people are fully vetted. … You are going to see real candidates and by the way, they’re going to take on incumbents in every state and they’re going to take on the Democrats after that.”

He said there will be about 15 names announced in the next several weeks of people who will be challenging incumbents, some of whom work in government and others who have served the Trump agenda as “outsiders.”

We’re declaring war on the Republican establishment. … We’re going to cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell,” he said. “Mitch McConnell’s biggest asset is the money. We’re going to make it a liability. We’re going after them tooth and nail.”

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Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is not the only Republican who is frustrated with President Trump, but said he and fellow outgoing lawmaker Corker may be the only Republicans who have been “bold” about their dissatisfaction.

“We’ve had a lot of these ‘the emperor has no clothes’ moments and I’m glad that Sen. Corker has brought voice to this,” Dent said Monday on MSNBC. “We are concerned. My colleagues, my Republican colleagues in the House, I know, and Senate, are concerned by much of the dysfunction and disorder and chaos at the White House.”

He acknowledged that tensions have eased “a bit” since John Kelly became chief of  staff, but said the constant “insults” and “side shows” are distracting Congress from focusing on policy.

“We have these conversations all the time and we have to do better and I think more of my colleagues should speak up,” he said. “They say things privately, they don’t say publicly. I said it publicly before I announced I wasn’t running.”

Dent’s comments follow an ongoing back-and-forth between President Donald Trump and Corker. Corker has called the White House an “adult day care center” and said the President is putting the U.S. on the “path to World War III.”

When you’re the President of the United States, your words are policy. People take those words very seriously, and I don’t think the President has learned that yet,” Dent said, referencing Trump’s fiery rhetoric toward North Korea and it’s leader Kim Jong-Un. “The President, I believe, has to be much more measured in his rhetoric, but good luck with that.” 

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Twitter has blocked a top Republican representative from advertising her Senate campaign video on the social media outlet because of its “inflammatory” claims about Planned Parenthood.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced her Senate campaign over the weekend with a video that painted her as a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative” who is a “100 percent pro-life” candidate who “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

Twitter said that line violated its advertising policies, according to an email obtained by Politico.

“It appears that the line in this video specific to ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts’ has been deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction,” a Twitter staffer wrote in an email to a consulting firm working for Blackburn’s campaign. “If this is omitted from the video it will be permitted to serve.”

The cryptic line in her campaign announcement is likely referring to Blackburn’s work leading a House investigation into Planned Parenthood after a video surfaced in 2015 that appeared to show the group profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, which has been illegal since 1993. Abortion providers can be paid for shipping and handling the material, New York magazine reported. 

Planned Parenthood consistently denied wrongdoing and never faced any criminal charges, but the anti-abortion activists who filmed it did. Those charges were eventually dropped. 

Blackburn is still able to promote the video by posting it on Twitter, but can’t pay to promote it. She’s been using the censorship by the social media giant to boost her campaign announcement. 

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