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

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Sunday expressed how rattled he is by the magnitude of flooding hitting his state and especially his home town of Houston, following the onset of category-three Hurricane Harvey over the weekend.

“We’ve been seeing resources pouring into the region both from the state of Texas and at the federal level, but this is a 500-year flood, and Harvey is predicted to stay here and keep dumping a significant amount of water on the region,” he said on Fox News Sunday, using the term often coined by governmental officials to describe a flood of exceptional vastness.

He also expressed shock over photos and videos of flooding he had seen of parts of the region, like at major airports.

“At least one of the runways was completely underwater. It looked like a lake. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Cruz mentioned he had spoken with President Donald Trump and the Vice President, but did not elaborate on their conversation. He said the main priority for state and federal officials right now is “the preservation of life.”

“We are still in an active disaster situation,” he said. “Priority number one is saving lives, getting people out of life-threatening situations.”

The hurricane and subsequent flooding has been described by government agencies as a “landmark” event, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency director saying he predicts the department will be working on relief and recovery efforts in Texas for “years” to come.

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Freshly removed from the White House, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka offered his personal criticism of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, lambasting his view on “the threat of Islam.”

“(McMaster) sees the threat of Islam through an Obama administration lens, meaning that religion has nothing to do with the war we are in,” Gorka told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. “He believes — and he told me this in his office — that all of these people are just criminals. That is simply wrong.”

The criticism follows Gorka’s consistent rhetoric surrounding Islam– that the violent extremism displayed by Islamic terrorist groups is inherent to the religion itself.

His remarks comes just two days after news broke that Gorka was no longer employed at the White House. Gorka claimed he had resigned, but a White House spokesperson told reporters Friday that was not the case.

Civil rights groups, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, praised Gorka’s ouster over the weekend, saying his “extremist and Islamophobic views” should have “disqualified him from any government position.”

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Just hours after President Donald Trump tweeted calling Mexico “one of the highest crime nations in the world” and reiterating that the country “will pay” for a border wall, the Mexican government responded, saying the country wouldn’t fund Trump’s wall “under any circumstances.”

“As the Mexican government has always stated, our country will not pay, under any circumstances, for a wall or physical barrier built on U.S. territory along the Mexican border,” the statement released Sunday to several news outlets said. “This statement is not part of a negotiating strategy, but rather a principle of national sovereignty and dignity.”

The Mexican government spokesperson also touched on Trump’s claims of high crime in the country, calling the issue a “shared challenge” that is spurred on by “high demand for drugs in the United States.”

“Only on the basis of the principles of shared responsibility, teamwork and mutual trust will we be able to overcomes this challenge,” the statement said.

The President also railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement on Sunday, suggesting the U.S. may have to “terminate” negotiations with Mexico and Canada.

The Mexican government said its position at the renegotiation table continues to be “serious and constructive” and said it will not “negotiate NAFTA, nor any other aspect of the bilateral relationship, through social media.”

Sunday was the second time in the past week that Trump has publicly discussed who will pay for his campaign-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

During a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona last week, Trump threatened to shut down the federal government if Congress didn’t provide funding for the wall in its spending bill.

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The latest expense the Secret Service has had to take on to accommodate President Donald Trump’s luxe life: $7,100 on portable toilets.

USA Today reported Thursday that the agency signed a contract for that amount with Imperial Restrooms for bathroom trailers while Trump was on his “working vacation” at this golf club this month in Bedminster, N.J.

That’s in addition to the $13,500 the agency reportedly spent on golf cart rentals during that same trip, putting the total amount of public funds spent on golf carts this year alone at $60,000, according to the newspaper.

Earlier this week, Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today that his agency is unable to pay at least 1,000 of its agents for overtime work they’ve done to protect Trump and his large family, who are keen on extravagant travel. The agency has already met the cap for salary and overtime pay for the year and can’t shell out any additional funds to agents who are working overtime.

The Secret Service provides protection for 42 people under Trump, including 18 members of his family. Former President Barack Obama had 31 people under Secret Service protection.

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The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is seeking records related to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife’s trip to Kentucky Monday, questioning whether the couple planned the excursion around watching the solar eclipse, The Washington Post reported.

The couple flew to Louisville on Monday on a tax-payer funded plane to visit Fort Knox with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and make an appearance at a luncheon at a local chamber of commerce.

