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

The White House on Thursday again pointed reporters to the President’s attorney for questions about when President Donald Trump knew that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI.

When asked why questions about when Trump knew that information should be considered a legal matter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s attorneys “feel this is a question that should be answered by them” and claimed she’d ask Trump’s attorney John Dowd to respond to reporters about the topic.

When pressed again about why it’s a legal matter, Sanders said she’s “going to listen to the attorneys on this one.”

“John Dowd will hopefully follow up with you in short order,” she said.

After Flynn was charged with one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials while working for Trump’s transition team, Trump initially said the charges proved that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. He later tweeted that he fired Flynn because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI, an admission that could characterize his request to then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the case against Flynn as obstruction of justice.

The White House later claimed that one of Trump’s lawyers erroneously wrote the tweet, not the President. 

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Just minutes after Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on the Senate floor Thursday that he would resign, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said he has “not yet decided” who he will appoint to fill the embattled senator’s vacated seat.

“Events have unfolded quickly; thus, I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple days,” he said in a statement, which comes amid multiple reports that he plans to tap his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to serve for the next year. Smith is considered a close ally to the governor and reportedly has no interest in running for Congress in a 2018 special election.

Franken’s resignation follows weeks of public allegations from multiple women that the senator forcibly kissed or groped them without their consent in the past. Franken has apologized to one of the women, who shared a photo of Franken appearing to reach toward her chest while she was sleeping. He has also apologized to other accusers, but has combatted or denied other claims.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen female Democratic senators released statements calling on Franken to resign. Other Democratic senators quickly followed suit.

During his emotional speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Franken said he was resigning his seat, but “I’m not giving up my voice.” He expressed a desire for all women be heard and have their experiences taken seriously. He said that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true” and “others I remember very differently.”

He also pointed out the irony of President Donald Trump — “who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault” — sitting in the White House and “a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls” running for a seat in the Senate “with the full support of his party.”

In his statement following Franken’s resignation, Dayton said he extended “my deepest regret to the women who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken,” and said his “heart goes out to Al and his family.”

He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” he said.

Smith released a statement alongside Dayton, thanking Franken for his service while also condemning sexual harassment, which she said “can never be tolerated in our politics, our businesses, or anywhere else.”

It was not immediately clear when Franken’s last day in the Senate will be. The governor will name someone to serve for the next year and a special election will be held in November 2018. That person will serve for the remainder of Franken’s term, which ends in 2020. 

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If Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) heeds the advice of more than 30 of his colleagues and resigns on Thursday after weeks of facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Minnesota’s governor will likely tap his female lieutenant governor to replace Franken in the Senate, according to reports in Politico and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to people familiar with the matter, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith if Franken steps down. Sources told Politico and the Star Tribune that Smith is a close ally of the governor who would have no interest in running for Congress in a 2018 special election, which would make way for a open Democratic primary next year.

“I feel in this environment, and given what’s happening … a woman would be very appropriate,” Minnesota state Rep. Frank Hornstein told the Star Tribune.

Dayton’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

The news comes as speculation grows over Franken’s future in Congress. He plans to make a statement about his decision during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday just before noon.

His office pushed back against reports Wednesday night that he had already decided to resign, despite calls from dozens of colleagues and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to step down. Just before noon on Wednesday, numerous female Democratic senators released a wave of statements calling on Franken to resign. Other Democratic senators quickly followed suit.

So far, seven women have come forward alleging Franken forcibly kissed or groped them without their consent in the past. Two of those women spoke out as recently as Wednesday.

Many of Franken’s female colleagues said Wednesday that while they value Franken’s friendship, the mounting allegations are a sign of a pattern of problematic behavior. Franken has apologized for some of the accusations and combatted the stories of others. After the first woman, Leeann Tweeden, shared her story, Franken asked for the Senate Ethics Committee to launch a probe into his behavior.

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After the president of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) told employees Wednesday that longtime radio host Garrison Keillor was dismissed because of “multiple allegations” of sexual misconduct, Keillor’s attorney suggested the radio station official may be lying.

“We are aware of allegations against Mr. Keillor by only one individual,” attorney Eric Nilsson said in a statement sent to the Associated Press on Thursday. “We trust that Mr. McTaggart will set the record straight in this respect to avoid any misperceptions on that point.”

Minnesota Public Radio last week cut ties with Keillor, the longtime former host of “The Prairie Home Companion” show, after a former colleague complained about his inappropriate touching. During an off-the-record meeting with employees on Wednesday, MPR President Jon McTaggart said it was his personal decision to axe Keillor and he said he was aware of several allegations that spanned over a long period of time, according to employees who spoke to MPR News after the meeting.

Keillor has admitted that he touched a woman’s bare back when he was trying to console her and told the Star Tribune that he apologized afterward. His attorney said he wants to see the issue resolved quickly and said he “expects a full restoration of his reputation.”

