Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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A tiny Montana utility company that received a $300 million contract to help restore power to Puerto Rico after its electrical grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria is financed by major Trump donors and run by a CEO friendly with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a series of recent reports has revealed.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s granting of the huge contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old company that reportedly had two full-time employees when the hurricane first hit, was first reported by the Weather Channel last week.

The Washington Post and the Daily Beast on Tuesday offered more details on the company’s backers. The Post noted that the firm is based in Zinke’s hometown and that its CEO, Andy Techmanski, is friendly with the Interior secretary, while the Daily Beast reported that Whitefish’s general partner maxed out donations to the Trump primary and general election campaigns, as well as a Trump super PAC, in 2016.

That newly surfaced information has raised eyebrows about just why Whitefish was awarded a contract to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rico residents. The firm insists that everything is above board, with both Zinke’s office and Techmanski told the Post that the Interior secretary played no role in securing the contract.

But as multiple publications have noted, the type of work Whitefish will be doing is usually handled through “mutual aid” agreements with other utilities, rather than by for-profit companies, especially those of Whitefish’s exceptionally small size.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department told the Post. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

In addition to Techmanski’s relationship with Zinke, Joe Colonnetta, partner at Whitefish and founder of HBC Investments, the private-equity firm that finances the energy company, is a significant power player in Republican politics, according to the Beast.

Colonetta donated a total of $74,000 towards Trump’s presidential victory and $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Beast reported. His wife, Kimberly, separately gave $33,400 to the RNC shortly after Trump’s win, and was photographed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson during inauguration week, per the report.

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Three men who came out to support white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Thursday speech at the University of Florida were arrested on charges of attempted murder after one of them allegedly fired at protesters, according to arrest reports from the Gainesville Police Department.

Texas residents Colton Fears, William Fears and Tyler Tenbrink all were charged with attempted homicide and were being held in the Alachua County jail. Tenbrink received an additional second-degree felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After departing Spencer’s event Thursday, where they had spoken to local press about their willingness to “push back” on those who oppose their message, the three men pulled their car up to a bus stop where a small group of protesters was waiting, according to the arrest reports. The report states they began shouting “Hail Hitler” and yelling at the seated protesters, one of whom hit the vehicle’s rear window with a baton.

The car sped ahead a few feet and came to an abrupt stop, at which point Tenbrink emerged with a handgun, according to the report. William and Colton Fears allegedly yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill you” and “shoot them.”

Tenbrink proceeded to do so, firing one shot at the victim that missed and hit a building in the background, according to the report. The men were apprehended by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office shortly after fleeing the scene. The report states Tenbrink admitted that he had fired the gun.

The Fears brothers were being held on $1 million bond, while Tenbrink was being held on $3 million bond.

At least two of the men have ties to extremist groups, according to Gainesville police. Tenbrink and William Fears also have attended previous white nationalist events, including the chaotic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and many others were injured when white nationalist James Fields plowed his car into them.

Earlier Thursday, William Fears, who brawled with counter-protesters at Charlottesville, suggested to the Gainesville Sun that Fields’ actions were justified.

“It’s always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings,” Fears told the newspaper. “Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back. We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”

Fears was arrested in 2009 for abducting an 18-year-old University of Texas student at knifepoint and wounding her repeatedly. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping and possession of a controlled substance.

He told the Washington Post earlier this year that the first white nationalist event he attended was a speech Spencer held last December at Texas A&M University, where he said he met people who looked and thought the same way he did. His Twitter account is full of posts disparaging Jews, Muslims,and black people.

Asked about the arrests of three of his supporters, Spencer told TPM he was “traveling” and hadn’t “heard of the story of the arrest.” After TPM provided a link to a story about the incident, he said he had “never heard of these men” and wouldn’t “comment on an ongoing investigation.”

“When I organize events, a chief priority is safety,” Spencer said, later adding, “I encourage all supporters to avoid violence and escalation.”

The University of Florida shelled out $500,000 in security costs to prepare for Spencer’s speech and Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. The event itself proceeded peacefully, absent a few minor scuffles between white nationalists and the hundreds of protesters who came out to denounce their message. Inside the Philips Center auditorium, Spencer was shouted down for much of his speech by students chanting, “Fuck you, Spencer!” and “Nazis are not welcome here!”

Spencer told TPM that their response was “frustrating” but insisted the event was ultimately a “victory” because he “persevered against protesters who acted like children having temper tantrums.”

