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

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said reports that the President’s legal team is trying to delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia probe, is a “standard tactic” for lawyers.

But if the digging for a conflict of interest leads to the President firing Mueller, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said he would personally lead the effort to launch an investigation.

“I am very confident that Bob Mueller is going to pursue this investigation vigorously and fairly. There will be a firestorm reaction,” he told CNN, responding to questions  about what might happen if President Donald Trump fired Mueller. “And I would lead an effort to legislate a special counsel, as was done during Watergate, perhaps appointed by a three-judge panel. Let’s remember, we’re very far from a conclusion about obstruction of justice, but there needs to be a full, fair, vigorous investigation here.”

Blumenthal said comments Trump made during an interview with the New York Times — saying it would be a “violation” if Mueller started digging into his family’s finances — “verges on potential obstruction of justice” when “combined, perhaps, with other things he’s done,” like firing former FBI director James Comey.

“Trying to draw lines, red lines or boundaries, or put certain subjects off-limits and then intimidating or threatening a prosecutor, if it’s the President of the United States, I think verges on potential obstruction of justice,” he said. “If it’s the President of the United States, with that tremendous power he has, raises very severe legal questions.”

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On Wednesday, the President aired his grievances with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election, suggesting to the New York Times that it would be a “violation” if Mueller started looking into his family’s finances.

On Thursday, it came to light that Mueller would, in fact, be taking a look at a number of Russia-related business transactions the President has conducted in recent years.

By Thursday evening, President Donald Trump’s legal team spokesperson resigned — after just two months in the position — confirming reports that there may be some reshuffling on the President’s legal team as the Mueller investigation continues to swirl.

Spokesman Mark Corallo resigned Thursday evening after growing frustrated with the legal team’s operations and concerned about whether he was being told the truth, according to reports from Politico, CNN and the New York Times. Corallo, who has publicly praised Mueller for his credibility, told an unnamed Politico source that there was “too much fighting all the time” and he no longer needed the money.

The resignation follows reports that the President hired veteran Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to handle all media questions on the Russia investigation and that Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz — who has represented Trump for years on a number of issues — may be moving into a diminished role on the legal team.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Trump and Kasowitz have clashed over the Russia probe.

Kasowitz will no longer be leading the team’s legal strategy, according to CNN and Politico. That will now be handled by attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Dowd, a veteran D.C. lawyer, will take the lead on the case, according to the Times. Sekulow, a frequent Trump booster in TV interviews, will be Dowd’s No. 2, according to the Times.

The move comes as Kasowitz faces scrutiny over ProPublica reports on his poor behavior outside of work and profane emails he sent to a stranger.

The legal team’s strategy will reportedly now go on the offensive against Mueller and the Russia probe, with plans to look into the backgrounds of Mueller’s team to find conflicts of interest that they could use to discredit or fire the special counsel.   

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President Donald Trump’s chief counterterrorism adviser said Thursday it’s “pretty clear” that the Russian government tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that he didn’t think the former President Barack Obama administration went far enough to deal with the hack.

“There’s a pretty clear and easy answer to this and it’s yes,” Thomas Bossert said when asked about Russian interference in the election while at the National Security Forum in Aspen, Politico reported.

The comment stands in stark contrast to statements the President has made over the past year. Trump has repeatedly questioned claims from 17 U.S. intelligence officials that the Russian government interfered in the election.

Recently while in Poland ahead of the G-20 summit, the President said during a press conference that the U.S. would never fully know if Russia acted alone in hacking the election.

“I think it was Russia. And I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered,” Trump said at the time. “I said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia. But I think it could well have been other countries. And I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere.”

He later reportedly pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin about the election interference, which Putin denied.  The Russian president later claimed Trump accepted his denial of the accusations when the two world leaders spoke about the investigation at the G-20 summit in Germany.

In June, the President played devil’s advocate with his distrust of intelligence officials’ conclusions that Russia interfered in the election, tweeting that if the Russians had been “working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn’t they stop them?”

