Former DHS officials blocked Trump plan to arrest thousands of migrants before being ousted

Former leaders at the Department of Homeland Security, including then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, pushed back on a White House plan for mass arrests of migrants shortly before their ouster, according to The Washington Post.

The Trump administration had planned to arrest thousands of parents and children in 10 major U.S. cities to deter further migrants, the Post reported, citing seven current and former DHS officials. The plan involved fast-tracking immigration court cases and expanding the government’s authority to deport migrants who did not show for their hearings. Arrests of the no-shows would involve coordinated raids of the homes and neighborhoods of parents with children, according to the Post.

Nielsen and then-acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Ronald Vitiello put a stop to the plan, citing lack of preparation by ICE personnel and public relations concerns, according to the Post.

“There was concern that it was being hastily put together, would be ineffective, and might actually backfire by misdirecting resources away from critical border emergency response operations,” one DHS official told the Post.

Major boosters of the plan within the administration included senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Matthew Albence. The plan, which is reportedly still under consideration, incorporated cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, according to the Post.

The two officials’ pushback was a major factor in their ouster, according to the Post, citing administration officials. When Trump announced the withdrawal of Vitiello’s nomination as ICE director in April, he expressed a desire to go in a “tougher” direction without further elaborating.

“Both he and Nielsen instinctively thought it was bad policy and that the proposal was less than half-baked,” a DHS official told the Post.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

[The Hill]

White House revokes press passes for dozens of journalists

IN WHAT APPEARS TO BE an unprecedented move, the White House revoked the press passes of a significant chunk of the Washington press corps because they didn’t meet a new standard, according to Washington Postcolumnist Dana Milbank. Under the new rules, rolled out earlier this year, in order to qualify for the highest level of access—known as a “hard pass”—journalists had to be present in the White House for at least 90 days out of a 180-day period. According to Milbank, virtually the entire press corps failed to meet this new test, including all six of the Post’s White House correspondents. Media outlets then had to apply for exceptions to cover their senior journalists, or settle for six-month passes, which don’t allow as much access.

The Post applied for and was granted exceptions for its White House correspondents, Milbank says, but he was not given one. “I strongly suspect it’s because I’m a Trump critic,” he wrote on Wednesday. “The move is perfectly in line with Trump’s banning of certain news organizations, including The Post, from his campaign events and his threats to revoke White House credentials of journalists he doesn’t like.” Milbank noted that, since dozens of senior correspondents didn’t meet the new standards either, “they all serve at the pleasure of Press Secretary Sarah Sanders” and
“therefore, in theory, can have their credentials revoked any time they annoy Trump or his aides.” (The White House press secretary told the Post the move was a result of security concerns, not a desire to crack down on specific journalists.)

Some seemed concerned that the new rules are an attempt to exert more direct control over the White House press corps, after an incident involving CNN reporter Jim Acosta in November. Acosta’s press pass was revoked following a contentious press conference in which the CNN reporter repeatedly asked the president questions about immigration policy that Trump refused to answer, and then refused to hand over the microphone when an aide tried to take it from him. Later that day, Acosta tried to access the White House in the usual way and was told his “hard pass” had been revoked because of his behavior. Sanders later released a statement saying the CNN reporter’s pass had been withdrawn “until further notice.”

CNN went to court to seek an injunction ordering the White House to return Acosta’s pass, and won. The media company and a number of other organizations that filed briefs in the case argued that the First Amendment protected the media’s right to cover the White House, and that this right couldn’t be abridged without due process. Judge Timothy Kelly agreed with the latter part of that argument, and said the Trump administration had failed to show why Acosta’s press pass was being revoked, or, in fact, that any process had been followed at all. “Whatever process occurred within the government is still so shrouded in mystery that the government could not tell me at oral argument who made the initial decision to revoke Mr. Acosta’s press pass,” he wrote.

Now, with its new standards for performance and most of the press corps holding passes that have only been issued as “exceptions,” the White House has a structure in place that could allow it to remove whoever it wishes to remove. That wouldn’t necessarily override First Amendment protection for press access (which Kelly didn’t rule on), but in the short term it gives the Trump administration new levers with which to control the press corps. Some argue that access to the White House is already almost meaningless, since press briefings are few and far between (there hasn’t been an on-camera briefing for 58 days, a new record) and what briefings there are often involve the White House press secretary and/or the president shutting down journalist questions and in many cases outright lying about various details of the administration’s behavior or plans.

