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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

Richard Painter, the ethics lawyer for the President George W. Bush administration, weighed in on the status of White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance on Twitter, saying if the White House doesn’t revoke it, they might as well “give one to Vladimir Putin himself.”

The tweet comes as the President’s son-in-law faces increased scrutiny after updating the disclosure portion of his security clearance application, revealing names of 100 foreign officials he’s met with that weren’t previously disclosed.

That includes a meeting Kushner had with Donald Trump Jr., a Kremlin-linked lawyer, a former Soviet Union counterintelligence officer and others after Trump Jr. was promised incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of an effort by the Russian government to help President Donald Trump’s campaign.

It’s not the first time the Bush-era attorney has weighed in on developments related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia.

Painter has been particularly critical of the Trump Jr. meeting, tweeting about comments Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made over the weekend, blaming the Secret Service for not preventing the President’s son from meeting with the Russian lawyer.

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President Donald Trump has added another lawyer to his team of outside counsel managing investigations into whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to influence the election, according to reports from Bloomberg and NBC.

Veteran Washington, D.C. lawyer Ty Cobb will start working for the President at the end of the month and will take the lead on responding to media questions about the investigation. He’ll also work closely with Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who is the head attorney handling the case for Trump. The hire, which Bloomberg and NBC confirmed through anonymous White House officials, comes after news broke that the President’s son held a meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney on the premises that he would receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

In emails, between Donald Trump Jr. and a family acquaintance who arranged the meeting, that were released by Trump Jr. this week, it’s clear Trump Jr. was led to believe the Russian government wanted to help his father’s campaign. On Friday, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer confirmed to the Associated Press that he was also at the meeting.

According to Bloomberg, which broke the Cobb story, top administrators are bringing Cobb into the mix because they want someone to enforce discipline in the White House on matters related to the Russian investigation. That includes reigning in the President, who is known for ranting on Twitter about the matter.

Other lawyers and spokespeople considered for the role were Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa; Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio host; and Washington attorneys William Burck and Emmet Flood, Bloomberg reported.

Cobb is a relative of the famous baseball player by the same name and was chosen for his experience representing key figures who were investigated under the former President Bill Clinton administration.   

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A Republican congressman said Friday that Democrats are taking Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer a little too seriously.

“I’m an economist, not a lawyer, but what you got to do is just name the statute that’s been violated. We’re a nation under laws, not under men,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said in an appearance on CNN. “So if there’s proof that a statute’s been violated, then there is an issue. If there’s not, I think a couple of issues have gotten conflated.”

In June 2016, Trump Jr. — along with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort — met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya amid promises that she would provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign. On Friday, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer confirmed to the Associated Press that he was also at the meeting.

Brat said he doesn’t think any of his Republican or Democratic colleagues are denying that Russia was “messing around in our election,” but he said the main problem is that Democrats are “upset President Trump won the election.”

“So they’ve been saying ‘impeach, impeach’ since day one. That’s obviously more political. … If you find a statute that’s been violated then you got it, but my senators in Virginia are getting apoplectic. Mark Warner’s seeing smoke everywhere he goes, like he’s in a ‘Cheech and Chong’ movie. Kaine now thinks the son is worse than Benedict Arnold,” he said. Warner is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of several congressional panels investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“We’ve gotten a little hysterical and we should just get grounded and remember we’re a country under the law,” Brat said.

He went on to say that “there’s collusion everywhere” and accused some media outlets of colluding.

“I don’t complain about that. It is not illegal. I think it is unethical, but it is not illegal,” he said. “This has been going on for a year. … It’s always some new meeting, we’ll all get excited for a day and will it stick? I don’t know.”

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In an interview with a local TV station, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said he has “issues” with the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. held with a Kremlin-linked lawyer amid promises that she would provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

As a result, Flores said the best thing President Trump could do is get his kids out of the White House.

“It’s a meeting that should not have taken place. I think he thought he was looking out for his father’s best interest, but at first flush it doesn’t look like it was appropriate action,” he told KBTX this week. “I’m going out on a limb here, but I would say that I think it would be in the President’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House. Not only Donald Trump, but Ivanka and Jared Kushner.”

Flores said that he wishes President Donald Trump “would get them out of the way” so that the administration could “have a professional staff” and focus on policy issues.