Bossert acknowledged he agrees with the President on that front, saying Thursday that the Obama administration’s response of kicking Russian diplomats out of the country and closing two diplomatic facilities “wasn’t adequate,” according to Politico.

Trump’s denial of Russia hacking the election dates as far back as the campaign itself. When the U.S. government officially accused the Russian government of directing 2016 election hacks last fall, he said he notices when “anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians” during the October 9, 2016 presidential debate.

She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking,” he said.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came to President Donald Trump’s defense on Thursday.

In an interview in the New York Times Wednesday, Trump told the paper he would not have hired Jeff Sessions as attorney general if he knew that Sessions would ultimately recuse himself from the Department of Justice’s Russia investigation.

“You know, I think the President has a point, because the thing here is if everybody is going to recuse themselves just for incidental contact, I think you don’t get really good governance,” Paul said in an interview on “Fox and Friends,” the President’s favored morning news show. “I believe that Jeff Sessions’ contact with the Russians was incidental. In the usual duties of being in Senate, and it being incidental, he should have stayed in the fray and been more supportive of the President.”

Paul went on to rail against Sessions for his actions enforcing asset forfeiture policy, which he says gives the attorney general the power to disproportionately take property from minority and low-income people.

“I think we shouldn’t take people’s property without conviction. This is something I believe very strongly in, and I’m disappointed that Sessions is going after a lot of poor minorities to take their property without due process,” he said. 

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After witnessing the first six months of the Donald Trump presidency, about one in eight of his supporters would like to change their vote, according to a Reuters poll.

The poll surveyed voters who told Reuters how they voted on Election Day, checking in with them in May and again in July to ask if they would vote for Trump again.

Of those surveyed in July, 12 percent said they would not vote for Trump again if the 2016 election were held today, but about 88 percent said they wouldn’t change their vote, according to the poll.

Of that 12 percent who indicated they’d flipped their stance on the President, several said they were tired of Trump’s daily attacks on Democrats, the media and the judiciary system. Some said they wanted to the President to do more with deporting illegal immigrants and others said Trump hasn’t changed the partisanship dominating Washington like he had promised.

Almost 1,300 people, including 541 Trump voters, were surveyed on July 11 and 12 by Reuters and Ipsos.

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A former secretary of homeland security defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the President went on the offensive during an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t have hired Session if he had known the attorney general was going to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.

“He recused himself because he was involved in the campaign, at least he said that’s why he was recusing himself. It was not because of his Senate testimony about contacts with Russian government officials and basically Jeff Session had no choice,” Jeh Johnson said Thursday, appearing on CNN.

He said President Donald Trump “brought that risk” to his administration by hiring someone who worked for his campaign.

“The President knew that he was hiring someone to be the chief law enforcement officer who had been involved in his campaign, so there’s a certain level of risk you assume by doing that,” he said. “And, look, there are all kinds of ways to express displeasure with one of your cabinet officers. This was really throwing your own attorney general under the bus, which is obviously not good for his morale.”

He said he was surprised by Trump’s comments and that he had not “ever seen a president throw under the bus one of his own cabinet officers in this way, so very publicly.”

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Citing issues ranging from inaccurate reports about crowd sizes at inauguration to the gender pay gap at the White House to the way the President has handled the investigation into Russian interference in the election, Democratic lawmakers have filed a “no-confidence” resolution against President Donald Trump that lists 88 reasons why he’s unfit to serve as President.

The resolution was filed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Wednesday, who told reporters he knows it has little chance of passing through the House of Representatives and will probably have little impact on the President himself, but said it provides a catalog of the President’s controversies since he took office.

The resolution points to Trump’s refusal to divest or “otherwise give up his ownership interest in his worldwide business holdings” and his refusal to release his tax returns since taking the oath of office as key problems with the President’s conduct.

