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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

A columnist and longtime defender of President Donald Trump’s innocence regarding Russia blasted Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday, saying it’s not a good defense that the President’s son’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton wasn’t fruitful.

“I’d say it’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion was incompetent and that it didn’t work out,” Charles Krauthammer said, appearing on Fox News Tuesday. “The fact is, this is not just opposition research. This is not just somebody coming out of the woodwork in Indiana, where the story about the Clintons — this is a foreign power. Not just any foreign power. … This is our most serious foreign adversary, one could argue, in the world.”

He said the Trump team’s defense of there being no evidence of collusion with the Russians to influence the 2016 election was one that he supported for six months, until news broke that Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to find out information that the Russian government wanted to give the family as a sign of support for the Trump campaign.

“There was nothing to show that the Trump administration was aware of or supporting the Russians interfering in our election and this just showed up today in black and white, released by Don Jr. himself,” he said. “This is not released in the anti-Trump media. So you see it in black and white. This is not to say that collusion is a crime. It never was. But it is to say that the denial of collusion is very weak right now because it looks as if, I don’t know if there’s any other explanation, Don Jr. was receptive to receiving the information.”

Krauthammer said that Trump Jr. claiming he didn’t get any useful information out of the meeting with a Russian lawyer is “not a very good defense.”

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up, but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here,’” he said. “Look this is incompetence, they got swindled.”

“When you get information that the Russians want to dig dirt on your opponent and give it to you and support you in your election, you go to the FBI. You don’t go to the meeting,”Krauthammer said.

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The chairman of the House Oversight Committee is frustrated that Republicans have spent so much time defending President Donald Trump and his administration in light of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, which seemingly confirm that the President’s campaign was willing to work with the Russian government to gain an electoral advantage.

Appearing on Fox News Tuesday evening, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said he was “troubled on three levels” after reading the chain of emails that Trump Jr. released, revealing what led to the meeting between the President’s son, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-linked lawyer. When asked what disturbed him most, Gowdy said words like “‘Russian government’s efforts to help the Trump campaign,’ ‘official documents.’”

“Those are the kind of words that for months and months, Republicans have been saying, ‘There is no evidence of collusion between Trump, the Trump campaign, or even hangers-on,’” he said. “And here we have this meeting that may amount to nothing, but here we are on a Tuesday on a week when we ought to be discussing infrastructure and tax reform, and we are still talking about Russia, and frankly (it) came up with some good reason because this email, we should have known about it before yesterday.”

He wouldn’t say whether the President’s son committed a crime and said he’d rather “let Bob Mueller sort out all the criminality” of the emails.

“That is not the job of Congress, it is not the job of the New York Times,” he said.

Gowdy said he was “troubled” from a legal level, a political level and a “medical” level, saying he’s worried about the health of people who worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign.

“The third, which is more of a medical issue, is the amnesia of people that are in the Trump orbit. Someone close to the President needs to get everyone connected with that campaign in a room and say, ‘From the time you saw ‘Dr. Zhivago’ until the moment you drank vodka with a guy named Boris, you list every single one of those, and we are going to turn them over to the special counsel,’” he said, referencing the 1965 movie. “Because, this drip, drip, drip, it is undermining the credibility of this administration.”

Along with his work as the chair of the Oversight Committee, Gowdy is also helping the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign assisted in that interference.

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The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said the method used to gauge whether the Trump campaign would be interested in help from the Russian government is consistent with Kremlin practices.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the circumstances of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., White House adviser Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was “very much consistent with Russian practices.”

“(It’s) essentially their operating procedures where they will use civilians, they’ll use often oligarchs, they’ll use others, they’ll look for relationships. Here I think the emails made quite clear that the Russian government was in possession of damaging information. They thought the way to get that to the campaign to test whether Donald Trump wanted this information was to go through people he had done business with, and this was in fact a formality the Russians use elsewhere,” he said.

“Who had they done business with? Well, they had done business with a gentleman that is known as the Russian Donald Trump, who had worked on the Miss Universe pageant, who had business discussions with the president over having a Trump Tower in Russia, so they go to this oligarch, they go to the son who knows the son of the now-President,” Schiff added. “They find out, yes, there is a deep interest in this, and then they dispatch this advocate for the Kremlin.”

He said it’s possible Veselnitskaya was chosen to meet with the Trump campaign because “she gives them some deniability, as opposed to someone who has a direct connection with the government. Now obviously this is something we need to determine, but it would be consistent with Russian tradecraft to do exactly this.”

He called the emails leading up to the meeting “very significant” and “deeply disturbing” and said that since there was “constantly evolving stories” from Trump Jr., Congress “cannot rely on any public representations that are made by the family about their contacts with the Russians.”

“We have now seen a very demonstrable pattern of obfuscation and dissembling about these meetings. … It is absolutely not only a breach of norms but a breach of civic responsibility to the country. If you get approached by foreign government offering to interfere in a presidential election, you go to the FBI. You report it. That’s what a decent citizen would do,” he said.

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Following news that Donald Trump Jr., White House adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort took a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer knowing it would be part of the Russian government’s efforts to support President Donald Trump’s campaign, the White House won’t say whether the President’s son-in-law still has security clearance.

