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Trump v. Comey

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James Comey was the acting attorney general of the United States in March 2004 when two emissaries from the Bush White House marched to the hospital bed of the attorney general, John Ashcroft, and asked him to renew the warrantless mass surveillance programme code-named Stellar Wind – a programme whose legality had been questioned by the Office of Legal Counsel. Comey, who is six foot eight, stood between the White House flunkies and the sick man’s bed, and they retreated. Soon after, he informed Bush that if the secret programme were reauthorised over the objections he had seen, he himself and the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, would lead a mass resignation from the justice department. Bush fell back; and a chink opened in the system whose vastness and illegality would eventually be exposed by Edward Snowden. It was one of very few moments in the Bush-Obama years that bore the stamp of civic courage: someone inside government had been willing to sacrifice his career to uphold the constitution. So when, in September 2013, President Obama appointed Comey as the next director of the FBI, the move was generally applauded.

Last summer, Comey lost the support of Democrats by his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for receiving classified documents. He brought no indictment against Clinton and said no responsible prosecutor would have done so, but described her actions as careless and irresponsible. In a hearing in early July by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republican congressmen said that they were baffled by Comey’s refusal to indict; and for their benefit, he repeated both parts of his characterisation: Clinton’s abuse did not warrant prosecution, because no crime had been committed, but the risk to national security with her at-home server had been real and blamable. The chair of the committee, Jason Chaffetz, extracted a promise that Comey would notify them if new evidence developed. On 28 October, he sent a short letter to the committee: new emails, possibly relevant, had turned up and were being investigated. On 6 November, two days before the election, he announced that the emails turned out to contain nothing of interest.

Democrats had said all along that Comey should never have issued the obiter dicta on Clinton’s conduct. After she lost the election by the narrowest of margins in four states, many Democrats held Comey answerable for the defeat. He replied in a more recent congressional hearing, on 3 May before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that the very thought that his letter might have affected the November result made him ‘mildly nauseous’. According to a story in the Washington Examiner, this was the remark that precipitated his firing on 9 May:

‘Trump is notoriously thin-skinned,’ said a Trump insider. ‘He probably took it the wrong way and probably thought it was directed at him,’ added the source.

The explanation is strangely credible, in view of everything that is known about Trump as president, his modus operandi and his manner of arriving at weighty decisions.

Before this, the latest alarm had occurred on 20 March, when Comey confirmed that he was overseeing an FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. The truth is, if Comey has occasionally stepped beyond the proper function of a prosecutor, he has shown great impartiality of attack. He relieved the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, as the public voice of the Clinton investigation, only after Lynch was compromised by the publicity around a drawn-out private conversation with Bill Clinton. Lynch owed him her appointment as US attorney; it later emerged she had instructed Comey never to call the FBI work on Hillary an ‘investigation’: he was to refer to it as ‘the matter’. A certain loss of trust, then, between Comey and Lynch, and the faltering self-confidence of Lynch herself, together account for a good deal of his conduct last summer.

His October letter to the oversight committee came out of a different sort of underbrush. He had promised to let them hear of any developments – a promise he should have refused. Regarding a search-in-progress, every prosecutor is instructed to preserve a conscientious silence. There was an additional complexity, however, owing to his two distinct continuing roles: first as an investigator of the Clinton Foundation – in July, he told the committee that the investigation was still active – and second as an FBI director under the eye of hostile lawmakers who were themselves in touch with FBI agents.

In an extraordinary Daily Beast story last November, Wayne Barrett disclosed the extensive contacts between the former New York mayor and recent Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, the retired right-wing FBI official James Kallstrom, and a network of discontented active agents. From these sources emanated hints of a coming ‘further investigation’ of Hillary Clinton. There was, or so right-wing radio hosts were reporting, a civil war within the FBI, and one thing probably driving Comey’s October letter was the threat of more leaks from inside the agency. By then, he would have known enough about Clinton and Trump to knock the bottom out of the lowest measurable public opinion of either candidate; but like the rest of the country, he assumed that Clinton would win. Barrett said in a post-election interview that he believed the 168-hour scandal the mainstream press had made of Comey’s matter-of-fact letter did more damage than the letter itself.