The white nationalist often claims he is not a Nazi and does not advocate for violence. A video of him making a Nazi salute at a Dallas karaoke bar surfaced earlier this month.

Read the full police reports below:

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The third time was not the charm for an anti-immigrant hate site seeking to hold its first-ever conference.

The Hilton Tucson El Conquistador golf resort said it will no longer host a March 2018 “immigration conference” for VDare, a publication that routinely publishes stories bylined by white nationalists, becoming the third venue this year to back out of holding the site’s planned conference.

“The safety and security of our guests and employees is of the utmost importance,” the hotel’s management said in a statement to Media Matters, who first reported the cancellation and has closely tracked VDare’s efforts to put on the conference. “After careful consideration, the hotel has decided to terminate its contract with VDare. We will not be hosting the event previously booked at the Hilton El Conquistador for March of 2018.”

TPM’s request for comment appeared to break the news to the site’s founder, Peter Brimelow, who said in an email Friday that he and his wife, Lydia, who handles the site’s events, hadn’t gotten word of the cancellation.

Brimelow said he had notified the resort about “who we were” when making the booking and that “it’s right there on the site anyway.” He added that “nothing can surprise me about the vindictiveness of America’s emerging Totalitarian Left or the cowardice of the capitalist class.”

Though Brimelow denies that his publication espouses white nationalist ideas, the author of “Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster” shares white nationalists’ concerns about non-whites taking over the country; routinely attends white nationalist events; and hosts articles with headlines like “One Problem With These Hispanic Immigrants Is Their Disgusting Behavior” on VDare.

The site was even described as “racist” by a Breitbart News editor in an explosive BuzzFeed exposé on Breitbart’s successful efforts to smooth out white nationalist ideas for publication on its own site.

That ideology is what keeps prompting venues to derail VDare’s efforts to bring together “all the most controversial immigration patriots in one place,” as it promised to do in a poster for the March conference that’s still featured on the banner of VDare’s website and pinned to the top of the site’s Twitter feed:

Tenaya Lodge, a resort near Yosemite National Park, denied the site’s first attempt to hold an event earlier this year after learning “of the nature of” the organization. And Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado canceled VDare’s booking shortly after the fatal white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last summer, after drawing criticism from local press and politicians for agreeing to host the event.

This post has been updated.

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One of the policies President Donald Trump rolled out soon after entering office to chip away at the staggering backlog of cases languishing in the country’s immigration courts appears to be having the opposite effect, immigration judges, attorneys and experts say.

A January executive order directed the Justice Department to temporarily reassign immigration judges to detention facilities, many of which are concentrated in the southwest along the U.S.-Mexico border, to expedite deportations of the undocumented. Last month, Politico published an investigation that found judges were made to abandon overloaded dockets at home for details to sleepy border courts, where some had little to do. DOJ pushed back on that report, insisting that changes had since been made to the program, and earlier this month in a press release boasted that mobilized judges completed about 2,700 more cases than they would have been able to otherwise.

A DOJ official told TPM that the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) got that figure by using historical data to compare the cases judges were projected to complete at their home courts with those they completed at the surge courts from March-September. But those numbers don’t give a complete picture of the backlog in the immigration courts, according to judges and researchers. They say the types of cases processed in the home and surge courts are entirely different, making for an “apples to oranges” comparison.

The mobilized judges were drawn away specifically from courts where they hear the cases of non-detained immigrants, who may have complex asylum relief claims that can drag on for years. In the surge courts they were assigned to, those judges heard the cases of detained immigrants, who are picked up along the border, often have no legal representation and are more inclined to waive their rights, vastly accelerating the speed at which their cases are processed.

“When you compare completion rates from a non-detained docket to a detained docket you’re going to be comparing apples to oranges,” said National Association of Immigration Judges President Emeritus Dana Marks, who serves as an immigration judge in San Francisco. “And that’s because detained dockets always have a higher volume and a greater percentage of cases where people are not eligible to seek some reprieve from removal or are not inclined to because they don’t want to remain in custody.”

The DOJ official told TPM that the program had a “positive net effect on the pending caseload,” and pointed out that the rate at which the pending caseload increases has slowed this year. Still, the total immigration court backlog grew from some 540,000 cases in January to 632,261 cases by August. According to data obtained by Politico through a Freedom of Information Act request, in the first three months of the program judges postponed around 22,000 cases across the country.

Sue Long, who oversees the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University that tracks the backlog, told TPM that total case “completions are down” and that the DOJ numbers omit critical context.

