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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

CNN reporter Matthew Chance snagged the first western media interview with former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak while he was heading to a campaign event in the Russian city of Saransk.

Kislyak was standoffish at first, telling the network that he was there to talk to the Russian people.

“I understand that. You said you’ve got no secret,” Chance said.

“I’ve said everything I wanted,” Kislyak said. 

Chance immediately asked if Kislyak discussed “secret channels with the Kremlin” with White House adviser and President Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“I’ve said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our conversations with our American (inaudible) out of respect to our partners,” Kislyak said, adding that he never discussed anything “secret” with Trump either.

“We were discussing things that were important to your country and to mine,” he said.

When asked about allegations that Kislyak was a spy during his time in Washington and attempted to recruit members of the Trump administration, he said it was “nonsense” and called out CNN for reporting on the story.

“You should be ashamed, because CNN is the company that keeps pointing to this allegation. It’s nonsense,” he said.

Kislyak tried to walk away after that, but Chance asked about his prediction for the future of U.S.-Russia relations.

“It’s going to be difficult, and it’s not because of us. It’s because of the U.S. political dynamics, the anti-Russian laws. … It’s the sanctions laws, but sanctions is an instrument, it’s basically a statement of being anti-Russian,” Kislyak said. “It’s not going to be wished away, it’s going to stay and it’s going to spoil the ability of both countries to resume a normalcy in our relations. And normalcy in our relationship is exactly what is missing.”

Kislyak’s comments come after he was recalled back to Russia last month after spending nine years as his country’s ambassador to the U.S.

Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced out of Trump’s administration in February after it was revealed that he failed to disclose conversations he had with Kislyak about U.S. sanctions with Russia before Trump was inaugurated.

While he is no longer in Washington, Kislyak remains a key focus of the U.S. probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel thinks the President’s response to a recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia could have been better.

Speaking to a reporter from Israel’s Channel 10 News, Ambassador David Friedman said he thinks Trump is “treated very unfairly by the media” and that “people should give him a chance.”

When asked whether Trump’s response to the violence that broke out at the white nationalist rally was “fine,” Friedman broke with the President.

“I think the reaction wasn’t fine, but you know— I’d rather talk about Boeing today,” he said, referencing the arrival of a new aircraft being brought to the Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel Wednesday.

Friendman’s comments follow a week of global backlash against the President after he blamed the violence that broke out at a white nationalist rally on both the white supremacists and the people who came to protest them.

The rally turned violent as the two groups clashed and a man affiliated with the white nationalists allegedly drove his car into a group of counter-protestors, killing one.

It took the President two full days to condemn the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who gathered for the rally.

Friedman, a former bankruptcy lawyer, faced criticism for his ideology on U.S. relations with Israel during his confirmation hearing.

In February, five former ambassadors to Israel wrote a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying he was unqualified for the job because of Friedman’s apparent opposition to a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, which has been U.S. policy since 2002.

Friedman has also been criticized for some of his extremist positions. He accused former President Barack Obama and the entire State Department of being anti-Semitic and said Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s adviser, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the letter. 

 

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Ahead of his visit to West Virginia for a boy scouts rally last month, President Donald Trump told Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) she could accompany him on Air Force One to ride to her home state, but under one condition.

She would have to vote in favor of Senate Republican’s health care plan.

Capito turned Trump down, according to sources who spoke to the New York Times. She told the President she didn’t want to commit to voting for a bill that she hadn’t seen yet.

At the time, Capito was one of of several Republicans who were wary of the the Senate’s Obamacare repeal and replace plan.

The Senate ultimately voted on a skinny repeal version of the bill in late July, which Capito supported, but the plan was killed when Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ) voted against it.

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A United Nations committee is calling out the U.S. government, “high level politicians” and public officials and asking them to take a stronger stance against racism in America.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued a statement Wednesday asking the U.S. to “unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country,” referencing the violence that broke out at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.

