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 an impromptu news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested that he could someday become friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said the Kremlin leader, whose country meddled in the 2016 election, is “not my enemy.”

“Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ He’s not my enemy. ‘Is he a friend?’ No, I don’t know him well enough, but the couple of times I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well, you saw that,” Trump told reporters Thursday when asked about his relationship with Putin ahead of their planned summit Monday. “I hope we get along well, I think we’ll get along well, but ultimately he’s a competitor. … Not a question of friend or enemy. He is not my enemy. Hopefully some day, maybe he will be a friend. It could happen.”

Trump also told reporters that he plans to ask Putin about the 2016 Russian election meddling during their meeting, which will include a one-on-one discussion between the two leaders.

He may deny it, it’s one of those things. All I can say is ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again,'” he said. “He may deny it. You will be the first to know.”

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During a free-wheeling, unplanned press conference on Thursday morning following NATO deliberations, President Donald Trump proclaimed success and suggested NATO leaders had agreed to increase their defense spending.

“Everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels that they never thought of before,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their financial commitments substantially.”

Trump did not directly answer questions about whether he had outright threatened to pull out of NATO, but said that he made it clear he was “extremely unhappy” with their financial commitments and “they have now substantially upped their commitment.” Multiple outlets reported that Trump threatened to “do our own thing” or “go it alone” if leaders didn’t up the ante.

But it’s unclear if nations actually agreed to pay a higher percentage of their countries’ gross domestic product. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump told other NATO leaders that he wanted them to increase their defense spending to 4 percent of their GDP. But later on in the press conference Thursday, Trump told reporters that NATO leaders had agreed to reach their goal of paying 2 percent of their nation’s GDP over a “faster” period of time. In 2014, NATO leaders decided each nation would increase their spending to 2 percent by 2024.

“They’re spending at a much faster clip, they’re going up to the 2 percent level,” he said. “Now what you have to understand is some of them have their own parliaments, their own Congresses, they have a lot of things to go through. … They can’t necessarily go in and say this is what we’re going to do, but they’re going back for approvals. Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent. … After we’re at 2 percent we’ll start talking about going higher.”

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Despite reports that President Donald Trump outright threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO over allies’ defense spending, Trump told reporters on Thursday that the group is “more put together” and “coordinated” than it has ever been.

“NATO is more put together right now, is more coordinated and I think there is a better spirit for NATO right now than perhaps they’ve ever had,” he said at an unplanned press conference Thursday. “It’s richer than it ever was, the commitments are made at a higher level than they’ve ever been made and the money to paid out faster, far faster. … This was a fantastic two days, this was a really fantastic — it all came together in the end.”

He said the meetings may have been “tough for a little while,” but said NATO leaders ultimately are “really liking what happened in the last two day.”

 Politico, CNN and several other news outlets reported Thursday that behind closed doors Trump threatened that the U.S. would “do our own thing” if allies refused to increase defense spending.

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President Donald Trump is holding a press conference at the NATO headquarters amid negotiations. Watch live below:

The last time President Donald Trump interacted with some of the United States’ closest allies, he was busy dismissing a joint communique and lambasting Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as “dishonest and very weak.”

Given Trump’s topsy-turvy approach to foreign policy, U.S. allies could be forgiven for holding a guise of apprehension heading into this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium. While allies braced for Trump’s impending outbursts on defense spending, Trump surprised the group of leaders by breaking with his precedent and signing the 23-page NATO declaration.

But in the hours since his overseas romp began, he has already spurred plenty of controversy.   

He suggested Germany is “captive to Russia”

In a fiery-on camera exchange Wednesday — a clip of which Trump tweeted to his own timeline — Trump tore into NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and made a dramatic rebuke of Germany for a pipeline oil deal its brokered with Russia.

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with NATO leaders that was intended to serve as a mild introduction to closed door negotiations. “We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against.”

Here’s a video of the awkward exchange (be sure to keep an eye on Chief of Staff John Kelly’s expression):

German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly took the insult with grace: “I myself experienced that a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany. We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”

Behind closed doors, she told the 28 other NATO leaders about how Russian President Vladimir Putin had been a KGB spy in her own country, according to The Washington Post.

Allies should pay-up, and then some

As predicted, Trump could not resist blistering his colleagues for not yet contributing 2 percent of their nation’s gross domestic product to military defense– a goal that was established in 2014 and was meant to be carried out fully by 2024.