Here’s more on the White House’s tangled relationship with the press:

  • Un-American: “This is what dictators do,” Patrick Leahy, the senior Democratic senator from Vermont, said in a tweet posted to his official Twitter account, quoting from the Dana Milbank piece in The Washington Post. Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon, posted a similar sentiment on Twitter, saying: “Curtailing a free press and undermining the public’s access to government is a hallmark of authoritarianism & has no place in America. This purge of reporters is un-American and needs to be reversed ASAP. ”
  • Not normal: Even before the furor over the revoking of Jim Acosta’s press pass, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen was arguing that the media should “suspend normal relations with the Trump presidency” because of the way it treated journalists and the press. New outlets and journalists should refuse to do background or off-the-record briefings, Rosen said, and stop repeating the president’s falsehoods. Rosen also argued as early as 2017 that media outlets should stop sending their senior journalists to White House briefings.
  • Does it matter? In September, Pete Vernon wrote for CJR about the inexorable decline of the White House press briefing and asked whether or not it matters anymore. Olivier Knox, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the briefing “has both a symbolic and a substantive importance to the White House press corps,” because it shows that “the most powerful political institution in American life is not above being questioned.” But others argued it was just an exercisein political theater.
  • No dinner: Trump announced last month that he wouldn’t be attending the White House Correspondent Dinner, an annual fundraiser in which journalists dine with politicians and celebrities, and then ordered that no White House or administration officials would be allowed to attend the dinner either. Trump said the dinner was “so boring and negative” that he would be attending a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin instead. Last year, CJR looked at the dinner and found that less than half the money raised went to scholarships.

[Columbia Journal Review]

Trump Retweets Call for Fox News to Take Andrew Napolitano Off the Air

President Donald Trump is calling for Fox News to take one of the networks biggest critics off their air, in a Sunday morning retweet of Twitter User @HH41848213, aka “HowardH” who joined Twitter in 2016 and has roughly 235 followers until today.

The analysis of  Mueller Report drama — and the competing news narratives that have followed suit — has been, for the most part, predictable. That is to say, that media outlets that have been consistently critical of President Trump have amplified evidence of Executive Branch malfeasance, while those that traditionally take a pro-Trump perspective (take Fox New for example) have been quick to promote Trump’s “no collusion, no obstruction” story.

The most notable exception to that pretty hard and fast rule has been Fox News Senior Legal Analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who has consistently demonstrated his independent judicial perspective, much to the disappointment of Trump and his supporters.

Trump’s retweet:

When you look at the continuous incorrect statements by Napolitano over the past 2 years, it is fair to ask FNC why they allow him to have national air time. The man has been significantly wrong on at least 8 major occasions. Unacceptable! Take him off the air!

What has Napolitano said that has raised the ire of the commander in chief? Where to start? His insights have been remarkably critical of Mueller Report findings on Trump’s obstruction of justice, the behavior of Attorney General William Barrand even the curious behavior of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Donald Trump’s use of Twitter has flouted previous presidential decorum for years. But the retweeting of some rando on Twitter calling for the ostensible firing of the well-respected legal mind of Andrew Napolitano is a new level that we haven’t quite seen before.

[Mediaite]

Draft-dodger Trump says he ‘would have been a good general’ while trashing James Mattis in Cabinet meeting rant

President Donald Trump ended former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ tenure as defense secretary right before the New Year, seemingly in retaliation for a letter Mattis published criticizing President Trump’s global policy.

At a cabinet meeting Wednesday, the President lashed out at Mattis.

“What’s he done for me? How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good,” Trump said.

“As you know, president Obama fired him, and essentially so did I,” he added. In fact, general Mattis tendered his resignation after Trump announced the hasty withdrawal of troops from Syria. The President has since said he would slow the troop withdrawal.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” the President added

[Raw Story]

 

Trump fires back at Mitt Romney for scathing op-ed

President Donald Trump fired back at Mitt Romney after the Republican senator-elect penned an op-ed saying Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
“Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not,” Trump tweeted, referring to retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has criticized the President often in the last few years. “Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”

Later in the afternoon, Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting that he hopes Romney will become a “team player.”

Romney, who is set to take office Thursday, criticized the President’s character in a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday, saying that Trump’s “conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the President has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

“A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. … And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring,” Romney wrote.