With the Trump presidency, a clear pattern has emerged in one respect at least. Money is the large and always prevalent motive. Power is taken chiefly as a means to secure the possession of money, and to open new channels for its acquisition. Trump is not a political character at all; his actions are aimed rather at protecting corruption and compelling loyalty. Russians have been mentioned, in the liberal press, more often than the existing evidence justifies, but a connection may exist between Trump’s American oligarchs and the Russian oligarchs, a connection either partly known or guessed at by Trump himself. Those words from Comey that could seem to speak of a nauseated detachment from the president, along with his words about the FBI investigation of possible collusion, would have been enough to tip the scale towards the latest dismissal. In the same way, a few weeks earlier, Trump fired the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, after assuring him that his position was secure. The two cases have this in common, that the sacked official was a prosecutor who would have known unsavoury things about Trump, and would be in a position to learn more.

Meanwhile, the newly confirmed deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote the memorandum on which Trump claimed to have based his decision, took pains to let readers know the initiative came from Trump: ‘As you and I have discussed …’ Trump in his letter firing Comey sought to bind the departing director to another promise: ‘While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation …’

Nobody knows what will follow. There have been calls for a special prosecutor, and evocations of the Saturday Night Massacre when Nixon found a justice official to fire his own appointed special prosecutor. The decision reached Comey when it flashed on a TV screen while he was addressing FBI agents in Los Angeles; he took it initially as a joke, but afterwards the helicopter cameras of Fox News followed his motorcade to the airport the way they followed O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco in 1994. Three comments on Twitter go some way to capture the wildness of the moment. From Donald Trump: ‘Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!’ From Edward Snowden: ‘This FBI Director has sought for years to jail me on account of my political activities. If I can oppose his firing, so can you.’ From Preet Bharara: ‘Here’s the @MerriamWebster definition of “pretext”.’

Comments

  1. sol_adelman says:

    Democrats made this firing inevitable by complaining that Mr. Comey made a partisan attack on Mrs. Clinton during the election. Mr. Trump could not allow a partisan FBI director to remain in office, particularly when he was perceived as being the beneficiary of that partisanship. He therefore fired Mr. Comey to avoid even the slightest perception of favoritism towards the FBI director.

    It has been a long time since the United States had such a rigorously principled leader.

    • Graucho says:

      and it continues to be a long time

      • IPFreely says:

        Depends how you define principled. There are principles which guide in one direction: be truthful, honest in your dealings with others, ready to accept advice, and so on. As this present President shows every day, he principles include lying, boasting, bragging, in fact being completely unprincipled in the Webster sense of the word. He said earlier this week that he would be ‘honoured’ to meet President Kim. Need I say more?

    • RobotBoy says:

      This is either tightly controlled irony or one of the more flagrant Russian troll bots I’ve come across in a long time.

      • sol_adelman says:

        Wasn’t wholly in earnest, but keep watching for Russkies under the bed regardless… Our freedoms may be in peril.

    • paulreden@gmail.com says:

      And they say satire is dead.

  2. rupert moloch says:

    Comey is an interesting character. Seldom mentioned recently is that he was the principal investigator into the presidential pardon delivered to Marc Rich in twilight moments of the reign of Clinton I.

  3. Timothy Rogers says:

    Trump, being notoriously semi-literate, many confuse ‘principal’ with ‘principle’. As to the former he knows it well in its accounting and banking usages. As to the latter, he has no principles that relate to everyday honesty or guides for governing. His own guiding principle has always been self-aggrandizement. His latest insane utterance about Comey being a showboater and grandstander is hilarious, coming as it does from a man who has showboated and grandstanded his whole adult life (and actually commended such hi-jinks as the ‘way to do business’ – in his ghostwritten Art of the Deal he called such stuff something like ‘creative hyperbole’. As a human being and the ‘leader of the free world’ (!), the man’s a pathetic joke. His enablers are far worse.

