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

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said Wednesday that he is investigating President Donald Trump-appointed members of his staff who he believes are “trying to undermine the department from within.”

Shulkin told the New York Times in an interview published Thursday that he spoke directly to White House chief of staff John Kelly about the issue and is investigating several political appointees in his department for misconduct and potential removal.

“If there are people here who don’t want the V.A. to succeed, I want them out,” he said.

Officials in Shulkin’s department did discuss strategies to replace him last year, according to the report. In an email obtained by the New York Times, White House senior adviser on veterans affairs Jake Leinenkugel told a Trump appointee within the V.A. that he was unhappy with Shulkin and was looking for “solutions” to replace him and other department leadership.

Shulkin’s announcement that he is investigating his staff members comes as he faces criticism for misleading ethics officials about a trip he took to Europe last summer.

An investigation by the Inspector General’s office found that Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored mail to make it appear as though he was receiving an award from the Danish government so that his wife could receive government funding for her $4,312 plane ticket.

Shulkin called the investigation biased, but has since apologized and repaid the government for his wife’s airfare.

Read the full report from The New York Times here.

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Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he is willing to look at “everything” in order to keep kids living in his state safe from another gun massacre like the one that occurred a day earlier at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

“Everything’s on the table. I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe,” he said during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I’m going to do whatever I can do to keep these kids safe, I’m going to talk about every issue to keep these kids safe.”

That includes looking at gun control policy in his state, Scott said, which has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. The state doesn’t require a buyer to have a permit or a license in order to own a gun, for example.

“We’ve got to figure something out,” he said. “We cannot let this pass without making something happen that hopefully, and it’s my goal that this will never happen again in my state.”

The governor’s comments come as Congress and the White House grapple with how to respond to yet another school shooting, which left 17 people dead after a 19-year-old former student entered the school and opened fire with an AR-15. Wednesday’s deadly attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the deadliest school shooting since the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago.

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After criticizing the “finger pointing” that takes place after mass shootings like the attack at a Florida high school Wednesday, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged Congress to take the “lead” on enacting changes that could stop gun massacres in the U.S. “It’s their job,” she claimed.

“We’ve seen, you know, lots of finger pointing back and forth,” she said during an interview with conservative radio personality Hugh Hewitt. “But we need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future, because going back and putting myself in the seat of one of those families impacted, you know, one of these shootings is one too many. And we have got to have an honest conversation and Congress has to lead on this. It’s their job.”

DeVos also said that there have been “far too many” of these “situations” before, and reiterated her opinion that it was Congress’s responsibility to curtail school shootings.

“Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues. And we’ve seen lots of discussion about this every time we’ve had another incident,” she said. DeVos’s call for congressional action echoed statements earlier Thursday by another member of the administration, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who also suggested Congress should take action to address mass shootings without specifying what form that action should take.

DeVos also told Hewitt that law enforcement needs to do more to track people with early warning signs of disturbing behavior, another stance that members of the Trump administration have repeated in the wake of the shooting Wednesday that left 17 dead. According to CNN, the FBI was given a tip in September about a person with the same YouTube username as the alleged shooter who made a comment on a video saying “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

“There apparently were lots of signs and I think it’s critically important that we have a much more robust conversation around tracking and tackling mental health issues and really bringing this all together because it seems to be clear that this young man put up lots and lots of signals and warning signs,” DeVos said.

On Thursday morning, Trump said that there were “many signs” that the alleged shooter was “mentally disturbed” and urged people to report “such instances” to law enforcement.

Listen to the full interview with DeVos here.

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During a speech addressing sheriffs in Washington, D.C. Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the school shooting in Parkland, Florida Wednesday “an image we don’t need to continue having to see” and said law enforcement “can and must do better” at intervening before attacks take place.

He said the Justice Department is working with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education to study the “intersection of mental health and criminality” to “better identify how we can stop people before these heinous crimes occur.”

