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

After President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and Russia were talking about forming an “impenetrable” cyber security unit, only to reverse himself 12 hours later, the White House said Monday Russia is a “cyber threat,” but the U.S. should still work with the country.

“We recognize that Russia is a cyber threat,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an off-camera briefing. “But we also recognize the need to have conversations with our adversaries, and when our adversaries see strength like they did with the President in the meeting, they can look for other ways to work on shared interests, and look for positive places where they can move the ball forward, particularly on things like the cease-fire and that became a greater focus, and something the President chose to stay focused on is that front.”

When asked if the plan to partner with Russia on combating election hacking was dead, Sanders said she didn’t think there was ever actually a plan in place.

“Look, I would say that discussions may still take place, but that’s as far as it is right now. I‘m not sure that there were specific details discussed,” she said. “I think it was simply just a discussion on cyber security threats and potential options not necessarily a formal kind of structure in place.”

The comments came after the President seemingly flip-flopped on his plans to work with Russia to combat cyber security on Sunday following widespread criticism about the plan.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C. over a lack of transparency by President Donald Trump’s bogus election fraud commission.

The lawsuit alleges the panel has failed to follow the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires advisory committees to post notice of meetings, make their discussions open to the public and that written records of the meetings be shared publicly. Commissions also must provide evidence that they aren’t being influenced by special interest groups or the President. ACLU attorneys said the lack of transparency raises “serious concerns” about what the commission is trying to accomplish.

This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?” ACLU staff attorney Theresa Lee said in a statement.

The election fraud panel — created through a Trump executive order — requested all 50 states hand over sensitive voter data, like addresses, military status and the last four digits of voters’ social security numbers. Nearly every state has responded saying it will either not provide any of the information or only give the commission publicly available data.

The ACLU lawsuit claims the commission has operated with secrecy by not only failing to explain how it plans to use the data it requested from states, but also how it would protect the information.

“Our election process must be secure, fair, and transparent,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Yet the commission is conducting its work deep in the shadows, making it alarmingly suspect. The commission is legally required to conduct the people’s business in the light of day.”

 Read the ACLU’s complaint below:

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In a heated exchange Monday between White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and CNN host Chris Cuomo, Conway mocked the journalist for working at CNN and said the network is “invested” in creating a story about the President colluding with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election.

“We cannot convert wishful thinking to hard evidence. … If we were in court your side would not even survive a motion to dismiss because you’ve got nothing. On this one, Don Jr. has very clearly said he was told that there would be some kind of information helpful to the campaign. It quickly because very apparent there was not,” Conway said, when asked if she was concerned about reports that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last June. Conway said that having the campaign leaders like Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner present in the meeting was “standard procedure.”

“Let’s focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information was provided that was meaningful. No action taken. Nothing,” she said.

Cuomo went on to ask Conway about the President’s son’s credibility now that it’s known he actually did meet with Russian officials, after publicly denying it.

“I admire your moxie sitting there with the CNN chyron right next to you talking about credibility issues,” Conway said.

She then accused Cuomo of trying to “produce something” by asking questions about President Donald Trump and his associates changing their position about working with Russian officials.

“What do you mean the President changed his story? The President had nothing to do with this meeting. You want to produce something because you’ve been invested for months now as a network in something that simply doesn’t exist,” she said. “Here is the unfair premise. That we are talking about this again. Yet again. That you talk about Russia more than you talk about America.”

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The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he will want to question Donald Trump Jr. after news came out that the President’s son met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer last June.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on CNN on Sunday that the meeting raises “a variety of questions” because Trump has denied having any kind of meetings like this.

“They claimed this meeting had nothing to do with the campaign, and yet the Trump campaign manager is invited to come to the meeting and there’s no reason for this Russian government advocate to be meeting with Paul Manafort or Mr. Kushner or the President’s son if it wasn’t about the campaign and Russia policy,” he said.

He said the meeting is indicative of the fact that Russia was “obviously” trying to “influence one of the candidates” and that the explanations given from the administration so far don’t “make sense.” He said his committee would like to “get to the bottom” of what happened at the meeting and he plans to question everyone who was at the meeting.

“By trying to frame this about adoptions ignores what it sounds like the meeting might have been about and that was the Magnitsky Act, which is legislation, very powerful sanctions legislation, that goes against Russian human rights abusers,” he said.

“So if this was an effort to do away with that sanctions policy, that is obviously very significant that the President’s team, then-candidate Trump’s team, that contradicts of course what the President and his people have said about whether they’ve been meeting with any members of the Russian government,” he said.

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Responding to statements from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin would like to move on from allegations that Russian interfered with the 2016 election, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the move “disgraceful.”

He said the President had a duty to press Putin about Russian hacking, but also an “equal obligation” to trust U.S. intelligence over the word of Russia’s president.

“For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful. To give equal credence to the findings of the American Intelligence Community and the assertion by Mr. Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future,” Schumer said in a statement Friday.

Tillerson, who sat in on the meeting between Trump and Putin, said Trump opened up the meeting asking Putin about the election interference and eventually talked about how to move on from the issue because the two countries will never agree on what happened.

“Working to compromise the integrity of our election process cannot and should not be an area where ‘agree to disagree’ is an acceptable conclusion,” Schumer said. “Congress and Americans of all political persuasions and parties should do all they can to increase sanctions on Russia and prevent the reduction of any sanctions by the executive branch.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, put out a separate statement, saying the reports that the President pressed Putin on the election hacking would have had “much more force” if Trump hadn’t just questioned who was behind the attack and discredited U.S. intelligence in a speech the day before.