  4. jomellon says:

    The article portrays Comey as a principled innocent, caught in the mesh of Trump’s greed and fear. For a man with such long experience at that level it is a bit hard to believe.
    As Comey noted himself he *did* interfere in politics, in the election. He was either startlingly incompetent or deliberately acting inappropriately.

    It is also relatively clear that the US ‘deep establishment’ is conducting a war on the President, using security and justice powers to do so. I do not like Trump in the least: but he is the duly elected President, and the behaviour of the CIA and the FBI is tantamount to a coup attempt.

  5. mikerol says:

    The only thing missing in this fine account is that Comey was in a profound quandary when he sent the committee his letter informing it of the reopened Clinton investigation, between “the catastrophe” of letting the NY right wing FBI agents make the revelation about the e-mails on Wiener’s laptop, or doing so himself. – The entire controversy about Clinton and secrets reminds me of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s famous observation that “the only state secret is that there is no state secret”. I.e. we must keep dressing the bastard up!

  6. ikallicrates says:

    Comey described Clinton’s actions as “careless and irresponsible”, which is obviously a criticism of her. But he brought no indictment against Clinton, and said that no responsible prosecutor would have done so, which is just as obviously a criticism of the American legal system. Only a system in which corrupt and irresponsible actions are the norm would Clinton’s not be indictable.

    • John Richetti says:

      Can you tell us, please, what was “corrupt and irresponsible” about Clinton choosing to work at home? I agree the private server was a mistake, but anyone who calls it a scandal is simply either a Republican or a misogynist (or maybe both!).

      • Maldax says:

        Well apart from it being technically illegal, it was more what she was doing from home i.e overseeing an arms smuggling operation from Libya, through Turkey into Syria. If the investigation had of rightfully centred around information content, rather than ‘information handling’ it would have blown the lid off yet another U.S. illegal and immoral war. Can’t have that now can we!

        anyone who calls it a scandal is simply either a Republican or a misogynist (or maybe both!).

        Anyone who is unwilling to objectively look at Clinton’s disgraceful history without playing identity politics is clearly an idi0t.

        If her and her team were simply ‘working at home’, why did they feel the need to smash their hard drives with hammers? If they are all so innocent and there is no scandal.

        • kynolover says:

          If you are claiming that Hillary supervised the smuggling of arms to Syria from Libya, who was the ultimate intended recipient of those weapons: (a) Free Syrian “Army”; (b) Assad’s forces; (c) ISIS/Nusra; or (d) all of the above? If it was “a”, the FSA, that would have been within US policy. If you believe it was “b”, “c” or “d”, that would make this as loony an allegation against Hillary as were the Vince Foster love affair/murder claims by right-wing nutters against her.

          As for the alleged destruction of the hard drives, if that in fact occurred I’d want to know a lot more of the surrounding circumstances before making a purely speculative leap to the conclusion that Hillary “and her team” are guilty or there is some “scandal” afoot. For whenever I buy a new computer, I routinely destroy the old one’s hard drive with an incriminating hammer, lest bad dudes find out about all my scandalous evildoing.

          Comments like ikallicrates’s and Maldax’s reek of Hillary hate. Given the unsupported factual bases for their hatred of Hillary, it is certainly not unreasonable to suspect that some level of misogyny and/or sexism is influencing their thinking about her.

          • Maldax says:

            Can you discern the difference between the FSA and all the other Wahhabhist forces? The U.S government repeatedly failed, by their own admission.

            Even if you want to dwell in fantasy land regarding the high principled actions of the U.S. government providing arms to a rebel group to fight a legitimately elected leader; despite the atrocities he may or may not have been fully responsible for: is that really a path to peace? Or more bloodshed? Which is what has happened.

            What about the U.S government supplying billions of dollars of weapons to the Saudi government to massacre the Houthi rebels in Yemen? Is their good and bad rebels; as ordained by the U.S. or is just because they are Iranian allies?

            I suggest reading Robert F. Kennedy “Syria- Another Pipeline War”
            and Seymour Hersh “Military to Military” “Whose Sarin?” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”. Just to start. Then come back and we will have a debate.

            reek of Hillary hate. Given the unsupported factual bases for their hatred of Hillary, it is certainly not unreasonable to suspect that some level of misogyny and/or sexism is influencing their thinking about her.