“We had a brief meeting with your leaders before this speech and they all agree that every one of these cases, we had advanced indications and perhaps we haven’t been effective enough in intervening immediately to deal with that,” he told the Major County Sheriffs of America, an association of elected sheriffs. “I suspect it appears that we have seen that again in this case. So you are experienced professionals. You and I know we cannot arrest everybody that somebody thinks is dangerous. But I think we can and we must do better.”

He then touted his office’s clamp-down on violations of federal firearms laws, saying “we have got to reverse these trends we’re seeing in these shootings.”

“And this situation that we have seen just cannot continue, and we will take such action as we’re able to take,” he said.

Sessions’ response closely mirrors President Donald Trump’s take on the attack at a Florida high school Wednesday. Both argue that it is up to law enforcement and citizens to better report “signs” of disturbing behavior, while only vaguely alluding to concrete policies that could prevent future shootings.

While Democrats such as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) have already requested that Congress act to pass stricter gun control policies, Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), are calling for caution. Following the shooting in his home state, Rubio on Wednesday said it is important to get all the facts of the case before “you jump to conclusions” about policy.

“We owe it to every one of those kids, crying outside their school yesterday, and all those who never made it out of that school,” Sessions said, after urging law enforcement to “do better.”

“Our hearts are hurting today, and all the law enforcement community knows that we have a challenge in front of us, and I know together we’ll meet it,” he said.

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During an interview with Fox News just hours after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday warned his colleagues to not “jump to conclusions” on gun control policy before the facts of the attack are known.

He said it was not the appropriate time to start talking about policy surrounding the shooting, likely referencing statements from his Democratic colleague Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon the attack was “a consequence of our inaction.”

“People don’t know how this happened, who this person is, what motivated them, how did they get ahold of the weapon to carry out this attack,” Rubio said. “I think it’s important to know all of that before you jump to conclusions that there’s a law we could have passed that could have prevented it and there may be, but shouldn’t we at least know the facts?”

“We can always have that debate,” he continued. “But if you’re going to have the debate about this particular incident, you should at least know the facts before you run out and prescribe some law you claim could have prevented it.”

The shooting in Rubio’s home state at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday was the deadliest school shooting since the attack at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut five years ago.

President Donald Trump, who is set to speak on the shooting at 11 a.m. EST Thursday, tweeted Thursday morning, suggesting there were “many signs” that the alleged shooter was “mentally disturbed” and said people already “knew he was a big problem.”

“Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” he said.

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President Donald Trump will speak at 11 a.m. EST Thursday to address the school shooting in Parkland, Florida Wednesday that left 17 people dead, according to the White House.

Trump expressed his condolences to the victims’ families via Twitter Wednesday afternoon. He followed up with another tweet Thursday morning saying there were “many signs” that the alleged shooter “mentally disturbed” and calling on “neighbors and classmates” to report “such instances to authorities.”

Watch live below:

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Hours after President Donald Trump offered his condolences to the families of the victims of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida Wednesday, he tweeted saying there were “many signs” that the shooter was mentally disturbed and tasked “neighbors and classmates” with reporting “such instances to authorities.”

Just hours before the President offered his condolences to the victims.

“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school,” he tweeted, adding that he is working with the governor and local law enforcement on the “terrible” attack.

With 17 people dead, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been labeled the deadliest school shooting since the attack at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut five years ago. There have been 18 school shootings so far in 2018, eight of which have resulted in injury or death.

Police identified the suspect in Florida as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the high school who police say has a “very, very disturbing” online presence.

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President Donald Trump on Monday pointed to his 1980s renovation of the Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park — that he suggested he completed for his daughter Ivanka Trump’s benefit  to tout his new $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

During a press conference announcing the plan, Trump said the rink renovation “took many, many years” and the city was not “able to open it.”

“And I said, ‘You know, I’d like to be able to have my daughter Ivanka — who is with us — I would like to be able to have her go ice skating sometime before she doesn’t want to ice skate,” Trump said. “And I got involved, and I did it in a few months and we did it for a tiny fraction, tiny fraction of the cost. It’s really no different with a roadway, it’s not different with a bridge or a tunnel or any of the things we’ll be fixing.”

