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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

It could take a year or longer for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to determine whether President Donald Trump’s lawyer violated campaign finance laws in paying porn actress $130,000 just before the 2016 election, NBC reported Monday evening.

According to former officials and sources close to the FEC who spoke with NBC, the office is understaffed and is still working on cases from the 2015-16 election cycle. One former FEC chairman Trevor Potter told NBC it would be “impossible” for the commission to finish by the end of year.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 just 11 days before the 2016 election. Daniels claims she was given the money as a hush payment to keep quiet about her alleged sexual affair with Trump in 2006. She also signed a non-disclosure agreement. Cohen has admitted to making the payment, but said he made it out of his own volition and Trump was unaware of it.

In January, a watchdog group filed a complaint with the FEC and the Justice Department to investigate the payment. It could be considered a violation of campaign finance laws if it’s determined that the money was used to benefit Trump’s campaign, given it exceeds the maximum amount allowed for campaign contributions.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office is denying reports that Ryan plans to resign in coming weeks, Ryan’s spokesperson AshLee Strong told TPM Tuesday.

“The speaker is not resigning,” Strong said.

Ryan’s office was responding Monday to comments from Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who told a local news outlet on Monday that the “rumor mill” on Capitol Hill is suggesting that Ryan is “getting ready to resign in the next 30 to 60 days.” Amodei told the Nevada Newsmakers that Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) would be elected to replace him as speaker.

Now that is interesting, because no one has talked to members on how they are going to vote,” Amodei said Monday. “Now, maybe they have talked to all of the members but me. I don’t know, so that is the rumor mill from last week.

Scalise’s office has denied the claims as well, telling The Washington Examiner that Scalise “fully supports” Ryan as Speaker of the House.

Late last year, Ryan’s office also had to deflect rumors that he was planning to retire, which were perpetrated by reports from The Huffington Post and Politico that said Ryan wanted to serve as speaker through the end of his term and then leave Congress altogether.

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Two more prominent attorneys have declined to serve on President Donald Trump’s legal team, citing “business conflicts,” according to The Daily Best.

Tom Buchanan and Dan Webb, of the firm Winston & Strawn, confirmed to The Daily Best Monday evening that the White House asked the pair to serve on Trump’s team, but they had to decline.

“However they consider the opportunity to represent the President to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret that they cannot do so,” Buchanan and Webb said in a joint statement to The Daily Beast.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The reports follow news this weekend that two other attorneys — husband and wife legal team Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing — were not going to serve on Trump’s team due to “conflicts,” despite an announcement from the White House early last week that the two were onboard. Toensign represents clients like Mark Corallo and Sam Clovis, both former Trump campaign associates who have spoken with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that there were “many lawyers and top law firms” who “want to represent me,” despite the pattern of conflicts preventing them from doing so. Just last week, one of Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd resigned from the team of attorneys representing the President in Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

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Responding to questions about the $130,000 payment that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer gave Stormy Daniels to reportedly keep her quiet about an affair, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah on Monday said there was nothing unusual about the sum, claiming “false charges are settled outside of court all the time.”   

“You can have (Trump’s attorney) Michael Cohen address any specifics regarding this agreement you are referring to, but false charges are settled outside of court all the time and this is nothing outside the ordinary,” Shah said.

When pressed specifically about what the $130,000 case had to do with false claims, Shah repeated the line again, pinning the payment on Cohen.

Shah’s response on Monday was the first acknowledgment the White House has given of the payment, which Cohen has admitted he made. Cohen claims he paid Daniels the money out of his own volition, not on behalf of Trump. Trump has denied the affair ever happened.

Daniels has said the payment and the non-disclosure agreement she felt pressured to sign were part of a plan to keep her silent about the affair. The agreement was signed in the days leading up to the 2016 election.

Questions over the payment come after Daniels gave an interview to “60 Minutes” on Sunday, in which Daniels detailed the alleged sexual affair and claimed she was threatened in the past by someone affiliated with the Trump organization to keep quiet about the relationship. Daniels has sued Trump in recent weeks because he did not sign the non-disclosure agreement and claims the whole NDA is void.

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White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah is scheduled to deliver an on-camera press briefing at 2:00 p.m. ET Monday. Watch live below:

Ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Monday attempted to poke holes in the story of the porn actress who was interviewed on “60 Minutes” Sunday about her alleged sexual affair with President Donald Trump.

O’Reilly claimed Stormy Daniels’ “story doesn’t stack” up because she “didn’t want money to attack Donald Trump, but accepted money,” he wrote on Twitter and in a post on his “No Spin News” website. O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News after reports surfaced that he paid several women millions of dollars to settle allegations of sexual misconduct.

She doesn’t want money now either. So why are you on national television with all this garbage? Does that help your daughter?” O’Reilly said. “Another proud day for America.”

Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 in the days leading up the 2016 election, but he has claimed he gave her money in his personal capacity, not on behalf of Trump, who, he says, was not aware of the deal.

Daniels said she was offered the money and pressured into signing a non-disclosure agreement to stay quiet about the sexual affair she allegedly had with Trump more than a decade ago. In recent weeks, Daniels filed a lawsuit against Trump claiming the NDA is null because Trump never signed the agreement. She has said she’s suing Trump to get the rights to share her side of the story back and has promised to return the money.