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In a fiery interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday night, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s spokesperson consistently gave non-answers to questions about the candidate’s current stance on a variety of controversial statements he’s made in the past.

A self-proclaimed staunch evangelical Christian, Moore, in recent years, has equated homosexuality to “beastiality.” When asked whether he still holds that position, spokeswoman Janet Porter said she “can’t answer that question.”

“I can tell you what he does believe regarding that issue— regarding that issue, if you want to talk about making sure we don’t have sexual predators, —” but Cooper cut her off.

“No, I’m not talking about sexual predators. I’m talking about anybody that’s homosexual, gay, lesbian people,” Cooper said.

“Let me just say, [Doug Jones] wants to put out a welcome mat in front of these young girls, if you are a junior high school girl or if you are a high school girl, what abortion Jones is saying is we’re putting out a welcome mat to any boy who’s feeling like a girl that day, he’s free to walk into the bathroom, the locker room with his camera phone and shower with your daughter,” she said, possibly referencing Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones’ stance on transgender individuals being allowed to use the bathroom that makes them most comfortable.

Moving on, Cooper asked her whether Moore still believes that homosexuality should be illegal and if the terror attack on the World Trade Center on 9-11 happened because “we distanced ourselves from God.” Porter gave similar non-answers, claiming that Jones isn’t a very good Christian and saying that Moore “believes the Bible.”

“Does he still believe an American citizen who’s a Muslim should not be able to serve in Congress?” Cooper asked, referencing comments Moore has made in the past criticizing Rep. Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim, about being sworn into Congress with the Quran.

“I think that what he’s getting at there is that we believe in the rule of law by the Constitution, not Sharia law. I think that’s really the bottom line and what we’re looking at,” she said. “It’s a message — I believe his position has to do with whether we follow the Constitution or the ridiculously oppressive to women Sharia law.”

In an interview with Vox in August, Moore claimed there were whole communities in the Midwest that operate “under Sharia law.” Porter said she’s not sure if there actually are “any in America, but there’s a movement toward that.”

The only definitive answer Porter gave throughout the interview was in response to a question about whether Moore still believes former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

“That is his position,” she said, before criticizing Cooper for “ridiculing Biblical beliefs,” claiming that the judges who ruled against Moore serving on the state Supreme Court were “activists” and saying it’s “no news flash” that Moore thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman.    

“He has stood for the Constitution, and that’s really what it’s all about. It comes down to who do you want to represent the people of Alabama,” she said.

Despite the highly controversial statements Moore has made in the past and the allegations of sexual misconduct toward teens piling up against, Moore and Jones are neck-and-neck in the polls and Moore has earned the full endorsement of the President ahead of Tuesday’s special election.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting

A group of female Democratic senators on Wednesday called on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign from Congress, following weeks of mounting sexual misconduct allegations against the embattled lawmaker.

In a wave of statements and Twitter posts, at least 10 of Franken’s female colleagues called him out on Wednesday just after 11:30 a.m. EST: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Patty Murray (D-WA) Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was the first male senator to call for his resignation.

Democratic aides familiar with the female senators’ discussions told TPM that they had been in ongoing talks about Franken’s future, and that Wednesday’s push “was a result of mounting frustrations over the increasing number of accusations.” But not all female Democratic senators were looped in.

Fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke with Franken personally on Wednesday and said the congressman’s office plans to release a statement on Thursday. She said she’s “confident he will make the right decision.”

Gillibrand was the first senator to speak up, posting on Facebook that she was “shocked and disappointed to learn over the last few weeks that a colleague I am fond of personally has engaged in behavior towards women that is unacceptable” and said it was a “moment of reckoning” for those who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault.

“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” she wrote. “In the wake of the election of President Trump, in just the last few months, our society is changing, and I encourage women and men to keep speaking up to continue this progress. At this moment, we need to speak hard truths or lose our chance to make lasting change.”

The others followed suit.

At least six women have gone public in recent weeks alleging Franken forcibly kissed them or groped them in the past. LA radio host Leeann Tweeden was the first to come forward, alleging the congressman aggressively kissed her when the two were rehearsing for a skit while on a USO tour in 2006 and groping her while she was sleeping. She released a photo with her statement, that appears to show Franken grabbing toward her chest while she slept.

Several others have spoken up since, saying Franken groped their butts during photo opportunities over the years. The most recent woman, a former Democratic congressional aide, came forward Wednesday alleging the senator forcibly kissed her in 2006 after the taping of his radio show.

When Tweeden went public, Franken apologized for the photo and said he remembered the rehearsal differently. He asked for the Senate Ethics Committee to launch a full investigation into the allegations against him. He has since apologized to the other women for making them feel disrespected, but has combatted many of their claims. On Wednesday, he told Politico that the actions alleged by the anonymous former congressional were “categorically not true.”