The resolution lists conflict of interest issues related to Trump courting foreign officials at his private hotels, the cost of his travel to resorts that he has ownership interest in and all the publicly known details about the President’s handling of the Russian investigation, from the firing of former FBI director James Comey to revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

It calls out Trump’s attacks on the media, his name-calling of specific members of Congress, like Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Read the full resolution below:

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During a lunch meeting at the White House Wednesday between President Donald Trump and Republican senators who met to come to a consensus on an Obamacare repeal bill, Trump joked about Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) wanting to “remain a Senator.”

“The other night I was very surprised when I heard a couple of my friends, they really were and are, they might not be for very much longer,” Trump said, drawing laughs from the group of Senators.

“Well no, you didn’t go out there,” he said, pointing toward Heller. “This is the one we were worried about. … Look he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”

Heller reacted with a surprised expression that turned to a smile as the President explained how he knows the people of Heller’s state “really well” and said he’s sure they will “appreciate” what Heller will “hopefully do” with Obamacare.

The comment comes after a pro-Trump group called America First Policies released a critical television advertisement in Heller’s home state after the Republican senator said he was opposed to the health care plan that majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unveiled in June.

The ad ran for fewer than 12 hours and the group pulled it from airwaves after Heller “decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues” on the Senate health bill, according to statement from the group.

Watch the video below:

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Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who is one of 11 governors who signed a bipartisan agreement saying Congress shouldn’t end Obamacare without a simultaneous replacement plan, said he doesn’t think the President cares about the details of the Senate health bill.

“I don’t think he’s ideological on this. He has political people to try to probably tell him ‘You need to do this or that.’ But I don’t think he cares really what the solution is,” he said. “I don’t think he’s embedded in some ideological program here. The more he’s ideological, the worse he does.”

Kasich said he has a “sense” that President Donald Trump will sign something that will “stabilize the markets” so Congress can address the rising costs of health care.

We practice quantity and not quality. If we practice quality and paid for quality, we’d begin to rein in these driving health care costs along with looking at all the other elements that contribute, for example, to the rising cost of pharmaceuticals,” he said.

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The day after he left his post as head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, former director Walter Shaub appeared on CNN Wednesday morning, spouting off a list of ethical abnormalities he encountered working under the President Donald Trump administration.

Shaub said he was “horrified” by an incident in which Trump’s lawyer asked if the President could file his financial disclosure form without signing it.

“You need to set a strong ethical tone from the top. Tone is everything in government ethics,” he said. “And what your appointees do is going to follow what you do. We’ve seen a number of incidents that I’ve tried to highlight over the past several months where they’re not following the traditional ethical tone and behaving in a way government officials always behave, and that has really hurt us along the way.”

On top of giving the appearance that he is “profiting from the presidency” by hosting foreign governmental events at his hotels, Shaub said the request from the President’s attorney about not signing financial disclosure forms was the “weirdest moment of my entire career.”

“I’ll give him credit that he filed his financial disclosure form voluntarily this year as past Presidents have done, so at least that’s one tradition that he stuck to. I was horrified when I sat across the table from his attorney and she asked me if he could file it without signing it to certify that it’s true,” he said. “I pointed out to her that millions of financial disclosure reports have been filed in the past four decades and every one of them has been certified as true, and I think we could ask that of our President.”

He said the President did eventually sign it, even though his lawyer tried to convince Shaub to accept it unsigned because signing is voluntary. He said he would like to see rules changed so that Presidents are required to release their tax forms as well.

“It was truly the weirdest moment of my entire career. I practically had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake. I thought, ‘This is the embodiment of exactly how far we’ve departed from the ethical norms that the American people are entitled to expect their leaders to live up to,’” he said.

He also discussed his former office’s work to look at whether the President’s real estate holdings proved any type of conflict of interest for the Presidency, saying the “world of real estate is an entirely new thing.”

“I got to be honest with you, I don’t think we know 100 percent for sure that we understand what all of the underlying holdings are at OGE, but it met the disclosure requirements and, you know, technically the conflict of interest laws don’t apply even though Presidents have always followed them,” he said. “So we had to certify the report because it was good enough from a disclosure standpoint to meet the legal requirements, but I’m not sure that we fully understood everything in it.” 

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