And he took it one step further, taking his closest allies to task over what he views as an imbalanced system that harms the U.S. (the U.S. spent 3.6 percent on defense last year). He called on the other world leaders to increase spending to 4 percent.

President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a statement Wednesday.

Trump found a way to skirt the no-Twitter rule

As the leader of the free world who habitually announces policy and makes news via his personal Twitter account, it’s not surprising that Trump found a way to tweet, even from the confines of a cellphone-banned room where signals are intentionally congested to prevent hacks.

While he was supposed to be in the meeting with the 29 NATO leaders this afternoon, his account sent out a message to U.S. farmers to quash their fears over the trade war that he created. 

As the New York Times notes, it’s unclear whether Trump broke NATO’s no-phone-zone rule or if he had an aide send out the tweet for him. Trump’s social media aide, Dan Scavino, regularly posts tweets on the President’s behalf.

Hey, he warned you

NATO allies could have predicted that Trump would ask to increase ally defense spending if they had decoded his tweets en route to the summit. In true Trump form, he tweeted that the 2 percent contribution was far too low and wondered aloud whether his closest allies would consider reimbursing the U.S. for years of what he perceives to be unbalanced spending. He also saw it it fit to throw in a quick jab at Europe’s (false) trade deficit with the U.S.

Meeting with Putin will be “easier” than facing US allies

The pressure of having his campaign under investigation for colluding with the Russian government to win the 2016 election clearly hasn’t been enough of a roadblock to deter the President from getting cozy with — or praising — Putin. Before boarding the plane to Brussels on Tuesday, Trump confided in reporters that he couldn’t quite label the Russian president as a friend or a foe. He settled on calling him a “competitor,” before admitting that he was most looking forward to his meeting with the Kremlin leader.

“I think Putin may be the easiest of them all,” he said.

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The attorney for former FBI lawyer Lisa Page countered House Republicans’ uproar over her client’s refusal to comply with the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena to testify, calling their “bullying tactics” “unnecessary.”

“There is no basis for claims that Lisa has anything to hide or is unwilling to testify. The record shows otherwise,” Page’s attorney Amy Jeffress said in a statement Wednesday. “Lisa has already cooperated with multiple investigations underway in Congress and at the Department of Justice. She provided more than 36 hours of testimony to DOJ’s Office of Inspector General and has cooperated fully with another congressional committee.”

Jeffress said in a statement Tuesday night that Page would not comply with the GOP’s subpoena to testify on Wednesday because lawmakers had failed to provide Page with enough information on their intended scope of questioning and the FBI had declined to share crucial documents with Page, according to Politico.

Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee responded to the refusal with suspicion on Tuesday evening, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) suggesting Page “has something to hide” and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) calling her refusal “indefensible.”

In her statement on Wednesday, Jeffress said Page has every intention of cooperating with the investigation, but that her client requests to “be treated as other witnesses have under the Committees’ own rules.”

“She has offered to voluntarily appear before the Committees later this month,” Jeffress said. “She simply needs clarification of the scope of the Committee’s interest in interviewing her and access to relevant documents so that she can provide complete and accurate testimony.”

Jeffress said she received word from the Justice Department late Tuesday night that they had granted her request to “review the relevant documents.”

“We are working to arrange that process quickly so that we can move forward with her appearance before the Committees,” she said.   

Page and her anti-Trump texts with another FBI official, Peter Strozk, are at the heart of Republican hysteria over what they claim is political bias at the center of the Russia probe. Strzok has already sat for 11 hours worth of closed door interviews with the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

While Strzok did eventually work as an investigator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — and was removed from the investigation once Mueller found the messages — he was working on the Hillary Clinton email probe at the time he sent the texts to Page about stopping Trump from becoming President.  

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s latest attack on one of the U.S.’s closest allies, Germany, furthers their “disturbing” belief that “the President is more loyal to President Putin that to our NATO allies.”

During a breakfast with other NATO leaders on Wednesday morning, Trump blasted Germany for a pipeline project it has formed with Russia, claiming the partnership makes Germany “totally controlled” and “captive to Russia.” He then repeated his tired line that NATO allies should increase their spending on defense, especially if Germany is making deals with Russia.

Read the full statement from Pelosi and Schumer.

“President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment.  His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.

“If the president leaves the Putin meeting without ironclad assurances and concrete steps toward a full cessation of Russian attacks on our democracy, this meeting will not only be a failure – it will be a grave step backward for the future of the international order and global security.  A successful meeting means real action, now.

