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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

While maintaining that he didn’t do anything wrong, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) said Monday he plans to pay back the $84,000 settlement the Congressional Office of Compliance paid out to settle a sexual harassment complaint between him and a former staffer.

Speaking with local Texas television station KRIS 6, Farenthold said he plans to hand a check to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) this week to repay taxpayers for what the settlement cost them, so that he can have the credibility to talk about reforming the way in which complaints against members of Congress are handled.

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this, and I want to be able to talk about it and fix the system without people saying, ‘Blake you benefited from the system, you don’t have a right to talk about it or fix it,’” he said.

On Friday, Politico and NBC reported that Farenthold was the only member of Congress whom the Office of Compliance had paid a sexual harassment settlement for in the past five years. In 2014, Farenthold’s former communication director Lauren Greene sued him over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, TPM reported at the time. She alleged that one of Farenthold’s male staffers told her the congressman had “wet dreams” and “sexual fantasies” about her and that Farenthold drank too much and told her inappropriate things about his sex life.

Greene dropped the suit when the two agreed to an $84,000 settlement, which was secretly paid using taxpayers dollars by the Office of Compliance. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated the allegations against Farenthold as well, but found that Greene’s complaints were unsubstantiated.

The Office of Compliance has secretly paid out $17 million in taxpayer dollars for settlements over the past 20 years over misconduct complaints against members of Congress. It’s not known how many cases were sexual harassment claims, besides the Farenthold case and another case from 2010 where the office gave $100,000 to staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) for groping allegations.

Neither Farenthold nor Greene’s attorney said they could confirm or deny whether they were the parties involved in the $84,000 settlement on Friday, but both parties shared a joint statement they had written at the time that said they had reached a deal. Farenthold said he hired a new attorney over the weekend to find out what he could say publicly regarding the settlement.

“I wish I could’ve said something Friday, I went to the House lawyer and asked ‘What can I say?’ And they said, ‘Here’s the statement that you can make,’ and Saturday when I got home I opened up the settlement agreement and read it myself and go ‘I think I can say more than I’m saying,’” he said. “And I hired another lawyer out of my own pocket for reviewing and he said ‘Blake, you can talk about the process all you want.’ And the process is broken.”

The House Ethics Committee sent a letter to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for the records of all alleged misconduct claims made against sitting members or employees of the House. 

Watch the interview below:

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One of the 13 women who came forward accusing President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct during the 2016 campaign said she and other accusers feel forgotten in the recent wave of women coming forward accusing prominent men of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment, especially by politicians.

“I mean, I think it’s been great,” the accuser, Rachel Crooks, said Monday on CNN’s “New Day” when asked about the recent “me too” movement of women going public with their stories of harassment.

I’m so thankful that other women are having enough courage to come forward. But, yes, I do feel forgotten,” she continued. “I mean, you can’t help but wonder why people aren’t talking about Trump and the people that came forward for him and why is he immune to this? … I think we’re forgotten by people who want to put party above all else and that’s sad because this should be bigger than politics.”

Before the election, Crooks came forward with her story claiming that Trump kissed her without her consent when she introduced herself to him in 2005. At the time, Crooks said she was working for a company that was located inside Trump Tower. She said she saw Trump regularly using the elevator outside her office window, so one day she decided to introduce herself to him. Throughout the conversation he wouldn’t let go of her hand and repeatedly kissed her on the cheeks. He asked her if she was a model and then forcibly kissed her on the lips without her consent.

She said she decided to come forward because she “thought people would take it seriously,” but said that she and other accusers feel completely forgotten.

I thought people would — I don’t know, take that into consideration at the polls,” she said. “I think it’s just evidence of sort of the political atmosphere these days. We’re forgotten by politicians who think it’s more convenient to keep Trump in office, you know, have him just sweeping his indiscretions under the rug.”

