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 is considering Secretary of Energy Rick Perry as a potential replacement for former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, whom Trump installed as White House chief of staff Monday, according to a Bloomberg report.

The White House is pondering others for the position as well, and though Perry “loves what he’s doing,” he was reportedly “honored to be mentioned,” a spokesperson for the Department of Energy told Bloomberg.

Kelly is a retired Marine Corps general who was a strong supporter of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall plan and made swift moves to fortify immigration enforcement efforts in his short tenure.

As the former governor of Texas, Perry is familiar with border issues and has previously supported some type of physical barrier across the border. He has also taken a less-hardline stance on some immigration issues, like supporting legislation that would let children of undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition for college.

Perry recently made headlines for falling for a fake interview with two Russian pranksters who posed as the prime minister of Ukraine.

While Kelly sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing with an 88-11 vote, Democrats have been disappointed by Kelly’s robust increase in deportations that have split up families, pushing some to think Senate Democrats won’t let the next secretary of homeland security slip through quite as easily.

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Amid comments about cracking down on violence and drug-linked crimes on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his office will also work to address police misconduct, contrasting statements President Trump made last week that encouraged police to be “rough” with alleged criminals.

Speaking to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in Atlanta, Sessions said he will “hold any officer responsible for breaking the law.”

“We all know the cases of the last several years where, in confrontations with police, lives have been cut short,” he said. “Just as I am committed to defending law enforcement who use deadly force while lawfully engaged in their work, I will also hold any officer responsible (for) breaking the law.”

He said all it takes is “one bad officer” to ruin the police’s reputation in a community they have worked “day in and day out to build relationships in.”

“We cannot let mayors and city councils run down police in communities that are suffering only to see crime spike in the very neighborhood that need proactive, community policing the most,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech. “That helps no one. That protects no one.”

Sessions’ comments come after the President recently endorsed the rough treatment of suspected criminals during an anti-gang violence speech last week in Long Island. He told officers they didn’t need to be “too nice” to gang members they arrest and even suggested it was OK to let suspects hit their head on squad cars.

Several police groups have spoken out against the President’s remarks, including NOBLE, which reportedly told Sessions they were concerned that Trump’s words would cause more divisions between police and minorities.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has since dismissed criticism of the President’s comments, and said the remarks were just a “joke.”

“I think the President supports our law enforcement, and he supports the protection of the citizens of this country, and he wants to empower our law enforcement to be able to do their job,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday.

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In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump said the Boy Scouts called him after his highly criticized speech at the National Jamboree and told him it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”

But the Boy Scouts told Time that officials are unaware of that phone call.

“The Chief Scout Executive’s message to the Scouting community speaks for itself,” the organization told Time, referring to a statement a top Boy Scouts executive made last week after backlash against Trump’s speech, which critics equated to a campaign rally.

Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh apologized for the “political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.”

During The Wall Street Journal interview, the President claimed the Scouts called him after the speech thanking him for his address. He said the crowd “loved” his speech and there was a “standing ovation” from the time he walked on the stage to the time he left, according to the interview transcript which Politico obtained and released Tuesday.

“And for five minutes after I had already gone. There was no mix,” Trump said, responding to the reporter’s assertions that there were mixed reactions to his speech. He also claimed it was the “biggest crowd they’ve ever had” at a National Jamboree.

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After the President announced in a tweet that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military in “any capacity,” the head of the Coast Guard reached out to all 13 openly transgender Coast Guard personnel and said he would “not break faith” with them.

Commandant Paul Zukunft made these remarks at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, CNN reported, describing his call to Lt. Taylor Miller, who is the first openly transitioning member of the Coast Guard.

“I told Taylor I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard,” Zukunft said. “And I will not break faith.”

Last week, President Donald Trump made a haphazard Twitter announcement about the policy change, saying he had consulted with “generals and military experts” about the matter and thinks the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

A Pentagon-commissioned report from 2016 found that there are about 2,450 transgender people serving currently and that it would cost about $2.9 to $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries. The Department of Defense is currently studying the impact transgender individuals’ medical obligations could have on military readiness.

