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Key Takeaways From Mueller’s Congressional Testimonies

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  • Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about the findings of his two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential efforts by President Donald Trump to obstruct that investigation.
  • Mueller largely stuck to the language of his report, as he had promised he would do earlier if asked to testify.
  • Here are several key takeaways from Mueller’s testimonies.

Mueller Testifies Before Congress

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his highly anticipated testimonies before two House committees Wednesday, speaking for nearly seven hours.

Mueller’s first testimony was before the Judiciary Committee, where the questions mostly focused obstruction of justice and the whether or not a sitting president can be indicted.

His second testimony was before the Intelligence Committee, where questions focused more on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The former special counsel, for his part, kept his responses short and fairly limited. He gave many yes or no answers, often referring the questioner back to the report, or saying he was not able to talk about the matter legally.

According to CNN, Mueller declined to answer a question or deferred a total of 206 times throughout both hearings.

Following the initial release of the report, Mueller had said before that he did not want to testify before Congress and if he did, he would stick to the report.

His ability to give answers was also further complicated by the Justice Department, which told him he could not answer a wide range of questions. 

Most notably, the Department informed Mueller that he was not allowed to answer questions about people who have not been charged with illegal activities, which made it complicated o talk about Trump and his family.

Now that we have Mueller’s testimonies regarding the findings of his investigation, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the hearings.

Obstruction of Justice & Exoneration

Mueller started his day on Capitol Hill fielding questions from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Chairman of that Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) pressed Mueller on his conclusions as to whether or not President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” asked Nadler. Mueller responded saying Nadler was correct.

What about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.

“No,” Mueller replied. 

“Your investigation actually found, quote, ‘multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian interference and obstruction investigations.’ Is that correct?” Nadler asked, to which Mueller responded that it was.

Another notable line of questioning about obstruction and indictments came from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). 

‘Sessions was being instructed to tell the special counsel to end the existing investigation into the president and his campaign,’” Lieu read from Mueller’s report. “That’s in the report, correct?” Mueller concurred.

“That would be evidence of an obstructive act because it would naturally obstruct their investigation, correct?” Lieu continued.

“Correct,” Mueller responded.

Questions of Indictment

Lieu later continued to discuss the Department of Justice rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which is based off a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

“I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met,” he said. “And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller answered. He later walked that statement back during his opening statements in front of the Intelligence Committee.

“I wanted to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu,” he said in his opening statement. “It was said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.” 

There was a lot of media focus on that exchange and Mueller’s clarification, but the question Lieu asked Mueller before is also fascinating. In answering Lieu’s question, Mueller confirmed that Trump asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the investigation.

He also seemed to agree with Lieu’s analysis that that would be evidence of an obstructive act.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) struck a similar tone in a question he posed to Mueller. “So it’s fair to say the president tried to protect himself by asking staff to falsify records relevant to an ongoing investigation?” he asked.

“I would say that is generally a summary,” the special counsel responded.

Regarding the question of whether or not a president could theoretically be indicted once they leave office.

Another one of the most notable moments during Mueller’s testimony in the Judiciary Committee came from this line of questioning from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).

Buck asked Mueller if he had found “sufficient evidence to convict President Trump or anyone else with obstruction of justice.” 

Mueller responded that his team “did not make that calculation,” because the OLC opinion “indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president. So one of the tools that a prosecutor would use is not there.” 

Later, Buck asked, “could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?”

“Yes,” Mueller responded.

Trump’s Answers to Mueller’s Questions

Mueller’s testimony at the Intelligence Committee hearing focused more on the portion of his report concerning Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

One of the most talked-about sound bites from that hearing came during questioning from Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). Demings asked a series of questions about Trump’s answers to Mueller’s questions during the investigation.

Mueller never interviewed Trump in person, but Trump gave written answers to Mueller’s questions.

“According to the report there were follow-up questions because of the president’s incomplete answers about the Moscow project,” Demings asked. “Did the president answer your follow up questions either in writing or orally?” 

“No,” Mueller said.

“He did not,” she continued. “In fact, there were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn’t answer, isn’t that correct?” Mueller responded that it was true.

“And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation, isn’t that correct Director Mueller?” she asked. 

“Yes,” the special counsel answered.

“Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked shortly after, 

“There — I would say generally,” he responded.

WikiLeaks & Russia

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked the special counsel a series of questions about WikiLeaks.

He asked Mueller if he would agree with an assessment made by Mike Pompeo when he was the director of the CIA that WikiLeaks is a “hostile intelligence service,”  to which Mueller responded, “Absolutely.”

Quigley then read some statements Trump has made in the past about WikiLeaks.

“‘This just came out… WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, October 10, 2016, ‘This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it,’ Donald Trump, October 12, 2016. ‘This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,’ Donald Trump, October 31, 2016. ‘Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, November 4, 2016. Do any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” he asked.