Crooks’ comments come a day after Billy Bush — the former NBC “Access Hollywood” host who was fired when the infamous video surfaced of him laughing with Trump as Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women — wrote an editorial in The New York Times expressing sympathy for the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct. He put to rest all doubts of the authenticity of the tape and outlined some of the allegations against Trump, saying “I believe” the accusers. 

While Crooks said she’d like to see Congress investigate Trump’s sexual misconduct, she said if that doesn’t happen, she hopes people will reconsider his behavior in the next election.

And if nothing else, she’d love an apology.

That would be great. That would be a wonderful first step for him to acknowledge his behavior and apologize. I would definitely welcome that,” she said.

Watch her explain her allegations against the President below:

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White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said the President’s embrace of embattled Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is less about dismissing allegations that Moore molested multiple women when they were teenagers and more about Democrats not voting for tax cuts.

Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning, Short said Trump has “expressed concern” about the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore — one of the accusers claimed she was just 14-years-old at the time of the alleged misconduct — but said Trump questions why the accusations didn’t come out sooner.

“When allegations rise 38 years later, when Roy Moore has been a very public figure for the past 38 years, he’s run multiple times statewide in Alabama, the people of Alabama need to choose and make decisions about Roy Moore’s character, that there are certain questions that come about the timing of these allegations,” he said. “So when you put all of that together, he’s encouraging people of Alabama to make the right decision.”

He also said Trump thinks it’s a “factor to consider” that no Democrats have supported the Republicans’ tax overhaul bill.

“He is also making the point that it is one of our best opportunities for tax relief, tax relief that many Democrats had said they thought the idea of reforming our corporate code made sense, we couldn’t muster any support from Democrats on a plan that provides massive tax relief for middle income families,” he said.

When CNN host Chris Cuomo argued that Moore hadn’t yet indicated that he would even support the Republicans’ tax relief bill, Short agreed.

“Moore should weigh in. I agree with you,” he said.

Just two weeks ago, Short suggested that he and Trump think the allegations against Moore are credible, saying on ABC News that if Trump “did not believe that the women’s accusations were credible, he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore,”

His comments on the Alabama Senate race Monday come after Trump tweeted saying the Republicans need Moore’s vote in order to pass “massive Tax Cuts.”

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Former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush over the weekend put to rest any doubts about the authenticity of the infamous recording in which Donald Trump is heard bragging about groping women.

“He said it. ‘Grab ‘em by the pussy,’ Bush wrote in an editorial published in The New York Times on Sunday.

Of course he said it,” he continued. “And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real. We now know better.”

Bush’s decision to set the record straight comes as the President has reportedly been questioning the authenticity of the “Access Hollywood” tape in recent weeks, floating the idea to aides and at least one U.S. senator that the voice on the tape is not his. That’s hit “a raw nerve” for Bush, who expressed sympathy for the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

“I can only imagine how it has reopened the wounds of the women who came forward with their stories about him, and did not receive enough attention,” he wrote. “This country is currently trying to reconcile itself to years of power abuse and sexual misconduct. Its leader is wantonly poking the bear.”

Bush, who was fired from NBC after the tape surfaced, outlined the allegations Trump accusers Natasha Stoynoff, Rachel Crooks, Jessica Leeds, Jill Harth and Kristin Anderson have made against the President, saying their stories stack up against what he heard Trump say that day on the bus.

“I believe her,” he said. “To these women: I will never know the fear you felt or the frustration of being summarily dismissed and called a liar, but I do know a lot about the anguish of being inexorably linked to Donald Trump. You have my respect and admiration. You are culture warriors at the forefront of necessary change.”

Read the full editorial here.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent out a statement early Saturday calling on freshman Democratic congressman Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) to resign after allegations that he sexually harassed a campaign staffer during his 2016 election bid.

A woman who said she worked as his campaign finance director has accused Kihuen of asking her for dates and sex “despite her repeated rejections,” Buzzfeed reported Friday. The woman, who Buzzfeed only called Samantha, said the congressman touched her thighs twice without her consent.

