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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 top White House lawyer responsible for patrolling President Donald Trump and his officials’ ethical behavior is leaving the White House at the end of the summer, Politico reported.

Attorney Stefan Passantino has worked as the number two lawyer in the White House since January 2017, just under White House counsel Don McGahn. According to four sources who spoke to Politico, Passantino was always planning to leave the White House around this time and has been commuting between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta since he started.

One close adviser to the White House called Passantino the “clean-up guy” because of his role of having to educate Trump’s officials about the ethics associated with working as a public servant.

Read Politico’s full report here.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis are growing increasingly frustrated with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s efforts to cut back on meetings between Cabinet chiefs, Politico reported.

Mattis reportedly wrote Bolton a letter requesting more meetings with administration leadership to “smooth the bubble” of disjointed messaging on key foreign policy issues, like toward Russia and the U.S. stance in Syria, one senior official told Politico.

The scarcity of “principals committee” meetings — gatherings of Cabinet heads to prepare policy for President Trump — has several senior officials concerned about whether the White House is exuding a cohesive message on key issues. The frustrations have heightened following Trump’s disastrous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bolton did not hold a “principals” meeting before the summit and hasn’t held one since, according to Politico.

Read the full report here. 

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North Korea has accepted 100 temporary wooden coffins from the United States and is set to transfer the remains on Friday of 55 U.S. soldiers who died on North Korean soil fighting in the Korean War, according to Reuters, which cited South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The remains will be picked up by a U.S. military plane and will undergo initial analysis on site, which will include opening and photographing the contents of each coffin and documenting any military brass included with the remains. The coffins will then be transferred to a military lab in Hawaii for additional DNA analysis.

The impending return of the remains is part of an agreement that President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reached during a summit in Singapore in June. The return of the soldiers’ remains and the demolition of missile test sites were concessions made by North Korea as it moves toward denuclearization.

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After the White House banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from covering an event in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, journalists banned together in support of Collins, including Fox News, President Trump’s favorite network.

Collins told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday afternoon that she was told by Communications Director Bill Shine (a former Fox News executive) and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that she wasn’t allowed to attend the presidential event because she asked “inappropriate” questions during a pool spray between Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Collins was working as the press pool reporter on Wednesday, meaning she shares any news or comments from Trump with the rest of the reporters in the White House pool.

A spokesperson for CNN tweeted calling the ban “retaliatory in nature” and said that journalists “demand better.”

Several journalists condemned the White House for its actions. Fox News released a statement in reaction to the news, saying the network stands with CNN “for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press.”

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Federal investigators have seized more than 100 recordings that Michael Cohen made of conversations he had with people related to President Donald Trump and his business and campaign dealings, The Washington Post reported.

According to two people familiar with the tapes who spoke with the Post, a large swath of the recorded conversations are between Cohen and reporters who interviewed him during the campaign. Trump himself is heard on several of the tapes, but only in small doses, according to the Post. The most valuable recorded conversation between Trump and Cohen is the one that was released by Cohen’s attorney on Tuesday, where the two discuss a payment to a former Playboy model.

The majority of the recordings were made on an iPhone, without the other party’s knowledge. Cohen’s attorney Lenny Davis told the Post that Cohen’s intent with the recordings was never deception.

“Michael Cohen had the habit of using his phone to record conversations instead of taking notes,” Davis said.

The Trump team is reportedly contemplating whether to ask a court to rule on Cohen’s “indiscriminate release of material,” in the Post’s words. Trump’s advisers are also considering whether they should instead play along and release damning recordings of Cohen, according to two people close to the President.

Cohen reportedly decided to flip on Trump over feelings of personal betrayal, not as part of any significant legal strategy. Davis told the Post that Cohen had to “hit a reset button” and decided he didn’t want to “be a punching bag anymore.”

Read the Post’s full report on the additional Trump-Cohen tapes and what made Cohen flip here. 

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A central Ohio contractor has apologized after he followed an African-American man home and shouted the n-word at him for more than three minutes in reaction to a disagreement over who had the right of way while driving.

Charless Lovett told the local Fox 28 news station in Columbus, Ohio that a man driving a Uriahs Heating Cooling and Refrigeration truck appeared to be upset with him after the man nearly sideswiped him at a local intersection and Lovett responded with a honk. The man, Jeffrey Whitman, reportedly followed Lovett to his house, called him the n-word, told him he was entitled and questioned whether he had a job or paid for his own car.

Lovett recorded the three-minute encounter on his phone and posted it on Facebook, telling Whitman that he would be reporting his behavior to the state.

So this is happened to me this morning. A man followed me from the interstate exit to my house, and then proceeded to berate me with the most disrespectful word to any African American. I wasn’t going to post it, because I felt that I should’ve known and did better in handling the situation, by just walking away and going into my house. But I’m human. Nobody, African American Mexican Puerto Rican deserves what’s been happening to us across the United States here lately. This incident is just one of many sadly. 😔 #IamBetterThanThis #UriahsHeatingAndCooling (if you’re in Columbus, OH; you can watch it and my interview tonight on NBC4 & ABC6 & FOX28 tonight)

Posted by Charles Lovett on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

In a statement, Whitman apologized for hurting the “Black community at large.”

“My actions reflect an unhealthy mindset I have developed and I need to work to change,” he said.  

Whitman told Fox 28 that he is not a racist and regrets the encounter. He said he has received death threats since the video was posted on Facebook.  