“You can’t attribute a change to simply posting of judges because a lot more is going on,” Long said. “They’ve been hiring more judges consistently, putting on more and more over the last two years. So you would expect some increase [in the number of cases being completed] because you have more judges.”

There are currently some 330 immigration judges nationwide—a number both the Obama and Trump administrations worked to bolster.

Ashley Huebner, managing attorney at the National Immigration Justice Center’s asylum project, noted that the Obama DOJ also bears responsibility for contributing to the seemingly unsurmountable number of immigration cases by prioritizing recent border crossers from Central America. That meant that immigrants who had waited years to have their cases heard found themselves facing additional months- or years-long delays.

But, anecdotally, advocacy groups and immigration attorneys handling those cases told TPM that the delays they’re seeing now are worse than anything they’ve seen previously. Months after the border surge program was rolled out and apparently tweaked, some lawyers say they’re still receiving little to no notice before the judges handling their cases are abruptly assigned to a border detail, forcing them and their clients to fight the battle to get a hearing all over again.

“We’ll sometimes get word that judge is going to be out on detail to the border or handling a detained case elsewhere in the state,” Atlanta-based immigration attorney Sarah Owings, chapter chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for Georgia and Alabama, told TPM. “But they don’t tell us the length of deployment or any specific details.”

After months of work preparing documents, obtaining expert and family witnesses, and rehearsing often traumatic narratives with their clients, attorneys say they’ll call the court to confirm a hearing or show up in person to file pre-hearing documents, only to be told by the clerk at the window that their case is no longer on the docket.

“2,700 cases and it was how many judge hours? How much did this cost?” Marks, the immigration judge union spokeswoman, asked. “Our criticism from the association’s perspective was not the sheer number of cases completed alone but also the disruption it caused to the cases left behind and the interests of individuals who’ve had their cases pending for long period of time and often have an interest in getting them resolved because they’re separated from family members or their evidence gets stale.”

Trump’s DOJ has responded to criticisms of the surge program by pointing to a significant uptick in immigration arrests in the country’s interior and in removal orders. But those just add to the overwhelming national court backlog, further burdening an overstretched system.

“In the broad scheme of things it is certainly counterproductive for an efficient running of the courts,” AILA Director of Government Relations Greg Chen said of the border detail surge. “So if the Trump administration is solely focused on deporting people, they’re actually shooting themselves in the foot.”

This post has been updated to indicate that Judge Marks is now president emeritus, rather than president, of the NAIJ.

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White nationalist Richard Spencer is slated to give his first speech since the fatal rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Thursday at the University of Florida, and with tensions running high, the Gainesville community is grappling with conflicting approaches on how to respond.

The university administration and a coalition of student groups are encouraging people to steer clear of an event they say is intended to provoke, while many other students and Florida residents plan to publicly rally against Spencer’s message, insisting it can’t go unchallenged.

“Our sole focus is to help divert attention from his assembly tomorrow,” said Bijal Desai, a University of Florida student and member of #TogetherUF, a coalition of student groups organized in the wake of Charlottesville to fight racism and hate on campus.

To draw eyes away from a man seen making Nazi salutes at a karaoke bar in a recently surfaced video, #TogetherUF organized counter-programming that includes a “virtual assembly” with cameos from celebrities like actor Kal Penn and WWE fighter Titus O’Neil, as well as a fundraiser to boost donations for the school’s student affairs crisis fund.

School officials including university president Ken Fuchs have pushed that approach, which allows people to address Spencer’s message while avoiding his physical event. After initially refusing Spencer’s request to rent space at UF for September, citing the violence in Charlottesville and the white nationalist’s “repugnant” rhetoric, Fuchs agreed to let Spencer hold the event at a later date under threat of legal action.

First Amendment experts have told TPM that Spencer would likely have prevailed if he took legal action against the university, due to a combination of court precedent, the difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker will provoke violence, and strong free speech protections on state school campuses.

Now that the speech is happening, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has declared a state of emergency in the county where UF is located, while the school itself is shelling out some $500,000 in security costs. University officials and police have released a flood of information on the rules for the hundreds of counter-protesters who are expected to mobilize outside the school’s Philips Center during Spencer’s talk. Adding to that already chaotic atmosphere, university officials say over 200 journalists have requested credentials to cover the speech.

Spencer’s appearance was orchestrated by Cameron Padgett, a grad student at Georgia State University who says he has taken it upon himself both to organize Spencer’s speaking appearances at major public universities across the country and to help take those schools who refuse to host the white nationalist to court.