“Well, problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of some, I don’t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity,” Mueller responded.

Finally, Mueller also had a now-viral sound-bite about Russian interference in the election during questioning from Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who asked, “in your investigation, did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence to suggest they’ll try to do this again?”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller responded. “The doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Time) (Fox News)

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Facebook and Twitter Remove Video of Trump Falsely Claiming Children are “Almost Immune” to COVID-19

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  • Twitter and Facebook have both removed a video of President Trump where he said children are “almost immune” to the coronavirus for violating their rules about spreading COVID-19 misinformation.
  • The video was posted to Trump’s personal page on Facebook, and it marks the first time the company has removed a post by Trump because it shared misinformation about the coronavirus.
  • On Twitter, the video was shared by Trump’s campaign, though he tweeted a link to that post on his personal account. Twitter temporarily froze the campaign account until it deleted the tweet.
  • Trump and his campaign responded by doubling down on the claims, and arguing the move amounted to censorship.

Trump Makes False Claim About COVID-19 Immunity 

Twitter and Facebook both took down a video of President Donald Trump Wednesday where he argued that schools should be reopened by falsely claiming that children are “almost immune” to the coronavirus.

The video in question came from a clip of remarks the president made during an interview on Fox and Friends earlier in the day.

“My view is the schools should open,” he said. “This thing’s going away. It will go away like things go away.”

“If you look at children, children are almost— and I would almost say definitely— but almost immune from this disease,” he continued. “I don’t know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this.” 

“They just don’t have a problem.” 

Children are not immune to the coronavirus. While studies have shown that children are at less of a risk than adults, experts have said the word “immunity” is not correct in this context.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 240,000 children in the U.S. have been documented as testing positive for the coronavirus.

Additionally, around 300 children have also contracted a rare inflammatory disease as a result of COVID-19 called a multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which has killed six children.

Facebook and Twitter Remove Post

Shortly after his interview on Fox and Friends, Trump shared a clip of his comments on his Facebook account. About four hours after the video was shared, Facebook took it down.

“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

A Facebook representative later confirmed that it is the first post by Trump the platform removed because it contained coronavirus misinformation.

The decision represents a significant change for Facebook, which has long been criticized for its hands-off approach when it comes to certain content shared by Trump.

Recently, the platform has ramped up its efforts in this area. Back in June, Facebook removed another post from Trump that showed a CNN video of a Black toddler running away from a white toddler with the fake headline: “Terrified Toddler Runs From Racist Baby.” 

While some said that the clip was considered manipulated media, a spokesperson the video was taken down because of a copyright complaint.

Later that month, Facebook removed both posts and ads Trump’s campaign shared that showed an inverted red triangle— a symbol that was used by Nazis to mark political rivals. The company said the posts violated its rules against organized hate.

Twitter, for its part, has taken a more aggressive approach. In recent weeks, it has flagged multiple tweets posted by Trump as misinformation. Last month, the platform even blocked Donald Trump Jr. from tweeting for 12 hours after he broke their rules on sharing coronavirus misinformation.

On Twitter, Trump’s campaign account also posted the same video clip from the interview, and shortly after Facebook removed Trump’s post, a Twitter spokesperson told the media that the tweet “is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation. The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”

Notably, Trump also shared a link to that tweet on his personal account, and as a result, that statement led to some confusion as to which account was frozen, which lead some outlets like The Washington Post and Mashable to report that Trump’s personal account had been blocked from tweeting.

In a later statement to Mashable, a Twitter spokesperson clarified that only the Trump campaign account had been temporarily banned, and when asked if Twitter would have blocked Trump’s personal account had he shared the video, the spokesperson declined to answer.

Both the original post and Trump’s personal tweet sharing the link to that post have been deleted, and Trump’s campaign account resumed tweeting Wednesday night after it took down the tweet as requested.

Trump & Team Respond

In a statement Wednesday, a Trump campaign spokesperson defended the post and tried to downplay the false claims.

“The President was stating a fact that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus,” the spokesperson said. “Another day, another display of Silicon Valley’s flagrant bias against this President, where the rules are only enforced in one direction. Social media companies are not the arbiters of truth.”

Trump himself also doubled down on his claims about children and COVID-19 immunity during a press conference later on Wednesday.

I’m talking about from getting very sick. If you look at children, I mean, they’re able to throw it off very easily,” he said. “But for whatever reason, the China virus, children handle it very well. And they may get it, but they get it and it doesn’t have much of an impact on them.”

“If you look at the numbers, the numbers in terms of mortality fatality, the numbers for children under a certain age, meaning young,” he added. “Their immune systems are very, very strong. They’re very powerful. They seem to be able to handle it very well, and that’s according to every statistic.” 