The President’s announcement on the policy change took the Pentagon and members of the administration by surprise, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying there would be “no modifications” to the current policy until Trump provides guidance to the Department of Defense.   

If his tweets are followed up with any type of formal policy, the move would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly and blocked a person from being discharged from the military solely because they are a transgender, according to policy on the Department of Defense’s website.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says news that broke late Monday about President Donald Trump helping his son craft a statement about a meeting with a Russian lawyer and allegations that the White House worked with Fox News to push out a since-retracted Seth Rich murder conspiracy story prove why his committee’s investigation is necessary. 

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said the stories are evidence of a “pattern” that the White House is trying to “undercut the evidence about Russian intervention in our election.” 

“I’ve seen all this and, again, it seems for an individual that keeps saying ‘there’s no there there,’ they’re sure not acting that way,” he said. “When you see Donald Trump Jr., a lot of questions will be asked about why the President himself personally intervened, why was he trying to deliberately sign off on something he must have known was false? And the questions around the allegation on Air Force One, basically putting out something, urging his son to put out a statement that was deliberately— hid all the facts.” 

He said his committee will likely question Trump Jr. about why the initial statement made it sound like the meeting was about adoptions when the “subject was trying to offer bad information about Hillary Clinton.”

“This is a pattern we continue to see and why both our investigation and Mueller’s investigation continues to be so important,” referencing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia meddling in the election. 

Warner wouldn’t say if or when Trump Jr. will testify before the Senate committee.

“The judiciary has its approach, our role is we have a counterterrorism investigation that is ongoing. It’s going to be thorough, complete and I still hope we will reach a bipartisan conclusion,” he said. 

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Responding to tweets from first daughter Ivanka Trump about “working alongside” newly sworn-in Chief of Staff John Kelly, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said he doesn’t think Ivanka Trump should have to work through Kelly to access her father.

“If anyone who is working in the White House, other than the President of the United States, ideally would be reporting to the chief of staff,” Zeldin said, appearing on MSNBC Tuesday. “The chief of staff would be reporting to the President of the United States. I would imagine there are a few different people, obviously Ivanka included, who are going to continue to have conversations and access to the President. That can still work. It’s just really important to have good communication with the chief of staff, because you don’t want things going in two different directions.”

He went on to praise Ivanka Trump, saying he is “super impressed” with her “intellect and class” and the work she’s done to try to get paid family leave included in budget discussions in Congress.

He said he likes having the first daughter and her husband Jared Kushner in the White House, despite the turmoil Kushner has caused by failing to disclose meetings he’s held with foreign officials. Kushner attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-linked lawyer amid promises of damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.

Zeldin said he thinks Ivanka Trump could “in her own right” be a “great United States senator if she wanted to be.”

When pressed about what qualifies her for elected office, he said she is “super smart and highly capable” and cited her experience in business and “ability to understand our tax code” as rationale.

When asked about the fact that none of Ivanka Trump’s products are made in the U.S., he said she’s also a “great mom” and “a great wife.”

“She has great education. She has great ideas on important issues that help families, but I would say for anyone who is running for office, the President proved this, there is no one size fits all cookie-cutter way to become President of the United States.”

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Following a particularly chaotic week at the White House — which resulted in high-profile resignations, from the President’s chief of staff to his press secretary to his newly hired director of communications — President Donald Trump is still taking to Twitter to bash the media.

On Tuesday morning he called out the “Fake News media” and “Trump enemies” again and said social media was the only way he could “get the truth out!”

On Monday, just hours before it was announced that newly minted White House Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci had been pushed out of his new job, Trump patted himself on the back, tweeting about the stock market, low unemployment and border security, saying there was “No WH chaos!”

One of the first moves new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly made when he took over was to push Scaramucci out for his “inappropriate” comments in a profanity laced interview he gave The New Yorker, in which Scarmucci insulted both then-chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.

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Promoting his new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday and discussed his biggest issues with the Trump presidency so far: the President’s handling of former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“The Comey firing. The timing of it. You can fire the FBI director, but you could have said ‘Last year, he did things he shouldn’t have done. The way he handled the campaign wasn’t good.’ But, the reason given, ‘Hey, the Russia investigation,’ that should have set off more alarm bells than it did and I think going forward we ought to be careful,” he said.