The incoming Utah senator also said that he does not “intend to comment on every tweet or fault,” but that he will “speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
But by-and-large the President held his fire Wednesday afternoon on the onetime presidential nominee, choosing not to issue any overt insults or criticism of a new congressional foil when speaking to reporters during his cabinet meeting.

“I wish Mitt could be more of a team player. I’m surprised he did it this quickly. I was expecting something, but I’m surprised he did it this quickly,” Trump said during a meeting of his Cabinet.

Trump noted he’d endorsed Romney in his election, a nod for which Trump said Romney “thanked me profusely.”

“I was happy that he won in Utah,” Trump said. “I have great popularity in Utah.”
Trump did suggest the new senator could have won his own presidential bid if he’d been tougher.

“I will say this, if he fought really hard against President Obama like he does against me, he would have won the election,” Trump said. “If he fought the way he fights me, I’m telling you, he would have won the election.

Romney was seen as a “Never Trumper” during the 2016 election.

Now with Flake on the way out, Romney could take up the role of being an outspoken Republican critic of the President in Congress.

In his speech announcing his retirement, Flake denounced the “complicity” of his own party in what he called an “alarming and dangerous state of affairs” under Trump and blamed the President for setting the tone. Flake pointed to Romney’s op-ed on Tuesday as “thoughtful.”

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is Romney’s niece, slammed her uncle in a tweet about the op-ed, only referring to Romney as a “freshman senator.”

“POTUS is attacked and obstructed by the MSM media and Democrats 24/7. For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realdonaldtrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive,” McDaniel tweeted.

Romney’s relationship with Trump has been complicated over the years. When Romney sought the presidency in 2012, Trump endorsed the former Massachusetts governor, calling him “tough” and “smart.”

But during the 2016 election, Romney delivered a scathing rebuke of Trump in a speech in which he called the Republican candidate a “phony” and a bully, and criticized his rhetoric about Muslims and Mexican immigrants.

Trump retaliated by mocking Romney’s 2012 presidential loss and claimed Romney was “begging” for his endorsement during that time.

After Trump was elected, the two men seemed to mend fences and Romney was briefly considered for the position of secretary of state.

When he announced his run for senator, Romney appeared to take a veiled swipe at the Trump administration’s immigration policies. But his criticism of Trump was far more muted and in February, Trump endorsed Romney.

Romney will be sworn in Thursday along with the rest of the incoming Senate by Vice President Mike Pence.

[CNN]

Trump, Angry Over Mattis’s Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early

President Trump said on Sunday that he would remove Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who issued a stinging rebuke of the president when he announced his resignation last week, from his post by Jan. 1, two months before he had planned to depart.

Mr. Trump, in a Twitter post, said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy, would serve as the acting defense secretary.

Aides said that the president was furious that Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter — in which he rebuked the president’s rejection of international allies and his failure to check authoritarian governments — had led to days of negative news coverage. Mr. Mattis resigned in large part over Mr. Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw American forces from Syria.

When Mr. Trump first announced that Mr. Mattis was leaving, effective Feb. 28, he praised the defense secretary on Twitter, saying he was retiring “with distinction.” One aide said that although Mr. Trump had already seen the resignation letter when he praised Mr. Mattis, the president did not understand just how forceful a rejection of his strategy Mr. Mattis had issued.

The president has grown increasingly angry as the days have passed, the aide said. On Saturday, Mr. Trump posted a tweet that took a jab at Mr. Mattis, saying that “when President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should.”

Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star general, led the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, from 2010 to 2013. His tour there was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran.

Mr. Shanahan, who, like Mr. Mattis, is from Washington State, is a former Boeing executive. Aides say that Mr. Trump likes him in part because he often tells the president that he is correct to complain about the expense of defense systems.

[The New York Times]

Trump: Cohen should go to prison

President Trump on Monday said Michael Cohen does not deserve leniency for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that his former personal lawyer should serve a “full and complete” prison sentence.

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free [sic],” Trump wrote on Twitter of Cohen. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Trump sought to further distance himself from his onetime ally by incorrectly claiming that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

Cohen in August pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations, implicating Trump in a dramatic court hearing during which Cohen also pleaded to a slew of financial crimes stemming from his private business dealings.