During an interview on Fox News Thursday morning, Trump also said the actions of Twitter and Facebook amounted to censorship.

“They’re doing anybody, on the right, anybody, any Republican, any conservative Republican is censored and look at the horrible things they say on the left,” he said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Business Insider)

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Trump Encourages Florida Mail-In Voting But Sues in Nevada

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  • President Trump claimed Tuesday that voting by mail in Florida is safe and encouraged Floridians to do so, a significant reversal from his numerous false claims about the security of voting by mail.
  • However, that same day, his campaign sued leaders in Nevada over a mail-in voting expansion law.
  • Critics pointed out that it is not the first time Trump has gone after Democrat-led states for expanding mail-in voting when Republican-led states have done the same. Others claimed that Trump only praised Florida because he voted by mail in the state during the March primary.
  • Experts have said that there is no difference between mail-in voting safety in states led by Democrats or Republicans, and while Florida does have strong safeguards, many other states have the same protections.

Trump Encourages Florida Mail-In Voting

After months of falsely claiming that mail-in voting will result in fraud, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that voting by mail is safe in Florida— where he voted by mail in the March primary— and encouraged Floridians to do the same.

“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” the president tweeted. “Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail! #MAGA” 

However, that same day, Trump’s campaign sued Nevada for expanding its mail-in ballot rules.

When asked by reporters later in the day why he believed voting by mail was safe in Florida but not other states, Trump said that the system is better because it was set up by Republican governors.

“So Florida has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor. Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott, two great governors. And over a long period of time, they’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida is different from other states,” he said.

However, experts have pointed out that there is no evidence that Republicans run better mail-in ballot systems than Democrats. While it is true that Florida does have particularly strong safeguards for mail-in voting, so do plenty of other states with Democratic governors.

In fact, of the five states that held statewide vote-by-mail elections before the pandemic, four are lead by Democratic governors and only one is lead by a Republican.

While Trump telling people to vote by mail after numerous attempts to undermine the system represents a significant reversal, the move is not surprising. In recent weeks, Trump has specifically and repeatedly gone after states led by Democrats for expanding vote-by-mail rules during the pandemic even as states led by Republicans have done the same.

On Monday, Trump called a new Nevada law that sends ever registered voter a mail-in ballot “an illegal late-night coup” that would make it “impossible for Republicans to win the state.”

Hours after Trump made his erroneous remarks about Florida, it was reported that his campaign was suing Nevada leaders over the new law. According to reports, the lawsuit said the new rule will make “voter fraud and other ineligible voting inevitable.”

Among other things, the suit claims that the legislation is unconstitutional because it will allow ballots that do not have clear postmark dates to be accepted up to three days after the general election, which it says “effectively extends the congressionally established Election Day.”

Mail-In Voting & Michigan

For months, Trump has been accused of doing everything in his power to undermine the nationwide expansion of vote by mail systems. 

In addition to consistently spreading misinformation about mail-in voting, critics have also alleged that Trump has been gutting the U.S. Postal Service to intentionally slow down mail delivery— a move that could drastically sway the results of the election, and has particularly alarming implications for results in key swing states.

Every battleground state, with the exception of North Carolina, has laws that prevent mail-in ballots from being counted if they arrive after Election Day. A slow postal service could result in tens if not hundreds of thousands of ballots being invalidated.

For states like Michigan, where Trump won by just over 10,000 votes in 2016, that could prove pivotal. Even before the postal delays, 4,683 ballots were rejected during the state’s March presidential primary election because they arrived late.

With the new delays, election officials worry those numbers will be even higher, and it is possible they are already seeing the effects. On Tuesday, Michigan voters cast ballots in the state’s congressional and local primary races—which are held months after the presidential primary.  

In that election, officials reported that a record number of people voted absentee, with voters returning more than 1.6 million ballots. Notably, that is still almost half a million short of the over two million people that had requested absentee ballots. 

According to reports, it is unclear if that is due to people just not filling out the ballots, or if it was caused by the mail delays. While speaking to reporters Tuesday, Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she expects that even more ballots will be thrown out later this week when officials receive late ballots from the Postal Service.

Regardless, the surge in absentee voting has already lead to delayed results. To prepare for the general election, Benson says that legislation at both the state and federal level needs to be passed. The Michigan State Legislature, she argued, must pass a law allowing clerks to count absentee ballots before Election Day and allowing ballots postmarked on election day to be counted.

As for the federal government, Benson said it needs to fully fund the USPS again and provide money for things like high-speed tabulators for absentee ballots.

