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

President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that “maybe” the NFL players who don’t stand for the National Anthem “shouldn’t be in the country,” further cementing his tirade against the NFL and players who took a knee during the “Star Spangled Banner” at games to protest police brutality.

“You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn’t be playing,” he told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade in an interview broadcast Thursday morning. “You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. And the NFL owners did the right thing if that’s what they have done.”

While many deemed the policy change a victory for Trump and his perpetual Twitter diatribes on the subject, Trump wouldn’t take full credit.

I think the people pushed it forward,” he said. “This was not me. I brought it out. I think the people pushed it forward. This country is very smart. We have a very smart country.” 

Read More →

After doubling down on his efforts to characterize MS-13 gang members as “animals,” President Donald Trump again on Wednesday evening accused Democrats of defending the “stone cold killers.”

They shouldn’t be in the country,” he told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade during a Wednesday interview broadcast during “Fox and Friends” Thursday. “We are doing, from the standpoint of law enforcement, a great job. The Democrats are sticking up for MS-13. You heard Nancy Pelosi the other day like trying to find all sorts of reasons why they should be able to stay. These are stone cold killers. Vicious killers.”

During a roundtable discussion in California last week, Trump claimed that he referred to MS-13 gang members as “animals,” though it wasn’t clear he was speaking only about the gang members in his statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to those comments by questioning whether Trump “believe(s) in the spark of dimity, the dignity and worth of every person?”

Pelosi responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter Wednesday evening.

The Trump administration has seized on the violent and horrific crimes carried out by members of the MS-13 gang to defend its hardline stance on immigration, using the attacks to perpetuate its narrative of linking illegal immigration with violent crime. 

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration launched an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on the imports of automobiles into the United States, moving swiftly as talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement have stalled. President Donald Trump predicted earlier that U.S. automakers and auto workers would be “very happy” with the outcome of the NAFTA talks.

The White House said in a statement Wednesday that the president had asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to consider whether the imports of automobiles, including trucks, and automotive parts threaten U.S. national security. The president said in the statement that “core industries such as automobiles and automotive parts are critical to our strength as a Nation.”

The U.S. remains far apart on the talks over rewriting the trade pact with Canada and Mexico, with the discussions at an impasse over rules for car production. The initiation of the trade investigation could be seen as an attempt to gain leverage in the talks with the two U.S. neighbors. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that efforts to renegotiate the trade agreement could spill into next year.

Nearly half of the vehicles sold in the U.S. are imported, with many coming from assembly plants in Mexico and Canada. During a meeting with auto executives earlier this month, Trump said he would push for an increase in the production of vehicles built at U.S. plants. He has also criticized European Union auto imports and tariffs and earlier this year threatened a “tax” on European imports.

A person familiar with the discussions said the president has suggested seeking new tariffs of 20 to 25 percent on automobile imports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity and was not authorized to speak about private deliberations.

Trump brought a little-used weapon to his fight to protect auto workers: Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The provision authorizes the president to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs on national security grounds.

The Trump administration used that authority in March to slap tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. Until then, the United States had pursued only two such investigations since joining the World Trade Organization in 1995. Both times — in a 1999 case involving oil imports and a 2001 case involving iron ore and steel imports — the Commerce Department refused to recommend sanctions.

Critics fear that other countries will retaliate or use national security as a pretext to impose trade sanctions of their own.

Daniel Ujczo, a trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright PLLC, said the tariff threat is likely meant to pressure Mexico into accepting U.S. demands for NAFTA changes that would shift more auto production to the U.S. from Mexico. But he questioned whether it would work.

“I do not believe that it will have the desired effect,” Ujczo said. “Everyone knows that (the investigation) will take too long and has no chance of surviving any legal challenge.”

Trump offered a hint about the move earlier in the day on the South Lawn, telling reporters that “you’ll be seeing very soon what I’m talking about.” He noted that both Mexico and Canada have been “very difficult to deal with” during the negotiations.

“I am not happy with their requests. But I will tell you in the end we win, we will win and will win big,” Trump said before departing for New York. He said America’s neighbors have been “very spoiled because nobody’s done this but I will tell you that what they ask for is not fair. Our auto workers are going to be extremely happy.”

Mexico has so far resisted U.S. attempts to get higher regional content rules in the auto industry and move production to higher-wage U.S. and Canadian factories. The U.S. has also sought to change NAFTA’s dispute-resolution system, and include a sunset clause that would allow countries to exit after five years.

The Trump administration has already missed an informal deadline that had been set by House Speaker Paul Ryan to get a revamped deal to Congress in time for lawmakers to vote on it in a midterm election year. Mexico, meanwhile, will hold presidential elections on July 1 and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who has led in polls, has said the re-negotiation shouldn’t be rushed through and should be left to the winner of the election.

If the negotiators fail to agree to a revamped version of NAFTA, the discussions could be extended into 2019. Trump could also carry out his threat to abandon the agreement that he has long railed against, throwing commerce among the three countries into disarray.

Trump has sought to overhaul NAFTA in an effort to return auto production to the United States and reduce America’s trade deficit. The U.S. has been demanding that a percentage of a car’s content of auto parts originate in a country — the U.S. or Canada — with average auto worker wages of about $15 an hour to qualify for NAFTA’s duty-free status.

But companies have built supply chains that straddle NAFTA borders and changing the rules could disrupt their operations, raise costs and potentially put them at a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers in Asia and Europe.


AP Business Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

Read More →

President Donald Trump isn’t undercutting the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Russia investigation by demanding a probe into the use of a government informant to gain information on the Trump campaign before the 2016 election.