            AS FOR THIS. IT DOESN’T DESERVE A RESPONSE.

          • Maldax says:

            The surrounding context is she was under investigation and had her server subpoenaed.

    • kynolover says:

      “But he brought no indictment against Clinton….”

      Comey was an FBI Director, not a U.S. Attorney. Therefore he could not have “brought…[an] indictment against Clinton”.

      At the risk of sounding like an apologist for Hillary (whose uninspiring Clintonian politics I detested), as well as for the American legal system, the failure or refusal to indict her for the use of her private server to send and receive classified email would have been well within prosecutorial discretion in this country. American prosecutors routinely fail or refuse to indict persons guilty of committing technical violations of laws, particularly where there are good faith defenses and/or no harm has resulted (both of which rationales appear to apply in her case).

      Of course if you are referring to Hillary’s murder of Vince Foster, you’ve got valid point!

  7. TCiantra says:

    A good part of the issue some had with Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail business is that he was not the prosecutor. He had no power to seek an indictment. His role as head of the FBI would be to advise those with prosecutorial discretion as to whether the evidence was sufficient to present to a grand jury. Whether to seek and indictment would be the decision of the Attorney General or her designee. Comey’s initial press statements that there was insufficient basis to seek an indictment was inappropriate given his role: it was not his call. That error was compounded by his pledge to Chaffetz to reveal information concerning the investigation should anything further develop. There should have been no commentary on on-going investigations. Acting on that lapse of judgment helped give us President Trump.

    The notion that there is a “US ‘deep establishment’” “conducting a war on the President” goes rather too far. Civil servants take an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws. While there’s still a rule of law hereabouts we need to have people prepared to stand up to Trump who apparently would rather have government employees swear loyalty to his person.

  8. Blackorpheus7 says:

    Comey is six feet eight. I didn’t know that. The only other US–actually Canadian-US–politician–I know of that was as tall was John Kenneth Galbraith, who worked under JFK, and was the most intelligent tall man in government.

  9. John Richetti says:

    Are these comments real? Are these actual people who live in the world I live in? Trump’s firing of Comey is obstruction of justice, plain and simple, and exposes his fear of the investigation of his and his campaign’s ties to Russia or Russian interests.

    • Maldax says:

      Are you actually telling me that the NSA, CIA, DIA etc. etc. need MORE time to ‘invent’ evidence for their baseless allegations? Even with the months they have had, they have showed a severe lack of imagination! The joint intelligence report is actually comical. Go read it!

      Where you see fear, I see confidence; that Comey and friends have got diddly squat and their Russian witch hunt has all but run out of steam. Of course, if you are subjected to American MSM against your unconscious will; your position makes absolute sense!

  10. Mr. Bromwich style is very readable in this instance, I don’t know that Bromwich has modeled his style on that of Murray Kempton, but it sometimes reads if it were. The essay seems quite straight forward, except that the shifting roles of hero and villain in The American Political Melodrama begins to fatigue the reader. Although the claim of Hillary Clinton as ‘victim’ is one of the comic aspects of this debacle.

    We are supposed to take the word of Edward Snowden that Comey deserves our support. Quite frankly I admire Mr. Snowden, but he did not live through the Dark Age of J.Edgar Hoover! A closeted paranoid hysteric who had unquestioned power from 1935 to 1972. The FBI is his creation, and its culture of political oppression allied to its claim to be self-righteous upholders of The Law. It even qualified for a long running television show, that was Hollywood’s contribution to the FBI Myth.

    ‘The FBI over its history has shown itself to be criminally incompetent and utterly mendacious: its targeting of dissidents, and ‘fellow travelers’ of the McCarthy/Nixon era, the JFK assassination, the Black Panthers in the 60’s , the notorious letter to Martin Luther King, and its ‘Crime Lab‘ this is jut to name a few of the FBI’s many crimes!:

    Forty years ago, Bob Dylan reacted to the conviction of an innocent man by singing that he couldn’t help but feel ashamed “to live in a land where justice is a game.” Over the ensuing decades, the criminal-justice system has improved in many significant ways. But shame is still an appropriate response to it, as the Washington Post made clear Saturday in an article that begins with a punch to the gut: “Nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000,” the newspaper reported, adding that “the cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death.”