A photo posted on McConnell’s Facebook page initially indicated Mnuchin, his wife, Louise Linton and the senator also got to view the eclipse from the roof of Fort Knox.

“The U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and I in front of the main door to the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox before we viewed the #solareclipse from the rooftop today,” the post originally said.

But the Treasury released a statement Friday saying the group actually viewed the eclipse from the lawn.

“The Mint staff had originally suggested that the delegation watch the eclipse from the roof but the Secretary specifically canceled that part of the tour. They watched it briefly from outside before they entered (prior to the actual time of full eclipse),” the department said in a statement to The Washington Post.

McConnell’s staff later altered the Facebook post to remove the words “from the rooftop today.”

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and I in front of the main door to the United States…

Posted by Senator Mitch McConnell on Monday, August 21, 2017

While Treasury officials told the Post the trip was planned around “official government travel,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wants to know more about the motive behind the trip.

He wrote a letter to the Treasury Department’s lawyers asking for detailed information about the reason for the travel and why a government plane was used.

The inquiry comes just days after Linton came under fire for an Instagram post she made on Monday, bragging about her wealth and getting into an argument with a follower.

Linton apparently made her Instagram account private after boasting about flying on a government plane to Kentucky with her husband and tagging fashion brands like Hermès, Tom Ford and Valentino—in her photo. Followers posted comments on the picture, calling it distasteful for Linton to tag such high-end brands in her posts and saying sarcastically they were glad that taxpayers could pay for her trip. Linton argued back.

“Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband?” Linton wrote in response to the commenter. “Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”

Linton later apologized through spokesperson, calling the post “ inappropriate and highly insensitive.”

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After former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called President Donald Trump’s speech during a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, “downright scary and disturbing,” Trump responded accordingly, criticizing Clapper on Twitter and referencing a “beautiful letter” that Clapper apparently wrote the President.

But Clapper says that letter was nothing special. He wrote an “almost identical” letter to then-candidate Hillary Clinton.

On the night before the 2016 presidential election last November, Clapper deployed two teams to meet up with each candidate in order to deliver the Presidential Daily Briefing to whomever won, he told CNN Thursday.

“I hand-wrote almost identical short notes to each of the two candidates to accompany the first brief as President-elect; only one actually got deployed — the one to him,” he said.

The undelivered letter to Clinton congratulated her on her victory and encouraged her that the intelligence community would be there to serve her. The letter to Trump said the same thing, with a few additional comments.

“I went on to say that I hoped he would abide by the long-standing principle of the IC (intelligence community) always telling ‘truth to power,’” he said, paraphrasing the note to CNN.

Clapper said Trump thanked him for the note three times.

As a longtime critique of Trump and his impulsive tendencies, Clapper said after the rally speech that he is concerned about the President’s access to nuclear codes.

In a fit of pique, if he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there’s actually very little to stop him,” Clapper said on CNN.

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While retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly hasn’t been able to stop President Trump from being combative on Twitter and in public since assuming the role of chief of staff, he’s been making progress on controlling the information that Trump sees, Politico and Bloomberg News reported.

Kelly, along with White House staff secretary Rob Porter, now gets the final say on what news articles and policy memos cross Trump’s desk, according to a memo obtained by Politico that the two men circulated to Cabinet members this week.

The move is designed to present Trump with competing views on policy from different departments before he draws conclusions, Politico reported, likely forcing him to pause and consult multiple parties before pushing out executive orders like he did at the tumultuous start of his presidency.

Kelly is also working to control the President’s schedule by pushing deputy chiefs of staff to schedule events further in advance, as well as plan at least one public event per day and one travel event per week. Meetings now have a list of attendees, too, to keep aides from interrupting.

“If you’re not on the list, you can’t get into the meeting,” an unnamed aide told Politico.

The President himself has even taken up a new tone toward his chief of staff, reportedly telling advisers to check with “The General” before rubber stamping new proposals, sources told Bloomberg. That’s a far cry from Trump’s “Don’t tell Reince” posture under his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, an anonymous White House aide said. 

Despite Kelly’s push to bring order to a chaotic White House, it’s been a politically damaging month for the President. He was reluctant to immediately and fulsomely condemn white nationalists after a car attack at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. He also vowed to shut down the government in order to get funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, and has been antagonizing the congressional GOP leadership on Twitter. 

Nevertheless, one unnamed senior congressional aide told Bloomberg that Republicans in Congress do have more confidence in the White House and Trump’s ability to understand their concerns with Kelly in charge.