When asked about Kushner’s clearance at an off-camera White House press briefing Tuesday, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly dodged questions about the meeting and said the White House has “never discussed the security clearance” of a staff member.

The meeting between Kushner, Trump Jr., Manafort and the Russian lawyer came to light after Kushner filed a revised version of a form required for his security clearance, which followed previous reports that the President’s son-in-law failed to disclose his contacts with foreign officials, like with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

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After Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the email exchange that led to his meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Republicans have always known Russia is “a bad actor.” She wants to know whether Trump Jr. was tricked into taking the meeting.

“It has taken the Democrats 50 years to admit Russia is a bad actor. … We know that Russia always is trying to influence activity in the United States and they are not a good actor. They are not our friend,” she said in an interview on Fox News. She added she’d like to know more about the Clinton Foundation’s links to Russia and former President Barack Obama’s conversations with the country.

“Let’s look at all of it holistically and let’s get to the bottom of what transpired with this and find out if Don Jr., if there was something that was a wrongdoing or if he was duped into taking a meeting on another issue,” she said, following the narrative perpetuated by some Republicans that the Trump family doesn’t know when they’re making mistakes because they aren’t politicians.

She also railed against the media for focusing its coverage on the “shiny object of the day” rather than what Congress and the administration is doing to create jobs and provide health care. 

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Vice President Mike Pence is putting careful distance between himself and revelations of a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016, which took place just a little more than a month before he joined President Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — Trump’s campaign manager at the time — also sat in on the meeting.

“The Vice President is working every day to advance the President’s agenda, which is what the American people sent us here to do. The Vice President was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket,” Pence’s press secretary Marc Lotter said in an email to TPM.

The usually vocal-on-Twitter President has also been closed-lipped about news that his son met with a Russian lawyer under the premise that he would receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton’s that would help Trump’s campaign. He hasn’t tweeted anything about the meeting since it was revealed over the weekend.

On Tuesday morning Trump Jr. released the emails between himself and family friend Rob Goldstone that led to the meeting, which confirm that the President’s son took the meeting to get information about Clinton and that the Russian government wanted to help the Trump campaign.   

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An independent journalist, who said he spent a year chasing the story about Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer to get information that would help his father’s campaign, launched a tweet-storm after Trump Jr. released the email chain that lead up to the Russia meeting.

Jared Yates Sexton, who has been published in the New York Times, Politico and The New Republic, called the story the “dumbest and biggest crime in the history of American politics” and said Trump Jr. “just released the smoking gun.”

He lamented the fact that he had spent a full year chasing the story and the President’s son “just hit tweet.”

Trump Jr.’s tweets came moments before the New York Times published a piece outlining the contents of the emails, which confirm that the President’s son took the meeting in order to get information about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia that would help his father’s campaign.

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The hosts of “Fox and Friends” clarified a point on a story they reported Monday about former FBI director James Comey leaking classified information, with host Steve Doocy saying the program was “mistaken” on the story.

“Yesterday on this program, we aired and tweeted this story saying former FBI director James Comey leaked memos containing top secret information. We were mistaken in that, according to the report, half of the memos contained information classified at the secret or confidential level, not top secret and the markings of the government documents in which Mr. Comey leaked are at this point unclear. Just wanted to straighten that out,” he said.

The clarification comes after the President tweeted about the story Monday, saying Comey leaked classified information to the media and adding, “That is so illegal!”

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The ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee said Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last year on the premises of getting information that would be helpful to his father’s campaign could be considered “a potential form of collusion.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the meeting “obviously” warrants a “very thorough investigation.” Schiff said if the facts add up that Trump Jr. met with a foreign government to get help with the campaign, it makes “all the denials we’ve seen since that much more unbelievably suspect.”

“First there was, ‘We never had any kind of meetings like that, and then there was, ‘OK, we did have a meeting, but it was about adoptions.’ Then, of course, Paul Manafort, the campaign manager is there. Why would he come to a meeting about adoptions?” Schiff said. “Then it’s about the Magnitsky Act, that’s a sanctions legislation that sanctions Russians who are committing human rights abuses.”

“Then, we learn that, well, actually they went hoping to get damaging information from the Russians about Hillary Clinton. So, the investigation continues to shift, of course not just for Don Jr. , but for many in the Trump world and all of it raises a lot of alarm for us,” he said.

If it ends up being true that the Trump campaign went to the meeting to enlist help from Russia, that would be a “potential form of collusion,” he said.

“If they were soliciting or receiving essentially in-kind contributions from a foreign government in a U.S. election, that would violate, I think, any number of laws,” he said.

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Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter Tuesday morning to slam the media for being “extremely invested” in the story of his father’s campaign potentially colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 election, following news that Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last year on the premises of getting information that would be helpful to the campaign.

Trump Jr., White House adviser Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower not long after President Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination. The lawyer has since denied that she told Trump Jr. that she had promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton.

The President’s son attacked the media two days after the news broke, saying the press must be desperate to cover the Russia story if “this nonsense meeting is all they have” after a year.

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