“Across the nation, in every industry, brave women are coming forward to share stories of harassment that must be heard,” Pelosi said in a statement sent to TPM after she spoke with Kihuen. “In Congress, no one should face sexual harassment in order to work in an office or in a campaign. The young woman’s documented account is convincing, and I commend her for the courage it took to come forward. In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign.”

On Friday, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) called on Kihuen to resign as well, saying in a statement shared with Politico that “anyone guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault … should not hold elected office.”

Kihuen told Buzzfeed that he doesn’t “recall any of the circumstances” that the woman identified as Samantha described, but apologized for “anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable.”

Kihuen suggested Friday evening that he does not plan to step down, according to Politico. TPM’s requests for comment from Kihuen’s office were not immediately returned Saturday.

Pelosi has also called on Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign after three women have come forward in recent weeks alleging Conyers asked them for sexual favors or touched them inappropriately while they worked for him.

Last week, he stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, but has maintained that he doesn’t plan to leave Congress. Conyers’ attorney told reporters Friday that Conyers would evaluate his health and determine his future in the next several days. A family spokesperson said Conyers was hospitalized on Thursday for stress-related health issues.

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In an apparent shift from his initial rationale for firing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the President said Saturday that he “had” to fire him a month into his presidency because he not only lied to the Vice President, but also to the FBI.

“He has pled guilty to those lies,” Trump tweeted Saturday “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

The tweet was the most direct response President Donald Trump has given since news broke Friday that Flynn had plead guilty to one charge of lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian officials before Trump was inaugurated. On Saturday morning, he told reporters the White House was “very happy” there was “no collusion” between his campaign and his transition team and the Russians.

But according to charging documents filed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” and another “senior” member of the same team directed Flynn to call Russian officials or counseled Flynn on how to discuss sanctions with the Russians.

The President appears to be changing his reasoning for firing Flynn back in February. At a news conference just days after Flynn was let go, Trump said he ousted him because of “what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple.” Now, President Donald Trump is claiming he knew that Flynn had also lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials before he was inaugurated.

Some experts say that if the President did, in fact, know Flynn had lied to the FBI back in February, his efforts to get former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn and then firing Comey in May could be considered obstruction of justice.

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President Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed the magnitude of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, similar to the stance the White House took on the charge when it was made public Friday.

Speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One Saturday morning to travel to New York City, Trump reiterated three times that the charges show that there was “no collusion” between his campaign or transition team and the Russian government.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” he said, via the White House press pool report. “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy. And frankly last night was one of the big nights. … We’ll see what happens.”

But according to charging documents filed Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” and another “senior” member of the same team directed Flynn to call Russian officials or counseled Flynn on how to discuss sanctions with the Russians.

Multiple media outlets reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was the “very senior” member of the team who asked Flynn to call Russia and other countries about a UN Security Council resolution about Israel week’s before the President took office.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Flynn’s Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland was the “senior” official who spoke with Flynn about how to discuss Obama administration sanctions against Russia with a former Russian ambassador to the U.S.

For months, Mueller and a team of investigators have been probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to win.

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A lawyer for Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said the congressman will make a decision in the next several days about his future in Congress, after he has time to assess his health with doctors.

Conyers’ attorney Arnold Reed told reporters gathered for a news conference in Michigan Friday afternoon that the congressman’s health would be “paramount” to that decision and said the choice would be Conyers’, “not Washington’s.”

Reed also reiterated that Conyers continues to flatly deny all of the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against him.

Earlier this week, Reed said Conyers had no plans to leave Congress, despite calls to resign from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

When pressed on why Conyers is reviewing his role in Congress if he denies all the allegations, Reed said any decision would be related to Conyers’ health and said it “wouldn’t surprise me if this is the the reason he has stress-related” health problems.

Conyers was hospitalized on Thursday for stress-related health issues, according to a family spokesperson.