He’s just “cleaning everything up,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“No, no. We’re not undercutting, We’re cleaning everything up,” trump said. “This was a terrible situation. What we’re doing is we’re cleaning everything up. It’s so important. What I’m doing is a service to this country.”

Since The New York Times first reported last week that an informant met with members of Trump’s campaign, Trump has seized on the news as evidence of a broader bias against him within the FBI and DOJ and has relentlessly called the informant a “spy,” deeming the whole ordeal “spygate” on Wednesday.

In reality, the informant reportedly spoke with two Trump campaign officials — Carter Page and George Papadopoulos — as a facet for quietly probing Russian interference in the election without compromising the vote.

Trump tweeted Sunday a “demand” for a probe into whether the FBI’s hiring of an informant to meet with Trump officials was politically motivated. The Justice Department then asked the inspector general to look into it.

Read More →

Fox News host Pete Hegseth said Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “probably” wants to meet with President Donald Trump because he “doesn’t love to be the guy who has to murder his people all day.”

The eyebrow raising suggestion was made after “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Hegseth why Kim had agreed to meet and discuss denuclearization with Trump.

At first, Hegseth offered that Kim “wants a picture with the American president” and is likely weary of the economic sanctions the U.S. and its allies have imposed against North Korea in recent months.

“And I think there probably is a point at which the guy who wants to meet with Dennis Rodman and loves NBA basketball and loves Western pop culture, probably doesn’t love to be the guy who has to murder his people all day,” he said. “Probably wants some normalization. Let’s give it to him if we can make the world safer.”

Hegseth’s suggestion follows reports that Kim is concerned about the logistics of traveling to the summit — set to take place in Singapore on June 12 — and fears that if he travels too far from North Korea for too long, a military coup may rise up to oust him.

It’s also been reported that, at least in part, comments made by Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton — about the U.S. using the “Libya model” of denuclearization in North Korea — cooled Kim’s interest in meeting with the U.S. That deal ended with the country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, being forced from power and killed by a mob.

Read More →

An Israeli intelligence company called Psy-Group formed a partnership with President Trump’s campaign data firm, the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica, in order to win business deals with the U.S. government after the election, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Psy-Group — which is owned by Joel Zamel, a person of interest in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe — signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2016 with Cambridge Analytica, people familiar with the matter told the WSJ. The plan was for the two firms to work together to share intelligence and social media services, while also helping each other win government contracts, people familiar with the efforts told the WSJ.

While Psy-Group has not yet been granted any governmental contracts, according to the WSJ’s search of public records, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, was given a $500,000 contract with the State Department in February 2017.

Cambridge Analytica closed earlier this month after it was revealed that the company improperly harvested the data of millions of private Facebook users.

Read the WSJ’s full story here.     

Read More →

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has in recent days cooled on the idea of meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss denuclearization, in part because he’s concerned if he leaves his country for too long, he could lose power, the Washington Post reported.

According to people familiar with the discussions who spoke to the Post, Kim is purportedly concerned a trip so far from home could expose him to a military coup or other attempts to replace him. The North Korean regime leader is also worried about his personal safety and about having enough fuel to get to Singapore where he plans to meet Trump on June 12.

During a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that Kim would not only be “safe” during and after their meeting, but also “happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hard-working and prosperous,” he said.

It’s been widely reported that, at least in part, comments made by Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton — about the U.S. using the “Libya model” to promote denuclearization in North Korea — threw cold water on Kim’s interest in meeting with the U.S., likely because that deal ended with the country’s former leader being forced from power and killed.

Read More →

Following multiple reports that Republican party infighting may soon cost Paul Ryan (R-WI) his speakership, Ryan reportedly wrangled up his closest colleagues on Tuesday for a closed door meeting to vent, according to The New York Times and the Washington Post.

At the meeting, Ryan reportedly lectured his colleagues about sticking together and behaving “as though they are in the majority,” per the Times. He also expressed his irritation with the embarrassing dismantling of the farm bill last week, which conservatives sank amid a broader debate over immigration policy, and said he thinks the “political winds” were finally blowing in Republicans’ direction, according to the Post.

Ryan was reportedly so worked up that he even “used the word ‘crap’ once,” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) told reporters.

“For Paul Ryan, ‘crap’ is pretty blue language,” he said.

Despite Ryan’s apparent frustration, the meeting ended well— with a standing ovation that could be heard in the hallway, according to the Post.

While the White House has been tight lipped about its opinion on who Ryan’s successor should be ever since Ryan announced his retirement in April, one senior White House official told the Post that the White House is unsure if Ryan should remain speaker through the end of his term.    

Read More →

Still shaken by the leak of a morbid joke made at Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) expense during an internal White House meeting earlier this month, President Donald Trump has reportedly demanded a major shakeup of his communications team, Politico reported Tuesday.

And the President has asked the aide who made the joke about McCain “dying” to help him identify leakers, according to three people familiar with the situation who spoke to Politico.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly signed off on plans to reduce the number of midlevel and junior aides on the communications team, a move that will not impact high level officials like press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The communications teams housecleaning is one of many measures the White House plans to take to crack down on leaks.  The New York Times reported last week that the White House was shrinking the size of its daily communications meetings in order to stifle what gets shared with the press.

Trump’s demands for change are reportedly in response to the leak of the McCain joke that special assistant Kelly Sadler made earlier this month.

During a meeting with Sadler and other staffers, Trump asked Sadler to help him identify leakers in the communications shop. In that same meeting, Trump also “expressed deep frustration,” in Politico’s words, with the excessive leaks that have plagued his presidency since Day One. He said the stories that are often privately shared with the media are inaccurate and damaging, according to Politico.

Read More →