    The article notes that the admissions from the FBI and Department of Justice “confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques—like hair and bite-mark comparisons—that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/csi-is-a-lie/390897/

    This history of the FBI is utterly relevant to the construction of Comey as Hero. How can one be that hero, if one heads an institution so riddled with corruption , not to speak of covered with lies and an impasto of Public Relations. The rise of The American National Security State asphyxiated the the Republic, and the FBI one of the nascent institutional strongholds of autocracy in the person of J. Edgar Hoover, now succeeded by Comey’s replacement. Aided by Trump’s jurisprudential catamite Rod Rosenstein.
    StephenKMackSD

    • Timothy Rogers says:

      Mr. Mack has hit on a very important matter here. I haven’t read the Atlantic magazine piece, but I did go through an article in the June issue of Harper’s magazine that speaks to many of the same concerns. The article is “Security Breach – Trump’s tussle with the bureaucratic state”, written by Michael J. Glennon. As the author points out, Trump’s behavior with respect the the US’s numerous security and intelligence agencies puts (or should put) liberals in a quandary. After all, the FBI, CIA, DIA, NASA, etc. are all bureaucratic arms of the executive branch of government, over which Congressional supervision has lapsed since the days immediately following Nixon’s impeachable offenses. Back then liberals thought that the behavior of these agencies was outrageous – they had become ‘ungovernable’ to the extent that they were now the major(unelected) force in determining many domestic and foreign policy moves. Caution is warranted today, as then – just because they may contribute to curbing or bringing down a truly zany, incompetent, and perhaps dangerous President, it doesn’t mean that we should be looking at them as “saviors of democracy”, when they have often been the opposite. Glennon’s worst worry is that somehow Trump will realize that he has to patch things up with these agencies, then give them their head and employ them to assault the civil liberties of us all (which they been willing to do time and again under the cover of protecting the nation.).

    • Here is a link to an Intercept report by Trevor Aaronson on Comey that is worth your time.
      https://theintercept.com/2017/05/17/dont-lionize-james-comey-the-fbi-did-some-terrible-things-under-him/
      A eye opening quote that demonstrates the unchecked power of the FBI:

      ‘Had this been a normal criminal investigation, and had Comey been a special agent in the field, the memo he would have written would have been known, in the FBI’s parlance, as an FD-302. The FBI does not record conversations with subjects related to criminal investigations. Instead, FBI agents, using their memory and sometimes handwritten notes, draft memos that summarize the conversations and include purportedly verbatim quotes. Federal judges and juries have consistently viewed these memos as indisputable fact. For this reason, Comey’s memo is no normal government memo. It could do lasting damage to Trump’s presidency, if not contribute to costing him the nation’s highest office altogether.’
      The recollections of FBI agents are treated as fact! Its not Law but Political Theology!
      StephenKMackSD

  11. pittsburgh joe says:

    Everyone so far, including Bromwich, has missed a Big Main Point–namely that Trump, a world-class ingrate, fired the guy who was more than somewhat responsible for his victory. Serves Coney right. Far from being a staunch champion of bourgeois democracy American style, Coney is a reptile who swims in the Deep State area of the cesspool. But with one possible difference: he might be genuinely remorseful about what he did.
    Coney might be equally committed to getting rid of the charlatan and demagogue as soon as possible. And so should we. A good starting point for serious thinking is an article, “Which Way to the Barricades?,” in the current online issue of Jacobin magazine.

    • Maldax says:

      No defence of Trump; however, Comey’s dismissal makes absolute sense. Comey didn’t re-open investigation to help Trump win (the effects of which in my estimation were marginal at best, just entrenching people’s positions) he re-opened it to offset what they feared Wikileaks was about to release in order to have control of the narrative i.e keep the focus on “handling of information”; as well as to shore up members of the FBI staff who were spitting feathers about the way their investigation had been hamstrung from the start by the AG.