Last week, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Russia, a central matter in Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The former Trump lawyer asked a federal judge to spare him prison time, in part, because he said he lied to lawmakers in order to “to support and advance [Trump’s] political messaging.” Trump was referred to in court as Individual 1.

His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Cohen’s plea has angered Trump, who is facing growing legal and political danger as a result of his former ally’s cooperation.

While he blasted Cohen for turning against him, the president encouraged other people tied up in the Mueller probe to show loyalty.

Trump praised his on-again, off-again adviser, Roger Stone, for refusing to cooperate with investigators.

“He will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” Trump wrote of Stone.

Stone has come under scrutiny for his alleged ties to WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen by Russians from Democratic officials during the 2016 campaign.

[The Hill]

Trump’s new Russia deal defense: Just business as usual

President Donald Trump’s story about his business pursuits in Russia has shifted again.

As a candidate and afterward, Trump said repeatedly that he didn’t have any business dealings with Russia.

“I have no dealings with Russia,” he said shortly before his inauguration in 2017. “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”

The truth was more complicated than Trump suggested: He had long relied on Russian investors for projects in other parts of the world, and long sought to develop real estate in Russia.

And now, with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen having pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts to develop a Trump Tower project in Moscow, the president has added a new layer to his take, arguing that it would be perfectly fine for him to have pursued the Oval Office and a high-end business opportunity in Russia at the same time.

“We were thinking about building a building,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”

Prosecutors say Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress by saying that the Moscow Trump Tower project was nixed in January 2016 — before the Iowa caucuses — even though he continued to pursue it on Trump’s behalf as late as June 2016. That’s the same month that top Trump advisers took a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with Russian emissaries who had promised to provide political dirt on then-presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

There’s no law barring a candidate who doesn’t already hold office from continuing to do business during a campaign — and no requirement to disclose such activity — but veteran lawyers say Trump could have a problem if discussions over the Trump Tower project were tied to potential actions once he won the presidency.

“If additional facts show that the negotiations were part of a broader quid pro quo with Russians/oligarchs (Trump gets tower in exchange for some goodies once he is POTUS), then we are potentially into federal criminal conspiracy and campaign-law violations,” said Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and former member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation team, in an email to NBC News.

And Trump’s evasiveness on the question of whether he was seeking business in Moscow during the election raises the question of whether he was worried about political or legal exposure, according to Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC contributor.

“Lying about it certainly raises the implication that Trump himself believed that it was somehow untoward for a candidate to have business ventures with Russia,” she said. “And there could be a variety of legal problems here — tax, emoluments, what have you — that could come back to haunt the president.”

[News]

Trump Just Blurted Out, Unprompted, That He Installed His Pet Attorney General Over the Russia Probe

Wednesday, we explored the career timeline of Matthew Whitaker, the man whom Donald Trump, American president, appointed acting attorney general after firing Jeff Sessions the day after the midterms. Trump passed over multiple Senate-confirmed officials in the actual line of succession to pick Whitaker, who’d become Sessions’s chief of staff close to a year earlier after repeatedly going on CNN to defend Trump against the Russia probe with the expressed intent of getting the president’s attention and a job. Even some conservative legal commentators have suggested his appointment was unconstitutional, and the state of Maryland is suing to that effect.

This was about as blatant a move to obstruct the investigation as the president could have made. Whitaker is an obvious Trump loyalist and longtime Republican operative who time after time attacked the special counsel’s investigation, including by promoting a story suggesting Robert Mueller’s team was a “lynch mob.”Whitaker has close ties to Sam Clovis, a grand-jury witness in the probe who advised him to start going on CNN to catch Trump’s eye.

After he got the job as Sessions’s chief of staff, Whitaker was described by Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department—an assault on the department’s independence and the rule of law. And even well before all this, Whitaker allegedly politicized a federal investigationas a U.S. attorney in Iowa, participated in scams and grifts in his business dealings, and once flexed his background in federal law enforcement to run protection for a company—of which he was on the board—that the Federal Trade Commission fined $26 million and shuttered as a criminal enterprise.

Still, no matter how clear something is, it helps to hear it from the horse’s mouth. The President of the United States, who once said on national television he was considering “the Russia thing” when he fired FBI Director James Comey, was happy to oblige in a typically freewheeling interview with The Daily Caller. As first flagged by journalist Brian Beutler, Trump seized on a softball question to spill the beans on Whitaker’s appointment.