The allegations have been particularly jarring for Democrats who know Franken as a champion for legislation that supports survivors of sexual and domestic violence and workplace harassment. But many of his female and male colleagues said Wednesday that they think the mounting accusations are a sign of a problematic pattern of behavior by the congressman.

Hirono said in a statement that she “struggled with this decision” because she considers Franken a “friend,” but said she couldn’t excuse his behavior. She said TIME magazine’s decision to name “The Silence Breakers” their “Person of the Year” has brought to light something that “women have always known.”

“There are men among us who use their positions of power and influence to manipulate, harass, and assault women. What is new here is the women,” she said. “We are, all of us, speaking out, naming names and demanding that the harassers take responsibility for their behavior.”

Hassan also released a statement, saying it was “clear” Franken had engaged in a “pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior.”

“We are experiencing a sea change in our culture that is long overdue, and we must continue working to empower all women and do everything we can to prevent sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault,” she said.

Harris, Baldwin, Stabenow and McCaskill joined the chorus by posting on Twitter, with Harris saying it would be the “best thing” for Franken to step down.

Murray also said she thought there was enough evidence to show that Franken has a “deeply harmful, persistent problem” of sexual misconduct against women and said Congress could not “pick and choose based on political party or friendship who we call out.”

In a statement also shared on Twitter, Heitkamp said she was disappointed in Franken and said Congress “must commit to zero tolerance.”

Duckworth joined the ensemble a few hours later, releasing a similar statement of disappointment in her colleague’s behavior. She also thanked the accusers for raising their voices.

“Your courage and strength in driving this long-overdue national conversation is awe-inspiring,” she said. “As national leaders, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard—and we must lead by example to ensure every person is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about our society. It’s about who we are as a people and the kind of country we want our daughters—and our sons—to grow up in.”

An aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told The Boston Globe that Warren called Franken privately on Wednesday to tell him he should resign. She has not yet confirmed that publicly.

Casey posted on Twitter and said he agreed with his female colleagues and that “we can’t just believe women when it’s convenient.” Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) also released statements on Twitter shortly after, asking Franken to step aside.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said later Wednesday afternoon that he had “just learned of the latest, disturbing allegation” against Franken and said he “has to step aside.”

“While the facts from case to case can differ, and while there are sound reasons for weighing evidence in such cases in a deliberate and carefully considered process, Senator Franken’s situation has become untenable,” he said in a statement. “I am concerned that even a prompt Ethics Committee investigation and recommendations will not come soon enough. He has to step aside. I hope as a nation that we are beginning to come to terms with the systemic problem of sexual harassment and assault, but we still have a long way to go.”

Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) spoke out later Wednesday afternoon, echoing the other senators’ comments in a string of tweets.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) office did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment. 

At least four House Democrats have also asked for his resignation, but Wednesday’s wave of calls was the first substantial move by Democratic members of the Senate to question their colleague’s future in Congress.

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) on Wednesday said the Republican National Committee’s decision to restore funding for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore after cutting ties with him last month amid sexual misconduct allegations was “very bad.”

“This is a very bad decision and very sad day,” Sasse tweeted. “I believe the women— and the RNC previously did too. What’s changed? Or is the party just indifferent?”

He said the decision sends a “terrible message” to survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

Sasse also said he would stop donating to, and fundraising for, the National Republican Senatorial Committee if it decides to contribute to Moore’s campaign.

RNC members told TPM’s Cameron Joseph on Tuesday that the committee agreed to give $50,000 to the Alabama Republican Party to bolster Moore’s campaign. Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed RNC official, that the committee transferred another $120,000 to the state party.

As of Wednesday morning, campaign and committee contribution filings on the Federal Election Commission’s site did not reflect either of those reported transfers. The RNC last transferred $6,575 to the Alabama committee on Nov. 7.

A week later, amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore and elected Republicans’ calls for him to step down from the race, the committee announced it was cutting ties with Moore.

In the past month, multiple women have alleged that Moore pursued relationships or made unwanted sexual contact with them years ago when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore has denied all the allegations and has claimed they are political attacks on his campaign from the media, Democrats and the Republican establishment.

While the White House initially backed away from endorsing Moore amid the allegations, President Donald Trump on Monday morning fully embraced the former judge and announced on Twitter that Moore would support his agenda. In a phone call the same day, he offered his “full support.”

Trump is scheduled to host a rally for his own re-election campaign just across the Alabama state border in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, just four days before the Dec. 12 Senate special election.

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Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” is the “silence breakers” who launched the now viral “me too” movement of speaking out against sexual harassment and assault.

The movement has brought down powerful men across the largest industries, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, media giants like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and politicians like Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). At least 50 prominent men have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press. 

Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal announced the magazine’s choice on NBC’s “Today” show, which recently fired Lauer, one of its longtime co-hosts for multiple allegations of harassment and assault. Felsenthal said that the “galvanizing actions” of women and many men speaking out has “unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s.”

“The idea that influential, inspirational individuals shape the world could not be more apt this year,” he said in a statement shared with TPM.

The cover features singer Taylor Swift, who sued a radio DJ who allegedly groped her during a photo for $1 and won; Ashley Judd, one of the first prominent women who came forward with accusations against Weinstein; Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who spoke out about harassment in the workplace; Adama Iwu, a Visa lobbyist who started a campaign in the California state legislature to unveil harassment; Isabel Pascual, who was stalked and harassed after speaking out about the harassment she was experiencing and whose name was changed to protect her identity; and a woman whose face is hidden, who has anonymously come forward with allegations against her employer.

Time’s 2017 Person of the Year cover, provided by Time, Inc.

President Donald Trump was named “runner up,” a telling blow to the President after he claimed on Twitter a few weeks ago that he had “passed” on being named “Person of the Year” again. Time denied Trump’s claims and said it couldn’t comment on the topic until it had made its announcement. Trump was named Time’s “Person of the Year” last year, after he won the 2016 election.

The President himself has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by at least 13 women, but he has denied all the allegations and has repeatedly called the women “liars.”       

The “me too” movement has permeated through multiple industries across the country in recent weeks, including politics. Not only have two sitting members of Congress been accused of misconduct — prompting one, Conyers, to resign Tuesday — the Senate and the House are now grappling with how to handle news that taxpayers have funded at least $17 million worth of settlements to staffers who have filed complaints against members of Congress for two decades. Congress is also tackling new legislation that changes the way harassment complaints are handled on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who championed legislation that would overhaul harassment reporting in Congress, told CNN she was thrilled with the shift to a more “enlightened” culture.

“What a difference a year can make,” she said when she heard the news during an interview on CNN Wednesday morning, referencing the way accusations against Trump were handled last year leading up to the election compared to now.   

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Despite calls from Democratic leaders to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) told ABC Tuesday that he is “not resigning” and claimed Democratic leaders knew about the allegations against him during the campaign, but never said anything.

“I do find it interesting that the DCCC, Leader (Nancy) Pelosi (D-CA) and Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM)— they knew about these allegations last year,” he told ABC outside his office Tuesday. “They looked into them. They didn’t find anything, and they continued investing millions of dollars in my campaign. They were out there and campaigned for me.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as Pelosi’s and Lujan’s offices denied having any knowledge of the allegations before Buzzfeed published them Friday. A woman who worked for Kihuen’s campaign last year has accused the congressman of asking her for dates and sex “despite her repeated rejections.” She said he also touched her thighs twice without her consent.

According to Buzzfeed, the woman, who they identified as Samantha, told the DCCC that she had quit her job working for Kihuen’s campaign because he made her uncomfortable. A DCCC aide brought that information to Kihuen’s campaign manager, Dave Chase, who told Buzzfeed he confronted the then-candidate about the complaint and he denied it. Chase told Buzzfeed that he thinks the congressman lied. 

The DCCC spent at least $3 million on Kihuen’s campaign, and Pelosi’s campaign made a $2,000 contribution to his election committee, according to FEC filings. A source associated with the DCCC told ABC that the committee wouldn’t have financially supported Kihuen if they’d known about the allegations.

News that Kihuen doesn’t plan to resign comes amid reports that the congressman’s chief of staff was trying to find new jobs for all of Kihuen’s D.C. office staffers.

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The chief of staff for Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) is reportedly looking for jobs for the congressman’s D.C. staffers, just three days after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on Kihuen to resign amid an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Chief of Staff Peter Koltak sent out the resumes of most of the staffers in Kihuen’s D.C. office to other Democratic offices on Tuesday, according to an email obtained by Politico. The email said Koltak was “hoping to place them all here pretty quickly in other offices” and asked for help in making connections for any openings.

“Im happy to talk with anyone at any time about each person. I would highly recommend any of them,” he wrote, according to Politico.

BuzzFeed first reported Friday that a former Kihuen campaign staffer accused the congressman of asking her for dates and sex “despite her repeated rejections.” The woman, who BuzzFeed only identified as Samantha, said the congressman also touched her thighs twice without her consent.

Pelosi put out a statement early Saturday after she spoke with Kihuen, calling on him to resign, saying the woman’s account of the “upsetting” allegations was “convincing” and commending the woman for “the courage it took to come forward.”

Kihuen’s office did not return TPM’s requests for comment over the weekend or on Tuesday. Kihuen told BuzzFeed that he didn’t “recall any of the circumstances” that Samantha described, but apologized for “anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable.”

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