“While we proceed with our counterintelligence investigation, it is imperative that the Trump Administration refrain from any effort to relax or rescind the sanctions already in place. They also cannot seek to undermine congressional action toughening sanctions in response to Russia’s brazen assault on American democracy,” he said.

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President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin had a “very robust and lengthy exchange” on the subject of Russia interfering with the 2016 election, but eventually agreed the two countries should figure out a way to “move forward” from the issue, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after the leaders’ first in-person meeting.

The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement. As I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said. “The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance on the ability of us to move Russian-U.S. relationships forward and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of non-interference, in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries. So more work to be done in that regard.”

The President apparently brought up the sanctions on Russia that have been discussed in Congress in recent weeks, but “focused” on talking about how to move on from the scandal, according to Tillerson, who sat in on the meeting.

“It’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed upon resolution of that question between the two nations. So the question is, what do we do now? And I think the relationship, and the President made this clear as well, it’s too important. And it’s too important to not find a way to move forward. Not dismissing the issue in any way, and I don’t want to leave you with that impression,” Tillerson said.

He said the two Presidents agreed to continue discussing how to secure a commitment that the Russian government won’t interfere in U.S. affairs both now and in the future.

“(They discussed) how do we create a framework in which we have some capability to judge what is happening in the cyber world and who to hold accountable, and this is obviously an issue that’s broader than just U.S.-Russia, but it certainly, we see the manifestation of that threat in the events of last year so I think, again, the President’s rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point,” Tillerson said.

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During the Vice President’s visit to the NASA Kennedy Space Center Thursday, where he advocated for getting “American boots” on Mars, Vice President Mike Pence was photographed touching space equipment clearly labeled “Do Not Touch.”

The photo was captured while the vice president and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were touring the Operations and Checkout Building at the space center by Director Robert Cabana. The equipment was some type of “critical space flight hardware,” according to sign posted on the apparatus.

The internet responded accordingly.

Taking to Twitter on Friday, the Vice President laughed it off, saying Rubio “dared me to do it!” and posting a photoshopped picture of himself petting a porcupine instead of the space equipment.

Memes aside, a NASA spokesperson said the signs just function as a “reminder” and that it was “absolutely okay” for Pence to touch the surface of the equipment.

“The signs are there as a day-to-day reminder, including the one visible on the titanium Forward Bay Cover for the Orion spacecraft,” NASA spokesperson Jen Rae Wang said in an email to TPM. “Procedures require the hardware to be cleaned before tiles are bonded to the spacecraft, so touching the surface is absolutely okay. Otherwise, the hardware would have had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby.”

The vice president visited the space center to discuss President Donald Trump’s plans for space exploration, which he said would include a return to the moon and “American boots on the face of Mars.”

“Extending our nation’s leadership in space is one of the greatest challenges of our day. And just as we have risen to the challenges that came before, so too we will rise to meet the new challenges that lie ahead,” he said. “That’s why just last Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to relaunch the National Space Council and guide a new era of space leadership by the United States of America.”

h/t Mashable.

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Speaking to the press amid their first in-person meeting Friday, President Donald Trump said the conversation with Russia President Vladimir Putin is “going really well.”

“We’ve had some good talks. We’re going to talk now and obviously that will continue, but we look forward to a lot of positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everyone concerned. It’s an honor to be with you,” Trump said, turning to Putin for a handshake. The pair were seated in white chairs, accompanied by translators, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russia Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.

Putin acknowledged the two had spoken on the phone several times “on very important bilateral and international issues.”

“But phone conversations are never enough definitely,” Putin said. “If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues that will really need personal meetings.”

“I’m delighted to meet you in person and hope, as you said, our meeting will yield positive results,” Putin added, wrapping up the two Presidents’ comments to the press.

Correction: This post originally quoted Putin as saying “one conversation is never enough” with Trump. The Russia president said “phone conversations are never enough.”

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Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial during visits to the Polish city, but not President Donald Trump, who was in Warsaw this week on his way to the G-20 summit in Germany, according to The Washington Post.

Leaders of the Jewish Community of Warsaw released a statement criticizing Trump’s decision to skip the visit to the memorial, calling the move to “break with that laudable tradition” a “slight.”

Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all US presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. They did this in the name of the American people, who had played such a central role in bringing down Fascism, and in that of the universal commemoration of the victims of the Shoah, and condemnation of its perpetrators, that people of all nationalities and religions express. For the Jews of Poland, rebuilding in a democratic Poland their communal life, after the horror of the Shoah and the devastation of Communism, this gesture meant recognition, solidarity and hope. We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition. We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”

The statement was signed by the organization’s president Anna Chipczynska, President of the Union of the Jewish Communities in Poland, Lesław Piszewski and Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland.

While the President didn’t stop by the Warsaw Ghetto, his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, paid a visit and posted about the “moving” experience on Twitter.

The memorial is the site of the former ghetto where Jews were trapped by Nazis starting in 1940 awaiting transportation to concentration camps. It was dedicated in 1948 to the 13,000 Jews who died in the 1943 uprising there.

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A middle-aged Bronx man, armed with throwing knives and a bullet proof vest, was arrested outside of Trump Tower in New York after claiming he went there to try to find first daughter Ivanka Trump.

Police said the man, Adames Benitez, was stopped outside the building in Manhattan Thursday evening. Benitez claimed he was a U.S. senator, that he owned the building and that he was trying to reach the first lady, according to a report from New York Daily News.

In addition to the knives and the vest, he had a fake ID and a weighted sock on him. Police said Benitez was emotionally disturbed and he was brought to a hospital for treatment.

He was charged for the fake ID and for criminal possession of a weapon. Trump was not at her apartment at the time of the incident, as she is currently in Hamburg, Germany at the G20 Summit.

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