During the interview that aired on “60 Minutes” Sunday, Daniels shared details about her alleged sexual affair with Trump and said that she was threatened in 2011 after she gave an interview to In Touch Magazine about the affair. Daniels claims a man approached her, told her to stop talking about Trump and used her infant daughter to threaten Daniels’ physical safety.

He leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ And then he was gone,” she told Anderson Cooper Sunday evening. She said she never contacted the police about the incident because she was “scared,” but said she will always remember the man who approached her. Her lawyer said Monday that the man who threatened her was connected to the Trump Organization.

O’Reilly also said Monday that if a person was actually threatening to harm Daniels’ young child, she would have gone to the police.

If someone threatened your young child with harm, would you not go to the police? Even after you saw the man who did it?” he tweeted Monday.

While Daniels has said that her affair with Trump was consensual, Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment and assault. O’Reilly has been quick to defend the President against his accusers in the past, likely because he maintains his innocence against the allegations against him, despite the fact that he paid more than $30 million to settle with one woman who accused him of harassment.

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The morning after the “60 Minutes” interview with Stormy Daniels aired, in which the porn actress detailed her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, the President tweeted that “fake news” had “never been more voluminous or more inaccurate.”

That’s the closest the President has come to touching the scandal, as the usually active-on-Twitter Trump has restrained from commenting publicly on Daniels’ allegations. The White House has firmly denied any of Daniels’ claims and much of the blame has fallen on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 election out of his own pocket. Cohen claims Trump had no knowledge of the arrangement.

Daniels claims she was given the money as a hush payment and was reportedly pressured into signing a non-disclosure agreement designed to keep her from talking about the affair.

The highly-anticipated “60 Minutes” interview aired on CBS Sunday evening. Daniels outlined the details of the alleged affair, echoing similar claims she made in 2011 when she gave In Touch Magazine an interview about the relationship.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, she also shared that she had been threatened in 2011 after she gave the In Touch interview.     

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President Donald Trump reportedly had dinner with his personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Saturday night, just one day before the interview with porn actress Stormy Daniels was aired on “60 Minutes,” according to CBS.

In her “60 Minutes” interview, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her decade-old sexual encounter with Trump and the $130,000 hush payment she claims Cohen paid her in exchange for her silence in the days leading up to the 2016 election. Daniels also signed a non-disclosure agreement, reportedly designed to keep her silent about the alleged affair, but she has recently filed a lawsuit against Trump for not signing the agreement. The White House has denied the affair.

Cohen has found himself at the center of reports about the alleged affair and has admitted to making the $130,000 payment, but denies that Trump knew anything about it. Cohen has reportedly complained to friends that Trump never repaid him for the hush payment, which could have violated the Federal Election Commission’s campaign finance laws.

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As President Donald Trump continues to clean house, embattled Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin will reportedly be the next high profile departure from the White House, The Associated Press reported Sunday evening.

According to administration officials who spoke with the AP, Shulkin will be pushed out of the White House this week, with one saying the odds of it happening in the next few days are “50-50.” Trump is reportedly waiting to push Shulkin out until he has decided on a replacement. One person familiar with the discussion told the AP that the White House is currently looking at at least six candidates to head the VA, including Pete Hegseth, who works as a contributor on “Fox and Friends,” Trump’s favorite show.

Shulkin is an Obama-era holdover who has recently come under intense scrutiny over an internal watchdog report released in February that found he had improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon and that his staff had made changes to an email to give his wife reason to travel to Europe with him, on the taxpayers’ dime. A separate internal investigation, looking into an allegation that Shulkin had his office’s security detail come with him to Home Depot and carry furniture, is set to be released in coming weeks.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly told Shulkin in recent weeks that he’s uncomfortable with Shulkin’s statements in the media, voicing complaints about internal feuds within his office, according to the AP.   

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TOKYO (AP) — Former President Barack Obama said Sunday that negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program are difficult, partly because the country’s isolation minimizes possible leverage, such as trade and travel sanctions against Pyongyang.

“North Korea is an example of a country that is so far out of the international norms and so disconnected with the rest of the world,” Obama told a packed hall in Tokyo.

He stressed that the effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons remains difficult, but said countries working together, including China, South Korea and Japan, to pressure the North is better than nations working alone.

He noted that past U.S. efforts on Iran’s nuclear weapons were more successful because there was more leverage, but that there’s little commerce and travel with North Korea to being with.

“That makes them less subject to these kinds of negotiations,” he said of North Korea.

Obama was speaking at an event sponsored by a Japanese nonprofit group during an Asia-Pacific trip that included earlier stops in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Obama’s work after leaving office has been focused on nurturing young leaders.

Obama, welcomed by a standing ovation, said that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains strong, and that the U.S. is committed to defending Japan.

“North Korea is a real threat,” he said.

“Our view has always been that we would prefer to resolve these issues peacefully,” he said, adding that otherwise “the cost in terms of human life would be significant.”

He acknowledged that progress on a nuclear-free world will likely take a long time as long as Russia and the U.S. can’t agree to reduce their stockpiles.

Obama also reflected on his 2016 visit to Hiroshima, one of two Japanese cities where the U.S. dropped atomic bombs in the closing days of World War II. His visit was the first by an American president.

Almost all American presidents tend to be relatively popular in Japan, which views the U.S. as its most important ally. But many Japanese particularly appreciate Obama’s efforts on denuclearization and remember with fondness his trip to Hiroshima and his message of working toward a world without nuclear weapons.

“It was an extraordinarily powerful moment for me,” Obama recalled.

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