“The president needs to remember that, as Commander-in-Chief, his duty is to protect the American people from foreign threats, not to sell out our democracy to Putin.”

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In an exclusive interview with Vice News broadcast Tuesday, Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star whose real estate mogul father worked with Donald Trump to bring the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013, admitted that he was the main instigator behind the now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

Agalarov helped arrange the meeting because someone asked his father to set up a conversation between the Trump campaign and Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who later admitted to being a government informant. Agalarov told Vice he didn’t know Veselnitskaya before the meeting and also denied knowing the person who asked his father to arrange it.

“I never met her. I think my father met her a few times,” Agalarov told Vice. “I think somebody asked him to help her set that meeting knowing that we were acquainted with the Trump family. And obviously my father, being my father, said, ‘Sure, I’ll help as much as I can.’ And the next step was to call me and say, ‘Some people want to meet Trump people and ask if that could happen and please if you can make that happen.’”

During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. claimed that he didn’t remember if he had spoken with Agalarov before the meeting, which he attended, along with Veselnitskaya, Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

But Agalarov confirmed to Vice that he did speak with Trump Jr. about the logistics of the meeting ahead of time.

“I said, ‘Listen, there’s some people that want to meet you.’ They obviously want something that could potentially help them resolve things that you could be interested in or maybe not,” he told Vice. “If you can spare a few minutes of your time, I’d be grateful. If not, no problem. Obviously Don Jr., obviously being Don Jr., said, ‘Of course. I’ll do it if you’re asking.’”

The Russian pop star also confirmed that his publicist, Rob Goldstone, was exaggerating when he told Trump Jr. that the people attending the meeting had dirt on Hillary Clinton in order to “cater to the Trumps,” in Vice’s words. 

Agalarov called it a “strange and ridiculous accusation” that he influenced the U.S. election in any way and also denied knowledge of sending prostitutes to Trump’s hotel room while he was in Moscow in 2013.  

“Mr. Trump came to Moscow with 87 of the most beautiful ladies in the world,” Emin told Vice. “I would never even offer it because I can never live up to the high level of the most amazing and beautiful women surrounding us constantly.”

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Vice President Mike Pence is launching a damage control campaign in the Midwest this week, meeting with key donors to offer reassurances as President Donald Trump’s trade war threatens to devastate soybean and pork production and other key parts of the agricultural industry.

Pence will have one-on-one meetings with Midwestern donors in Kansas City, Cedar Rapids and Chicago, Politico reported. He plans to highlight the strengths of the Trump administration, like Trump’s Supreme Court pick and the Republican tax cut passage, according to a Republican operative who spoke with Politico.

The vice president will also fundraise for three incumbent House Republicans by foreshadowing the potential damage to the Republican Party if Democrats win back control of the House.

The troubleshooting tour comes on the heels of Trump’s latest 25 percent tariff on $34 billion in Chinese goods. The move was met swiftly with equivalent retaliation from China, which has already begun to harm the Midwestern soy and pork industry. The head of a national soybean association told Politico that farmers have already lost 20 percent of their income in soybeans nationally since Trump launched his trade war.

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Lisa Page, the former FBI lawyer whose anti-Trump texts with another agency official has fueled Republicans’ conviction that the Russia probe was politically motivated, does not plan to comply with a GOP subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

Page’s attorney, Amy Jeffress, said that the committee did not provide Page with enough information on its intended line of questioning and the FBI has declined to share crucial records for Page to review, according to Politico.

“As a result, Lisa is not going to appear for an interview at this time,” Jeffress said in a statement shared with Politico.  

Page was set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a day before the committee’s public hearing with Peter Strzok, the agency official she exchanged scathing texts with about then-candidate Donald Trump. Trump has become increasingly obsessed with Strzok and Page in recent weeks and even tweeted about the pair, who were reportedly having an affair when the texts were exchanged, while flying to Belgium for the NATO conference on Tuesday.

House Republicans seized on the news that Page intended to defy the subpoena, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) claiming in a statement that Page “has something to hide” and saying she had “no excuse” to not appear before the committee.

Both Strozk and Page have already testified before congressional committees, according to Politico.  

While Strzok did eventually work as an investigator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — and was removed from the investigation once Mueller found the messages — he was working on the Hillary Clinton email probe at the time he sent the texts to Page.

Strzok even had a significant role in reopening the Clinton investigation just weeks before the 2016 election– he co-wrote the first draft of former FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress announcing he was reopening the investigation.

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