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The latest Republican target of President Donald Trump’s public criticism is taking the disapproval with a grain of salt.

Appearing on “Fox and Friends” Thursday morning, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) outlined all the things he agrees with Trump on and said it’s the President’s “prerogative” to lash out against whoever he wants to.

I just have to concern myself with my own campaign and my day job of being a senator. So what the President does or—that’s his prerogative,” Flake said. “Obviously you want to work with the President on things like tax reform, which I’m trying to do and other areas like border security, so anything that distracts from that is certainly not good. But that’s the President’s prerogative.”

Trump has been publicly shaming Flake for a week straight. Last Thursday, Trump tweeted praise of Kelli Ward, a former Arizona state legislator considering a primary run against Flake in the 2018. The President also called Flake “toxic” and “weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in the Senate.”

During his campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, he criticized Flake again, without naming him, but proceeded to tweet that he is “not a fan of Jeff Flake” the following morning. And new reports show Trump met with some of Flake’s potential Senate challengers while he was in Phoenix.

Trump’s public complaints about Flake come after the senator spent several weeks appearing on cable news shows, where he called out his party for embracing Trump and abandoning traditional conservative values while promoting his new book “Conscience of a Conservative.”

When asked what the beef is between the two of them, the Arizona senator shrugged.

I don’t know. You know, I will work and vote with the President when I believe he’s right and challenge him when I believe he’s wrong. That’s what I’ve done with every president, Republican or Democrat,” he said. 

Flake said that while he’s simpatico with Trump on his Supreme Court pick, his policy on regulatory reform and his tax policy, he still has issues with the President’s trade policy and “tone.” 

I think that we’re going to need to achieve conservative ends by getting a hold of our debt and deficit. We have to work with our colleagues across the aisle and tone means a lot then,” he said.

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President Donald Trump publicly berated Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Twitter Wednesday morning and during his campaign speech — without mentioning his name — Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Now, new reports reveal the President also privately criticized the Arizona senator during a meeting with Flake’s potential challengers Tuesday.

Before he gave his rally speech, Trump spoke with Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWitt and former state GOP chairman Robert Graham, according to sources familiar with the meeting who spoke with Politico and CNN. Both are considering a primary run against Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Graham’s 13-year-old daughter, who posted a photo of the huddle on Instagram, were also present at the meeting, CNN reported.

Sources told Politico and CNN that the meeting was focused on getting rid of Flake, who Trump referred to as “the flake.”

The President has been lashing out against Flake publicly for about a week. Last Thursday, Trump tweeted praise of former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), who’s also considering a run against Flake. He called Flake “toxic” and “weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in the Senate.”

He tweeted again Wednesday morning, saying he is “not a fan” of Flake.

The criticism comes after Flake spent several weeks appearing on cable news shows, discussing his new book “Conscience of a Conservative” and calling out his party for embracing Trump and abandoning traditional conservative values. 

This post has been updated.

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When Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management in June for body slamming a reporter from The Guardian who tried to ask him a question, Gianforte apologized and told the reporter he looked forward to “sitting down” with him “if and when you’re ready,” according to The Washington Post.

After the new congressman was sworn in on June 21, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs contacted his office to set up an interview. But two months later, the Guardian said that still hasn’t been arranged. 

“So far, the Congressman has yet to commit to this interview. However, in light of his promise to sit down for an interview with Ben in the courtroom before being sentenced on June 12, we fully expect the Congressman to be a man of his word,” a Guardian spokesperson told The Washington Post, saying Jacobs has been in communication with Gianforte’s office since June 22.

His office told the Post they’ve been “in discussions” with Jacobs for several weeks.

“We’ve offered times to Ben to sit down with Greg when the House reconvenes after the district work period,” Gianforte’s communications director said.

The news comes just days after a court judge ordered that Gianforte be photographed and fingerprinted for the assault by Sept. 15. The congressman had argued that he shouldn’t be booked because he was never arrested for the incident.

Just one day before he was elected to the House, Jacobs approached Gianforte to ask him a question about health care. Gianforte body slammed the reporter and broke his glasses. Prosecutors filed an assault charge later that day.

Gianforte’s campaign tried to place the blame on Jacobs initially, but Jacobs’ audiotape recording of the encounter showed the reporter did not provoke him.

Gianforte issued an apology and pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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