As part of the UN’s “early warning and early action” procedure, the committee issued a statement to denounce “racist white supremacist” ideas and ideologies.

“We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred,” CERD Chairperson Anastasia Crickley said in a statement.

The committee asked the U.S. to investigate what happened when a man reportedly affiliated with the white nationalists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, killing a woman named Heather Hayer.

It also asked the U.S. government to pinpoint what is fueling the “proliferation of such racist manifestations.”

“We call on the U.S. government to investigate thoroughly the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting, in particular, people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants,” Crickley said.

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Thousands gathered outside of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday night, in what was a mostly peaceful protest that ended with police dispelling tear gas toward the end when protesters reportedly tried to move barricades, according to multiple media outlets.

Five people were arrested at the protest, but one person was arrested on an unrelated warrant, Phoenix police told the Associated Press.

The streets surrounding the convention center where Trump’s rally was held were packed by 3:00 p.m., CNN reported. Supporters waited in lines outside the center, while protesters were kept on the other side of the street, holding anti-Trump signs protesting white supremacy and many of the President’s policies.

Several supporters wore purple in memory of Heather Heyer, the Charlottesville, Virginia woman who was killed when a white nationalist allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in the city earlier this month.

News outlets reported that Tuesday’s protest was fueled by the President’s response to the violence in Charlottesville and his failure to immediately denounce white supremacists. He also blamed both sides for the violence that erupted at the rally.

There was even a large inflatable Trump doll present, wearing a white Ku Klux Klan robe next to a large sign that said “Make America Hate Again.”

Once Trump finished his speech, some protestors attempted to move a barricade keeping them on one side of the street. Police warned the protesters not to move it and then fired tear-gas canister, the LA Times reported.

Local media reported that pepper balls were also deployed.

Some protestors said they were given no warning before police detonated the tear gas.

A Phoenix police spokesman told the LA Times that some people threw rocks and bottles at police.

The Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted just before 1:00 a.m. local time, saying they were willing to defend any protesters who felt their right to peacefully assemble had been violated.

No injuries were reported and a small group of protesters remained after the clash with police around midnight, according to the Associated Press.

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At a county board meeting Monday evening in Alamance County, North Carolina, a group of concerned citizens appeared before the board to request that a Confederate statue in the county be left alone, according to Times News, a local newspaper.

While no vote was taken on the removal of the monument, the request pushed one member of the Alamance County board to defend the statues as part of the community’s heritage and say that he is “not ashamed” of his great grandfather who had what he called “workers” on his farm, not slaves.

Commissioner Tim Sutton — who ran for his seat as a Republican in 2016, Times News reported — said he would never vote to remove Confederate statues, which have become a topic of debate at the local and national level after a recent white nationalist protest against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.

If it comes down, it goes back up. To heck with facts,” Sutton said, after other county commissioners responded to the request from the Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC) group. “The emotions have just gone haywire. I am not going to be a victim of political correctness. I am just not going to do it. Label me all you want, say what you will about me.”

He went on to say he wasn’t ashamed by his great-grandfather for doing “what he did” because the “workers” — whom he apparently wouldn’t call slaves — on his family farm were given land.

“It is my understanding that when (my great-grandfather) died, from Sarah, my grandmother, that some guys on the farm, you can call them slaves if you want to, but I would just call them workers, that they raised a good bit of my family,” he said, according to Times News.

“When the time came, my great-grandmother gave them land. I am not going to be an assault on logic, an assault on the history of this country and the heritage of this area and this country. Not going to do it,” he said.

This past weekend, opposing groups of protesters gathered at the Confederate soldier statue, which is 30-feet tall and located in the heart of downtown Graham, N.C. The protest was peaceful, local news outlet WFMY News reported.

While Sutton did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment, criminal justice writer Josie Duffy Rice confirmed on Twitter that she spoke with Sutton who said he wasn’t ashamed of his remarks and said the workers were “part of the family, and they were happy.”