Conyers’ evaluation of his health comes amid mounting allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances toward former staffers. Three women have come forward in recent weeks alleging Conyers asked them for sexual favors or touched them inappropriately while they worked for him.

Last week, he stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

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Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) was the lawmaker behind a $84,000 taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement with a former staffer, Politico reported Friday.

The settlement was paid to his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who sued Farenthold in 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, Politico reported, citing a lawsuit and unnamed sources. NBC News also confirmed the report.

TPM reported on that lawsuit after it was filed December 2014.

Greene said she was fired after complaining about Farenthold and one of his male staffers, who told her that the congressman had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. She also claimed that Farenthold drank too much and told her inappropriate things about his sex life with his wife.

The suit was dropped after Farenthold and Greene agreed to settle, according to a joint statement that the two wrote at the time, but was never released.

In a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers Friday, House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) said that the Office of Compliance had only paid out a settlement for one sexual harassment complaint in the past five years, at the cost of $84,000, Politico reported.

Neither Farenthold nor Greene’s attorney would confirm or deny they were the parties involved in the $84,000 Office of Compliance settlement, but Greene’s lawyer and Farenthold’s office both shared the joint statement. The statement said the two confirmed they had reached a deal, partially to save taxpayer dollars. Farenthold said the settlement wasn’t indicative of an admission of guilt.

Farenthold “disagrees strongly” with Greene’s claims and “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing,” the statement said. It also said that the two parties couldn’t discuss the agreement.

Farenthold also formally denied the allegations in the lawsuit in February 2015, TPM reported at the time.

The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated the allegations against Farenthold as well, but found that Greene’s complaints were unsubstantiated, according to Politico.

“While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” Farenthold said Friday in the statement.

Farenthold’s settlement with a former staffer is the second publicly known sexual harassment complaint agreement that the Office of Compliance paid on behalf of a member of Congress. ABC News reported Thursday that that same office paid a $100,000 settlement to staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) to settle groping allegations against the congressman.

The Office of Compliance has come under fire in recent weeks after news broke that it had secretly paid more than $17 million in settlements over the past 20 years over misconduct complaints against members of Congress. It’s not known — besides the Massa and Farenthold cases — how many cases were sexual harassment claims.

The House Ethics Committee sent a letter to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for the records of all alleged misconduct claims made against sitting members or employees of the House.    

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The House Ethics Committee has asked the office responsible for paying out settlements to staffers who allege misconduct against lawmakers for records of the complaints made against sitting House members and employees.

In a letter to the Office of Compliance Friday, Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) asked for all records related to claims of “sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or any other practice” prohibited by the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) made against any current “member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer or employee” of the House. The CAA prohibits harassment and discrimination within the House and any actions that have a “disparate impact” on an employee, according to the House code of conduct.

Brooks and Deutch said that the CAA “expressly provides that the Office of Compliance may provide the House and Senate Ethics Committees with access to records of its hearings and decisions” and House rules against “discriminatory conduct” also give the ethics committee authority to review the records.

“In order to effectuate its constitutional and statutory authority with respect to House Rules we request that you promptly provide the committee” with information about the complaints, they wrote.

The Office of Compliance has recently come under fire after it was revealed that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two decades to settle claims against members of Congress. This news that has been met with special scrutiny given the rise in public accusations of misconduct against politicians and many other prominent men in the media and Hollywood.

In recent weeks, sitting Congressmen Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) have been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

Five women have come forward saying Franken groped them and Franken has apologized, but said he won’t resign.

Conyers has been accused of sexual harassment by former staffers, but has denied all the allegations, including an account from one woman whom he paid a $27,00 settlement. He paid that settlement through his congressional office, not the Office of Compliance. His lawyers have also indicated that he won’t resign.

The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gave the compliance office the authority to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of the Treasury to settle claims against lawmakers. That $17 million was spent on 264 individual cases, but it’s not known whether all those cases dealt with sexual harassment claims.

The Office of Compliance did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Read the letter below:

 

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