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A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland have stated valid claims to sue President Donald Trump for allegedly violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution over profits the President earned from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Judge Peter Messitte previously ruled that D.C. and Maryland had the legal standing to sue Trump over the emoluments his hotel has received from foreign, federal and state governments since taking office. Messitte argued that the two jurisdictions and their residents were being sufficiently harmed by foreign and state government officials’ decision to stay at the Trump International Hotel over other businesses in D.C. and Maryland. Messittee also in March limited the scope of the lawsuit to center on business only related to the Trump International Hotel and not other Trump Organization properties.

In the Wednesday ruling, Messitte denied another attempt by Trump to dismiss the lawsuit, ruling that the court should use a broad definition of the term “emoluments” and that the clause applies to the presidency. In the verbose ruling, the judge sided with D.C. and Maryland’s broader definition of emoluments, which he argues goes beyond simple protections against “bribery.” Messittee also chastised Trump’s lawyers for failing to provide evidence to support arguments that former presidents held trading partnerships with foreign and domestic governments.

“The Court is satisfied, consistent with the text and the original public meaning of the term ‘emolument,’ that the historical record reflects that the Framers were acutely aware of and concerned about the potential for foreign or domestic influence of any sort over the President. An ‘emolument’ within the meaning of the Emoluments Clauses was intended to reach beyond simple payment for services rendered by a federal official in his official capacity, which in effect would merely restate a prohibition against bribery. The term was intended to embrace and ban anything more than de minimis profit, gain, or advantage offered to a public official in his private capacity as well, wholly apart from his official salary,” he wrote.

The judge ruled specifically that under the domestic emoluments clause, D.C. and Maryland can plausibly state a claim that Trump violated the Constitution with state government officials’ stays at the hotel, tax concessions from the D.C. government, and the Trump International Hotel’s lease from the federal government D.C.

Trump hasn’t divested his business holdings, even though he handed over Trump Organization dealings to his sons while serving as President. He also vowed to donate any profits made from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury– about $150,000 so far, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Read the ruling below:

Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly described today’s ruling as involving standing. The judge had previously ruled in plaintiffs’ favor on the standing issue.

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Federal investigators examining whether President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen committed financial crimes have interviewed former White House staffer and reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Newman, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to people familiar with the matter who spoke to the WSJ, the FBI found that Cohen had intervened in a previously unreported dispute between Manigault-Newman and American Media Inc., the media company that paid a former Playboy model for her story on an alleged affair with Trump. The recording of a conversation over that payment between Trump and Cohen was released Tuesday night.

In 2011, Manigault-Newman threatened to file a lawsuit over AMI’s coverage of her brother’s murder. According to the WSJ, the publisher sent a reporter to Manigault-Newman’s brother’s funeral and the writer talked to members of the family without identifying herself. Cohen reportedly intervened and helped draft an agreement under which Manigault-Newman would drop her lawsuit against AMI if they gave her a job, sources told WSJ.

Manigault-Newman worked as an editor for the now-shuttered Reality Weekly, as well as OK! Magazine. A former bureau chief for the National Enquirer told WSJ that he wasn’t not sure what Manigault-Newman’s job actually entailed and that she regularly didn’t come to work.

Manigault-Newman met Trump when she was a contestant on his show “The Apprentice” in 2004, before the dispute with AMI, whose publisher David Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump’s. Manigault-Newman landed a job in Trump’s White House, but was reportedly forced out. She then joined the cast of reality show “Big Brother,” where she expressed discontent with the Trump administration and then walked back the criticism during cable news interviews.

While the resolution with AMI may not have been inappropriate, Cohen’s involvement in the dispute adds convoluted layer to Trump’s former lawyers alleged dealings with AMI and reported attempts to manage hush agreements for Trump. 

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President Donald Trump’s former lawyer created and then dissolved a Delaware shell company in the fall of 2016, with the intent of using the company, Resolution Consultants, to pay off a former Playboy model alleging an affair with Trump, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

According to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to the WSJ, Cohen created the Delaware-based company in September 2016 and dissolved it in October 2016. The person told WSJ that Cohen planned to use the company to purchase the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about an alleged long term affair she claims she had with Trump from American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Cohen created the company Essential Consultants LLC on the same day he dissolved Resolution Consultants, and used Essential Consultants to complete a $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who said she had a sexual affair with Trump.

Cohen mentions creating a company to pay off McDougal in a recently released recording of a conversation he had with Trump in September 2016. The rights to McDougal’s story were never actually purchased, according to the WSJ.

Cohen’s lawyer, who shared the tape with CNN, claims the recording shows Trump suggested Cohen use “cash” to make the payment, which Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani vehemently denies.

“There’s no way the President is going to be setting up a corporation and then using cash, unless you’re a complete idiot,” Giuliani told Fox News Tuesday night.

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Following the release of a recording that appears to show President Donald Trump knew about a payment Michael Cohen made to an ex-Playboy model, Trump slammed his former lawyer on Twitter — again.

“What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad!” Trump tweeted, suggesting that the recording was edited to make him look bad.

Michael Cohen’s attorney released a recording of a conversation between Trump and Cohen before the 2016 election in which the two are heard discussing a payment to American Media Inc. to purchase the rights to a story about former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump. The recording appears to show that Trump was very much aware of the payment, contrary to what his campaign and legal team have argued.

Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani told the media on Tuesday night that whether the tape implicates Trump is “open to interpretation” and he disputed key claims made by Cohen’s lawyer — that the tape shows Trump suggested that Cohen use cash to make the payment. Giuliani claimed Trump said “don’t pay with cash.”

Read the full transcript (provided to the media by Giuliani) of the recording here and listen the audio of the exchange in question here.

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