In May 1986, Trump offered to take over the construction and operation of the Wollman Ice Rink after the New York City Parks Department spent six years struggling to finance and complete the renovation. His company completed the project in four months — two less than Trump predicted — and came in nearly $800,000 under budget, according to Forbes.

While Trump’s takeover of the project was widely considered a publicity stunt that escalated his feud with then-New York Mayor Ed Koch, Trump on Monday cited the renovation as evidence that his infrastructure proposal, which hinges on state and private dollars funding infrastructure projects, will succeed.

“It was a big deal at the time. It remains a big deal,” he said. “Sometimes the states aren’t able to do it like we can do it. Or like other people can do it. Or like I used to do it.”

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A “Fox and Friends” co-host on Monday morning pushed back on a White House spokesman’s claims that President Donald Trump, a noted fan of the morning talk show, has been “very clear” about his opinion on domestic violence and abuse.

Co-host Brian Kilmeade asked White House deputy press secretary J. Hogan Gidley to respond to an Axios report that Trump has been privately disgusted by allegations of domestic abuse against his former staff secretary Rob Porter.

“Why won’t he say that publicly?” Kilmeade asked Gidley.

“The President has been very clear that all forms of abuse, all forms of battery against women, is deplorable and disgusting,” Gidley replied.

Kilmeade interrupted, “But he hasn’t said that.”

“Right, but you haven’t talked to him today,” Gidley replied. “I mean, obviously he’s said that multiple times in the past, but in this particular instance, you’re talking about sources that I can’t verify because I have not had that conversation with him.”

Gidley claimed that he has spoken directly to Trump “about issues surrounding this type of behavior and he finds it disgusting.”

“The President deplores — thinks that domestic violence is grotesque. He’s said that on multiple occasions,” Gidley said. “There’s no place for it in this country,  there’s no place for it in the White House and the President won’t stand for it.”

Despite Gidley’s claims, Trump has been actively, publicly supportive of Porter, who resigned when his two ex-wives’ allegations became public last week. Trump on Friday wished Porter well and emphasized that he has maintained his innocence, but did not express any such sympathies for Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, the women who say Porter abused them.

On Saturday, after a second White House aide resigned amid abuse allegations, Trump tweeted in defense of those whose lives he claimed “are being shattered and destroyed by mere allegations.”

During his 2016 campaign, Trump similarly defended men who faced allegations of harassment and abuse. After his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested and charged with battery after a Breitbart reporter accused him of manhandling her, Trump claimed that Lewandowski was protecting him from the reporter’s pen, which he suggested might have been “a little bomb.”

He also defended former Fox News executive Roger Ailes, who stepped down amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who agreed to multiple settlements related to sexual harassment allegations.

Most recently, Trump broke with many in his own party to throw his weight behind former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom multiple women accused of pursuing romantic relationships with or making sexual advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his thirties.

“He totally denies it,” Trump said in Moore’s defense in the weeks leading up to the Alabama election, which Moore lost.

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Jennifer Willoughby, an ex-wife who came forward with allegations of domestic abuse against a top White House aide last week, was not fazed by President Donald Trump’s dismissal of her accusations over the weekend.

Everyone wants to talk about how Trump implied I am not to be believed. As if Trump is the model of kindness and forgiveness. As if he readily acknowledges his own shortcomings and shows empathy and concern for others,” Willoughby wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine on Sunday. “I forgive him. Thankfully, my strength and worth are not dependent on outside belief — the truth exists whether the President accepts it or not.”

Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, the other ex-wife of former White House aide Rob Porter, came forward last week with allegations of Porter’s history of domestic abuse. While Porter has denied the allegations, he resigned Wednesday. The White House initially defended Porter, but backtracked when photos surfaced of Holderness with a black eye that she allegedly sustained after Porter punched her in the face.

Trump was silent on the issue until Friday, when he told reporters that he wished Porter well and tweeted Saturday that “peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by mere allegations.”

Read the rest of Willougby’s op-ed here.   

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