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After the state of Colorado announced it would comply with the White House’s bogus “election integrity” panel’s request to share voter data, hundreds of Denver-area residents cancelled their voter registration to keep their private information safe, according to a report from local KDVR News.

But the man leading the panel, Kansas Secretary of StateKris Kobach thinks it’s just a “political stunt.”

In an interview with Breitbart News Thursday, Kobach said he heard about the wave of residents unregistering, and called the move “interesting” and likened it to a “political stunt.”

“It could be a number of things. It could be, actually, people who are not qualified to vote, perhaps someone who is a felon and is disqualified that way or someone who is not a U.S. citizen saying, ‘I’m withdrawing my voter registration because I am not able to vote,’” he said. “It could be a political stunt – people who are trying to discredit the commission and withdrawing temporarily because they are politically active but planning to get back on the voter rolls before the election next November.”

Kobach is at the helm of a presidential advisory commission that’s been tasked with investigating voter fraud, which President Donald Trump claimed was an epidemic in the U.S. throughout his campaign, despite no evidence to suggest such an issue.

Last month, the commission asked all 50 states to share voter data with the commission, everything from addresses and political party affiliation to military status and the last four digits of social security numbers.

The majority of states either outright rejected the request or were only willing to share publicly available data. Since Colorado indicted it would comply with the request, more than 1,000 people in the Denver area have taken their names off registration rolls, according to KDVR.

On top of the widespread non-compliance and criticism, the commission also faces five different lawsuits from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, which filed complaints because the commission isn’t following federal open meeting laws.

“Who knows what’s causing it, but the fact that just studying the issue of voter fraud has tapped such a raw nerve among these organizations like the ACLU tells you that they really, really don’t want a presidential commission finding out what there is to see,” he said.

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Jared Kushner is reportedly pushing for a more aggressive White House defense of the meeting he attended between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, according to White House aides who spoke to Politico.

According to Politico’s sources, Kushner asked press secretary Sean Spicer and other communication staffers to push out more aggressive talking points on the latest Russia controversy, apparently asking the team to complain more about TV news chyrons, call individual reporters to update their stories with White House statements, release surrogates and get op-eds about the meeting in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Spicer and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued it would be better to leave the majority of communication to outside legal counsel and had concerns about making the White House defend a meeting they don’t know all the details of, according to Politico.

Kushner’s frustration with the White House communication strategy isn’t new, and he has apparently been pushing for reorganization of that department, saying they need offensive and defensive communications teams. That’s why the President’s son-in-law got his own public relations person, Politico reported.

Two of Politico’s sources suggested White House staffers are taking a step back from the issue because they don’t want to get into legal trouble.

“That’s the other problem is that some of these staffers can’t afford lawyers. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, how is [deputy press secretary] Lindsay Walters going to pay for that? How could Spicer pay for that?” a Politico source said.

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During a visit to Paris Thursday, President Donald Trump remarked upon the French first lady’s appearance, telling Brigitte Macron that she is in “such good shape.”

Trump made the comment to the French first lady alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and American first lady Melania Trump, according to the video published by NBC News.

During the exchange, Trump then turned to President Macron, repeating his observation, saying “She’s in such good physical shape. Beautiful.” Meanwhile, Brigitte Macron touched Melania Trump’s elbow and steps closer to her.

The French first lady, who is 25 years older than her husband, is among many woman who have received unsolicited comments from President Trump about their physical appearance.

While on the phone with Ireland’s new Prime Minister from the Oval Office last month, he called Irish reporter Caitríona Perry over to his desk and told the Prime Minister “she has a nice smile on her face. So, I bet she treats you well.”

Trump also faced widespread criticism leading up to the election when a video surfaced of him making lewd, offensive comments about women with Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.”

 

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Nearly six months after relaying a story about how “Paris isn’t Paris” anymore because of terror threats, President Donald Trump has apparently come around to the City of Light.

During a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday while visiting the country for Bastille Day, a French reporter asked Trump if he still believed France was not able to fight terrorism on its own and if the President still stood by his statements that Paris is not the city it used to be. The reporter asked Macron questions about Trump’s policies first, but Trump jumped in before he could respond saying “You better let me answer that one first.”