Padgett is also expected to assume an on-the-ground role helping distribute the 700 tickets that have been issued for Spencer’s UF speech. Spencer’s nonprofit organization, the National Policy Institute, elected not to use the Phillips Center box office after a local brewery offered to provide students with free beer in exchange for their tickets.

A coalition of protesters that includes both UF students and outside groups plans to hold a “No Nazis at UF” rally outside the facility, in the protest zone cordoned off by police. Black Lives Matter Tampa, Atlanta Antifascists, UF pro-immigrant group Chispas and the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s UF chapter are expected to be out in force at the event, which one organizer said he believes will draw “thousands.”

“We hope we can follow the example of Boston and San Francisco where when they came out and spoke, the protesters showed up en masse and everyone went home safe and was aware that there were more of us than there were of them,” Mitch Emerson, an Orlando organizer working on UF’s protest, told TPM, referring to other recent “free speech” and far-right events.

Emerson said that simply ignoring the event is not an option for him and for many of his fellow protesters, as he says the media would have covered the speech regardless and they “don’t want people to think Gainesville doesn’t have a problem” with Spencer.

The university couldn’t provide an estimate of how many counter-protesters it expects on Thursday. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes told TPM the school is “prepared for many and we’re hopeful for few.”

Spencer, for his part, is characteristically thrilled by the attention, firing off tweets comparing his arrival to that of a hurricane and noting with relish where the news of his speech stacks up with other stories.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed documents and testimony from former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, NBC News reported Tuesday.

The subpoena comes a week after Page said that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid turning documents over to the committee, citing concerns that the requested information was out of the bounds of lawmakers’ mandate and part of an effort to lead him into a “false testimony/perjury trap.”

Spokespeople for the Senate Intelligence Committee told TPM they had no comment.

Asked about a potential subpoena, Page sent TPM a text message that said he was busy “dealing with more relevant matters today (such as my defamation case in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of NY, cited herein), rather than being bothered by the latest damaging lies and leaks.”

Page was referring to a 400-plus page complaint he recently filed against several news organizations for publishing what he described as “highly-damaging, life-threatening” reports about his contacts with Russian officials.


Page previously told TPM he was eager to testify publicly before the committee, but is not willing either to offer private testimony or provide documents. Page believes that U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained all the information they need to know about him through a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order, which the FBI reportedly took out to monitor Page’s communications shortly after he left the Trump campaign.

Page has not retained legal counsel to help him navigate the congressional and federal Russia investigations so far.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked for documents and testimony from the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn that it has not received yet, NBC News reported Tuesday.

Of interest is Michael G. Flynn’s work as chief of staff and travel companion to his father at the elder Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Flynn’s attorney, Barry Coburn, declined NBC’s request for comment.

That same work, which included providing administrative support for a well-compensated lobbying contract for a businessman close to Turkey’s government, made Michael G. Flynn a “subject” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to NBC’s previous reporting.

Flynn’s son, who is known for promoting conspiracy theories, has dismissed reports that he is part of the investigation as “fake news” and a “nothingburger.”

The Turkey lobbying work and the Flynns’ 2015 trip to Russia prompted both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to issue subpoenas for Flynn Intel Group earlier this year.

Both congressional and federal investigators also are interested in determining whether the Flynns played any role in a GOP operative’s efforts to get hold of Hillary Clinton’s private emails. That operative, the late Peter W. Smith, cited the support of Flynn, Flynn’s son and Flynn Intel Group in efforts to recruit cybersecurity experts and hackers to track down the emails, claiming they were working “in coordination” with him.

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Congressional investigators are digging into a Republican operative’s efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s private emails from Russian hackers and his claims to be carrying out that hunt on behalf of members of the Trump campaign, CNN reported Monday.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are both reaching out to individuals recruited by the late Peter W. Smith, a veteran Chicago-based opposition research, for inside knowledge about how exactly his email hunt worked. Smith himself was found dead in an apparent suicide weeks after after the Wall Street Journal first reported on his email campaign.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is also probing Smith’s work and whether, as he claimed, he was working “in coordination” with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or other high-level Trump campaign officials.

An anonymous source told CNN that British security analyst Matt Tait told the House committee that he believed Smith had close ties to Flynn, former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and White House aide Kellyanne Conway. Tait went public with Smith’s efforts to recruit him in a June blog post for Lawfare, where he wrote that it was “apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign” and that he displayed a “reckless lack of interest in whether the emails came from a Russian cut-out.”