THE DAILY CALLER: Sure. Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie —

POTUS: Matthew Whitaker is a very respected man. He’s — and he’s, very importantly, he’s respected within DOJ. I heard he got a very good decision, I haven’t seen it. Kellyanne, did I hear that?

WHITE HOUSE ADVISER KELLYANNE CONWAY: 20 pages.

POTUS: A 20 page?

THE DAILY CALLER: It just came out right before this, sir.

POTUS: Well, I heard it was a very strong opinion. Uh, which is good. But [Whitaker] is just somebody who’s very respected.

I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

THE DAILY CALLER: Right.

Right.

The president just admitted, unprompted, that he fired the head of the Justice Department and installed a loyalist over a Justice Department investigation into him and his associates. This is obstruction. This is corrupt. This is an untenable assault on the rule of law in a democratic republic. And the Republican majorities in Congress—to say nothing of his base—will happily let him get away with it.

Oh, and by the way: Trump’s claim he only knows Whitaker through Sessions is a blatant lie. And not just because Trump’s chief of staff said Whitaker was their “eyes and ears.” Here’s Trump on October 11, 2018—a month ago:

“I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy,” President Trump said in a Fox News interview. “I know Matt Whitaker.”

This is not the first time he’s lied about knowing Whitaker since appointing him to, incredibly obviously, interfere in the Mueller investigation.

All that said, there is a beautiful symmetry here. The rear-end of Donald Trump, a lifetime grifter who’s just trying to lie his way to the end of each day while his brain is steadily melted by television, may ultimately be protected by a ‘roided-out Mr. Clean who came to him through the teevee—and who once threatened peopleon behalf of a company peddling Big Dick Toilets. America the Beautiful.

[Esquire]

National security aide headed for exit after clash with Melania Trump’s office

A feud with the first lady’s office is expected to cost a senior national security adviser her job after she sparred with East Wing staff and other key members of the Trump administration.
The dispute spilled into public view in extraordinary fashion on Tuesday when the first lady’s office released a statement calling for deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel’s ouster as reports surfaced that President Donald Trump would fire the official.
A White House official confirmed to CNN that Trump has told people that Ricardel will be fired. But the official said she has been given some time to clear out her desk. It was not immediately clear when she would officially make her exit.
“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that (Ricardel) no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” the first lady’s communications director Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Tuesday.
The statement amounted to a stunning public rebuke by a first lady of a senior official serving in her husband’s administration. It came after reports surfaced earlier Tuesday indicating Ricardel would be pushed out of her post after less than seven months on the job.
Neither Ricardel nor spokespeople for the National Security Council responded to CNN requests for comment.
Reflecting the fast-moving nature of the events, soon after a Wall Street Journal report surfaced Tuesday afternoon alleging Ricardel was fired and escorted off the White House grounds, a senior White House official denied the story to reporters.
The official said Ricardel was still in her office Tuesday afternoon. The official declined to speculate further about Ricardel’s future in the administration.
Her departure would leave national security adviser John Bolton without one of his key allies in the administration, a deputy who has also shared his penchant for bureaucratic infighting.
It was those sharp elbows that sources said led to the first lady’s stinging statement, with Ricardel most recently feuding with members of the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa. One person familiar with the matter said Ricardel quarreled with the first lady’s staff over seating on the plane and use of National Security Council resources.
A White House official accused Ricardel of being dishonest about the feud and subsequently leaking stories to try to cover her behavior.
And before her spat with the East Wing, Ricardel butted heads repeatedly with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a rivalry that was well-known within the Trump administration. Her disputes with Mattis preceded her time as deputy national security adviser, going back to the presidential transition when Ricardel sought to block Mattis from hiring certain people who had been critical of Trump or were viewed as insufficiently loyal to Trump.
Tensions have also been rising between Ricardel and chief of staff John Kelly and his deputy Zach Fuentes in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the matter. Kelly and Fuentes believe Ricardel was leaking negative stories about them to the press, the people said.
The dispute made it difficult for Ricardel to land in a top post in the Trump administration, though she was ultimately tapped for the position of undersecretary of commerce for export administration. Ricardel then joined the National Security Council as Bolton’s deputy in April after he was named national security adviser.
Ricardel has been key to Bolton’s efforts to restructure the National Security Council and to help Bolton secure his place as an influential adviser to the President on all foreign policy matters
[CNN]
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