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In the wake of mass resignations from one of President Donald Trump’s committees, actor Kal Penn said members of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities finally decided they didn’t want their names associated with Trump anymore.

The final straw was the President’s response to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he blamed both sides — white nationalists and counter-protesters — for the violence that broke out, resulting in the death of one counter-protester.

“I think most of us didn’t feel like it was appropriate anymore and didn’t want our names associated with him anymore,” Penn said, appearing on CNN’s “New Day.”

He said Trump’s attacks on transgender service members, his calls to end Obamacare and the pull out of the Paris Climate Accord were also major issues.

As cultural advisers to the President, many of whom were holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration, Penn said the group felt they needed to take a stand on Charlottesville because it was “very much a cultural issue.”

“His response was the worst of who we are and we felt that’s not who we are at all,” he said. “This was a point where an opportunity to resign en masse would send a stronger message about what I think the majority of Americans really are.”

On Friday, after Penn and the rest of the department turned in their letter of resignation, the White House responded vy saying the President had already decided not to renew funding for the committee.

Penn responded on Twitter mocking the President. 

He said that kind of behavior is consistent with how Trump has handled most backlash since moving into the oval office.

“Look, you’re dealing with a tiny fingered vulgarian who loves to tweet crazy things as his way of getting policy done. Come on. We’re better than that,” Penn said Tuesday, referencing “Spy” magazine, the defunct publication that consistently mocked Trump. 

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President Trump has reportedly considered pardoning former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court last year. But the controversial former law enforcement official has no idea if it will happen.

“So what’s the scoop? Will he pardon me?” Arpaio asked NBC News when the network reached him for comment. “Do you think he’ll do it tomorrow? Who knows, I don’t know.”

Trump is planning to be in Arpaio’s home state on Tuesday, hosting a 2020 campaign for himself at a rally in Phoenix. But the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff” won’t be attending. He wasn’t invited, but he told CNN he would be there if he got an invitation.

Last week, Trump told Fox News he was seriously considering pardoning Arpaio, which would erase the convictions against him for boasting about a court order that stops the detention of undocumented immigrants. He was also charged with forcing immigrants to sleep in tent cities, NBC News reported.

He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration,” Trump said. “He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him,” Trump told Fox.

Arpaio is well-liked in the conservative world. He is known for his aggressive immigration policies and in 2013, a judge found that he had discriminated against Latinos.

He endorsed President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

He served as the sheriff for 24 years and was not reelected last November.

“That’s a legal matter. So I’m not going to comment. But let me say: I don’t surrender. A lot of things about all this — you’ll probably not believe me — about the judges, the bias. You don’t think we’ve heard it all? No way,” he told NBC News.

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Bringing up the viral image of President Donald Trump staring at the sun without protective glasses during Monday’s solar eclipse, Fox News host Tucker Carlson appeared to joke that the move was “not a complete surprise” on his show Monday evening.

“Even the President saw it, but in a move that is not a complete surprise, he looked directly at the sun, without any glasses, perhaps the most impressive thing any President has ever done,” he said.

Carlson later confirmed that he was, in fact, kidding. “It was a test to see if liberals are really as slow and humorless as people claim,” he said in a statement. “Turns out they are.”

Twitter was debating whether Carlson was being sarcastic in his comments.

Watch the clip below:

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Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, apparently made her Instagram profile private Monday after bragging 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 photo, 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 touting her and her husband’s wealth, The Washington Post reported.

“Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!” she said, according to a screen shot of the post. “Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? 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.”

A Treasury Department spokesperson said Monday’s flight to Kentucky — where Mnuchin advocated for congressional overhaul of the U.S. tax code — was approved by the proper channels and that the Mnuchins covered Linton’s travel, The Post reported.

Before being named secretary of the Treasury, Mnuchin was a Hollywood producer and a banker. Linton is a Scottish actress.

Late update: Linton apologized for her post on Tuesday, saying the comments were “inappropriate and highly insensitive.”

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