      Again no defence of Trump; however, Comey days before being fired was looking for extra funding for his Russia investigation, so no surprise really. The phantom Russian menace is the real story here; not short on effort and time they have failed to deliver a shred of evidence: in fact the joint intelligence report actually just bemoans Russian propaganda, which is hardly election interference as it is mainstay in the global arena of electioneering.

      This also explains the Democrats rushing to Comey’s side, even after his perceived betrayal. Which in my mind was nothing more than effective, long term damage control for the Deep State; of sordid affairs.

      • Steve says:

        My impression is that Comey is an idealist, trying to keep the work of the FBI separate from politics. As a policeman, he tried to simply answer the question “What laws have been broken and is there evidence to present to a court?”. Unfortunately, he should have realised that every decision he was making was having a political effect and it was part of his job to gauge that effect. To have announced 2 weeks before an election that the FBI was investigating a candidate but as yet there was no evidence of wrongdoing showed the blinkered viewpoint of a traffic cop.
        This is why Comey was dangerous to President Trump, Trump knew that Comey would simply follow the law and not be influenced by political considerations. it was completely unacceptable for the President to even mention Flynn’s name to the FBI director while an investigation was going on but President Trump seems not to be aware of protocol in legal and diplomatic matters.
        President Trump has Nixon’s viewpoint: “If the President does it, then it’s not illegal” and it’s true that for a leader who wants to make radical changes, democratic institutions get in the way. Hitler dismantled much of the apparatus of government in order to remove any obstacles to his economic program and by 1938 he was admired abroad for Germany’s apparently miraculous economic improvement, fuelled by enormous debt and at the expense of worker’s rights. The world disregarded his treatment of the Jews, enjoying instead new trade with Germany. His word alone became law, Hitler believed he could take on the world. President Trump is in the process of removing any obstacles to his political wishes – we must hope that he will show more restraint.

        • Maldax says:

          Where me and you and differ is that I don’t believe Clinton was innocent. The entire investigation was a whitewash from start to finish. The only reason it was opened and not pushed under the bulging rug was because people were going bananas about Benghazi.

          Whether the reopening of the investigation had a defining impact on the result of the election, to my mind is largely irrelevant. Both candidates were awful and shouldn’t have been anywhere near an election campaign.

          However what is important is the fact that Clinton was in a position to be investigated in the first place. Also look what the investigation entailed from start to finish: It was only allowed check for handling of information. Not content. The hard drives were subsequently destroyed; forever erasing all evidence.

          Strongly recommend Seymour Hersh – The Red Line and the Rat Line.

          The whole Russian thing is smoke and mirrors. The only crime Flynn committed was his intentions to shake up the intelligence and military. He committed no crime talking to the Russian ambassador; except in the minds of the neo-Macarthy mob.

          As for Trump telling Comey to back off Flynn, as of yet all we know is that supposedly Comey (Who has just been fired) wrote a memo describing how Trump asked him “I hope you can let this go”.

          The way I read this – and time may prove me wrong – is Trump knows there is nothing to this Russian witch hunt case; Comey knows there is nothing to it either, however the show must go on!

  12. trishjw says:

    Trump mentioned–I think– to news reporter in an interview that he had planned to fire Comey all along. If that had been true, why did he wait 31/2 months to do it. Also from news reports re: Comey’s meeting Trump for dinner, Trump asked Comey more than once if Comey would be loyal to him. After having been asked a second time Comey was to have told him he would be honest with him and honest and loyal to the Constitution. That seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The method used to fire Comey was one of the main points neither party and 79% of the American voters disliked. Comey was at a closed meeting of FBI personnel in LA–3000+miles away from DC–when Trump notified the press( that he claims is fake)that he had fired Comey. So it was headlined and splashed all over before Comey even knew it had happened. Not many business men would treat its workers in that manner. Now we get to see how Trump behaves with the Saudi princes etc. since he was ok with May, friendly to El Sisi, but rude to Merkle.


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