He said it would be a “real concern” if Attorney General Jeff Sessions were fired and that fellow conservatives in Congress “can’t stand” for the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller — who is leading the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election — if it were to happen.

“That certainly wouldn’t be tolerated on Capitol Hill,” he said.

His comments come as the President publicly bashed his attorney general for a full week, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” and saying he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Some critics have raised concern that if Trump fired Sessions, he would bring in a new attorney general who would fire Mueller.

Flake also raised issue with the way the President has handled foreign policy, adding he has “tremendous confidence” in Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

He said Congress is looking to newly minted Chief of Staff John Kelly to bring some order to the White House.

Being a conservative means something in terms of demeanor and comportment. A conservative is nothing if, particularly in foreign policy, if he’s not measured and sober and predictable. Our allies need to know that. We need to embrace our allies and recognize our adversaries, and to do otherwise is not conservative,” he said.

“Chaos is the last thing that our allies and adversaries need to be seeing. And I’m afraid they’re seeing too much of that. … I think that we need to respect and utilize — to hold our place in the world, and I wonder about our standing around the world now,” he said.

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Following a week of turnover in the West Wing — and claims from the President himself that there is “no chaos” in the White House despite the fact that his former press secretary, chief of staff and communications director all left — the President’s son Eric Trump said he is tired of no one standing up for his father.

Appearing on Fox’s “Hannity” show, the favorite media outlet of the Trump family, Eric Trump said his father is carrying the “whole weight” of the Republican party on his shoulders.

“My father said it, you know, he said it a couple of weeks ago in a tweet. He said, you know, ‘Am I going to have to carry this whole weight on my shoulders? When are some of the people in my own party going to start protecting me?’” Eric Trump said. “Now listen, I’m an outsider, I am looking in on the White House. … But I want somebody to start fighting for him.”

He said his father is “the best fighter in the world” and no one can do a better job of fighting for Trump than Trump can.

“But how much weight does he have to carry by himself? How can a party that is doing so much better than the Democrats. … Why wouldn’t they embrace this? My father has the voice of this country. The people of this country love him. Why wouldn’t they get in line?” he said, referencing defections by three Republican senators who voted against the Obamacare repeal vote early Friday morning, effectively sinking the Senate’s efforts to repeal the health care law, for now.

He then went on to place the blame on Democrats, too.

“Democrats would rather see my father fail than see this country succeed,” he said.

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Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he stands behind President Donald Trump’s haphazard Twitter announcement last Wednesday that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity.”

“I totally support the President in his decision,” Perry, who served in the Air Force for five years, said late last week, according to the Texas Tribune. “The idea that the American people need to be paying for the types of operation to change your sex is not very wise from a standpoint of economics. … I think the President makes some good decisions about making sure that we have a force that is capable.”

In his Twitter announcement, Trump said he had consulted with “generals and military experts” and that he thinks the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

RAND Corporation produced a report in 2016, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, that estimated about 2,450 transgender people are among active duty troops. That same study predicted it would cost the government about $2.9 to $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries.

Critics of the President’s unexpected policy announcement say the cost of hormone therapy and surgeries is minor compared to the estimated $84 million the military spends each year on prescriptions to treat erectile dysfunction.

When pressed about that comparison, Perry said he doesn’t “check on the price of Viagra.”

Perry’s support comes after bipartisan backlash against the announcement.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, put out a statement shortly after Trump’s announcement saying transgender individuals “should be allowed to continue serving.” He said no new policy decision is appropriate until the Department of Defense completes its study on medical obligations and “impact on military readiness” associated with allowing transgender individuals to serve.

Other GOP legislators came out against the policy change as well, including Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

The President’s announcement on the policy change took the Pentagon and members of the administration by surprise, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying there would be “no modifications” to the current policy until Trump provides guidance to the Department of Defense.   

If his tweets are followed up with any type of formal policy, the move would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly and blocked a person from being discharged from the military solely because they are a transgender, according to policy on the Department of Defense’s website.

Read More →