Indeed, Smith himself told the Journal that he “knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government.”

The House panel has also interviewed Smith’s former assistant, law student Jonathan Safron, while Senate investigators have contacted Eric York, a separate security expert Smith reached out to for assistance in obtaining and verifying Clinton’s emails, according to CNN.

Conway and Bannon have previously denied any knowledge of this plot. Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined CNN’s request for comment.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also requested an interview and documents from far-right blogger Chuck Johnson, who told CNN he had done neither and would refuse any requests for a closed-door interview. Johnson recently joined pro-Russia congressman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) for a trip to meet with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, where they discussed their shared assessment that Russia played no role in providing Clinton campaign emails to Assange’s publication during the campaign.

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A young black man photographed wielding an improvised flamethrower in front of a group of white nationalists at an August rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was arrested Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Virginia resident Corey Long, 23, was charged with disorderly conduct for his use of the makeshift flamethrower and with assault and battery for a separate skirmish that occurred during the tumultuous event, Charlottesville police spokesman Lt. Stephen Upman told the newspaper.

An Associated Press photo of a shirtless Long aiming a lighted spray can at a crowd of Confederate-flag wielding white nationalists went viral in the days after the rally, inspiring think pieces and circulating widely on social media.

Long, who the Times reported was released on bond after appearing before a magistrate, is the second black counter-protester to be charged last week in connection with the rally. A neo-Confederate group leader apparently made use of a Virginia statute to pursue a felony “unlawful wounding” charge for DeAndre Harris, a 20-year-old black man who was viciously beaten by a group of white nationalists in a parking garage.

Long is being represented by Malik Zulu Shabazz, former chairman of the New Black Panther Party, according to the Times.

Shortly after the rally, Long told the Root that he acted in self-defense in firing off the flamethrower, doing so after a white man shot at the ground in his direction.
“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long told the publication. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”

That person appears to be Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard and Baltimore resident Richard Wilson Preston. Preston is seen in a video taken by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Virginia chapter shouting “Hey, nigger!” just before drawing a pistol and firing into the crowd in Long’s direction. He was arrested in August for discharging a firearm within 1,000 yards of a school—a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.

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NEW YORK—New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced Friday that he is teaming up with his Democratic counterparts in some dozen states to sue to block President Donald Trump’s “reckless and cruel” move to end crucial subsidies that the Affordable Care Act provides to insurers.

“People will suffer and people will die” if the Trump administration’s “unlawful” decision stands, Schneiderman warned in a press conference at his downtown Manhattan office.

The New York Democrat is joining a federal lawsuit that will be filed in the Northern District of California Friday arguing that the government is legally required under the Affordable Care Act to continue to make the payments, known as cost-sharing reductions, that allow insurers to keep out-of-pocket costs down for low-income individuals.

Roughly 730,000 New York residents receive some $900 million in cost-sharing reduction payments, according to Schneiderman’s office.

The Trump administration’s announcement late Thursday that it will halt the subsidies threatens to throw the individual insurance market into turmoil. The state attorneys general are seeking a temporary restraining order that would require the government to continue making these payments going forward, including the next one due Oct. 18.

As Schneiderman pointed out, the Washington, D.C. district court judge overseeing a separate, related lawsuit—House vs. Price—acknowledged that the loss of these payments would directly lead to an increase in premiums and in the number of insured individuals nationwide. He and other state attorneys general were permitted to intervene in that case this summer in what Schneiderman said was a recognition on that judge’s part that she “could no longer rely on the Trump administration to provide proper defense for the Affordable Care Act.” That case has been on pause as the new administration and the House GOP decided on a new way forward.

Though Trump hasn’t been shy about his desire to watch Obamacare “implode,” Schneiderman said the president’s willingness to take such significant steps to undermine the law “with no warning or even a plan to contain the fallout is breathtakingly reckless.”

Massachusetts, Connecticut and Kentucky are among the states joining New York and California in the lawsuit.

These states all have Democratic attorneys general, but a number of Republican lawmakers on Friday expressed grave concern about what will happen to residents in their states when these payments are gone—something that could happen as early as next week.

Update: The lawsuit the attorneys general are bringing has been filed in the U.S. District Court of California for the Northern District. It alleges that Trump is in violation of the Affordable Care Act, Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution’s Take Care clause. Nineteen states are on the lawsuit. Read the lawsuit below:

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