“That’s a beauty. He’s the one that asked the question. That wasn’t even one of my picks,” Trump said, referring to the reporter who was called on by Macron. “You know what? It’s going to be just fine because you have a great president. You have somebody that’s going to run this country right. And I’d be willing to bet, because I think this is one of the greatest cities, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and you have a great leader now.”

He called Macron “tough” and said the recently elected President will not “be easy on people that are breaking the laws and people that show tremendous violence.”

“So I really have a feeling that you’re going to have a very, very peaceful and beautiful Paris. And I’m coming back. You better do a good job, please,” Trump said addressing Macron. “Otherwise you’re going to make me look very bad.”

“And you’re always welcome,” Macron said.

Back in February, Trump relayed the story of his friend “Jim,” who apparently told the President that he doesn’t visit the French capital anymore. “Paris is no longer Paris,” Jim apparently told Trump.

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The Department of Justice missed a court-ordered deadline to release portions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ security clearance form, but complied a day later by releasing a one page, “heavily redacted” version of the document, according to the group that requested it.

The court order came after a watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March asking for sections of Sessions’ security form that disclose his contacts with the Russian government. When the Department of Justice didn’t provide the information, the group filed a law suit, according to an NPR report.

The group asked for portions of Sessions’ Standard Form 86 that discloses information about the attorney general’s contacts with “any official in the Russian government.” The requested forms are required documentation for any governmental officials who seeks security clearance. In June, a judge ordered the Department of Justice to respond to the FOIA request by July 12.

On deadline day, the DOJ sent the watchdog group a letter saying it couldn’t respond to most of the group’s FOIA request because the requested information included: “personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;” “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;” and “would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”

The watchdog group doesn’t buy the Department’s defense.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named attorney general was to lie to the FBI on an issue of national security. From Jeff Sessions to Jared Kushner to Donald Trump, Jr., the President’s closest confidants appear to have collective amnesia about their dealings with the Russian government,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

The one-page document from the Department of Justice contains no detailed information, other than a check next to the “no” box in response to the question: “Have you or any member of your immediate family in the past seven (7) years had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment (such as embassy, consulate, agency, military service, intelligence or security service, etc.) or its representatives, whether inside or outside the U.S.? (Answer ‘No’ if the contact was for routine visa applications and border crossing related to either official U.S. Government travel or foreign travel on a U.S. passport.)”

Since his confirmation hearing, Sessions has admitted to speaking with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., which he did not previously disclose.

American Oversight is requesting the portions of the same document that White House adviser Jared Kushner has had to revise for failing to divulge meetings with Russian officials.

See the response to the watchdog group’s lawsuit and the letter from the Department of Justice below:

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To help viewers understand her opinion on news that Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting Kremlin-linked lawyer to get dirt on his father’s opponent, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway used cue cards during a Fox News interview.

Appearing on “Hannity” Wednesday night, Conway claimed the American people are pushing back against the mainstream media, saying ratings are low — “Not yours, Sean, congratulations on your incredible ratings,” she clarified — and questioned why the press is covering Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer instead of the President’s meeting with the Russian president.

“Do you realize the President of the United States sat with the president of Russia less than a week ago for two hours and 15 minutes, and yet we are talking about this? Do you realize we’ve got people in the media now, between their lower third chyrons and what comes out of their mouths, they talk more about Russia more than America? Thank you for talking about America so often,” she said to host Sean Hannity.

Conway said there was “zero usable information” that came out of Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign and held up a cue card with the words “Conclusion?” and “Collusion” written on it in bold, with an “X” through the word collusion.

“I want to review in case you run out of time. This is for the people at home. What is the conclusion? Collusion? No, we don’t have that yet,” she said, scribbling over the word with a red marker and then holding up a new set up cards with the words “Illusion” and “Delusion” written in bold letters.

“I see illusion and delusion. So just so we’re clear, everyone, four words, conclusion, collusion, no. Illusion, delusion, yes. I just thought we’d have some fun with words, Sesame’s Grover word of the day, perhaps, Sean, because you’re absolutely right. To date, they basically set out this Venus fly trap and said ‘One day we’ll catch something.’”

She went on to say the American people “appreciate” the fact that Trump Jr. released his emails and appeared on the Hannity show “for all to see.”

“Compare that to hiding and furtiveness that we saw during the last campaign by the other side,” she said, with Hannity adding he was going to buy her a “white board.”

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