“In November, we’ll have potentially three million ballots sent through the mail,” she added. “And we’ve essentially reached the limits of our system.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (The New York Times)

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Census Bureau Cuts All Counting Efforts Short By One Month

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  • The Census Bureau announced that it will end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, a move numerous experts and census workers have said will drastically skew the census data and make it basically unusable.
  • Around 4 out of 10 households have not responded to the census, and now the bureau has just under two months to count tens of millions of people.
  • Experts have said the decision will specifically hurt communities of color, immigrants, and lower-income households.
  • The move comes after President Trump passed an order directing the census bureau to calculate the congressional seats each state gets without including undocumented immigrants in the population count.
  • Many argue both actions were done intentionally by the Trump administration to benefit Republicans because excluding historically undercounted groups, and specifically undocumented immigrants, will give them more seats.

Census Bureau Announcement

The Census Bureau released a statement late Monday announcing that it will end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, a full month early.

The move sparked widespread concern from many experts and politicians who argue the decision will undermine the national population count, which is the sole determinant for how congressional seats are allocated and trillions of dollars in federal aid is given to states for infrastructure, schools, health care, and more for the next decade.

Not only is the 2020 census the largest and most complicated count in American history, it also comes during a pandemic. The way the census works is that the bureau first asks people to respond themselves through mail, phone, or online— a process called “self-response.” 

After that, the agency goes door-to-door to households that did not respond. Now, the bureau is cutting the in-person counting process short at a time when it has already been delayed by the pandemic.

Because of those delays, earlier this year, the bureau extended door-to-door efforts to the end of October instead of the original date which was set in July. As a result, the in-person interviews started last month in certain parts of the U.S. and are set to be expanded to the rest of the country next week.

But while the counting deadline was pushed, the deadline for turning in the data that says how congressional seats will be reallocated was not. Federal law says that the Census Bureau has to send population totals to the president by Dec. 31 of every census year.

However, because the in-person counting itself was delayed, experts and current top Census Bureau officials have been saying for months now that the December deadline is impossible.

Tim Olson, the census official leading field operations for the count, outlined those concerns as early as May.

“We have passed the point where we could even meet the current legislative requirement of Dec. 31. We can’t do that anymore,” he said during a webcast.

The Census Bureau, for its part, did try to have that date pushed. Around the same time the agency delayed the counting deadline, they also asked Congress to push the December data deadline to April 2021.

The House approved that ask in their $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed in May, but the Senate’s proposal, which has not passed yet, does not include the extension.

When the idea was first floated, Trump himself publicly said he supported extending the deadline to April 2021. Now, it seems like that has changed because census workers have said the White House and the Commerce Department have been pushing the bureau to speed up the process.

In its Monday Statement, the Census Bureau specifically said that it was cutting the count short and making these changes to meet the Dec. 31 deadline outlined by the administration.

Undercounting Concerns

Now, the bureau will have just under two months to count all those unresponsive households to meet a deadline many say is already unrealistic. That is incredibly significant because the already delayed and now shortened door-to-door outreach is starting at a time with the lowest self-response rate in history.

According to reports, around 4 out of every 10 households in the U.S. have still not been counted. Many experts are worried that tons of people will be undercounted, and that absolutely essential data will be skewed.

“The chances of having a census accurate enough to use is unclear — very, very much unclear,”  Kenneth Prewitt, the bureau director from 1998 to 2001 told Congress members during a hearing last week.

Prewitt spoke along with three other former census directors, who warned Congress that the lack of adequate time to follow up in person with households that have not responded and to go to communities that are traditionally hard to contact will result in many people not being counted. As a result, the federal aid for those communities will be lowered and the political representation will be lessened.

That is a serious problem period, but especially because of the pandemic.

“Rushing census operations, as the administration is attempting to do, ensures the bureau won’t count millions of people — especially those hit hardest by the pandemic,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “It will leave the country with inaccurate numbers that deprive communities of resources, political power and the federal assistance necessary to recover from the pandemic for the next 10 years.”

These facts are also even more concerning because the communities that are more likely to be counted during the in-person interviews are also those that have been hardest by the pandemic. 

Historically, people of color, immigrants, low-income households, people experiencing homelessness, college students, and elderly people in assisted living facilities are less likely to fill out a census form on their own.

Trump’s Immigration Orders

But that’s not even the only issue that the Census Bureau’s announcement poses for some of those communities. In the statement, the agency also said it “continues its work on meeting the requirements” of two orders from President Donald Trump. 

The first is an executive order from last July that told administrative agencies to collect data on undocumented immigrants to give counts that states could then use to draw congressional districts did not include those groups. Trump signed the rule after the Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Department could not put a question on the census asking people if they were U.S. citizens.

The second order is a presidential memorandum from two weeks ago telling the bureau to calculate the number of congressional seats each state gets without including undocumented immigrants in the population count. The memo is already the subject of numerous lawsuits and is widely viewed by legal scholars as unconstitutional.

Some experts have said that even if the order is not upheld, it could still impact undocumented representation because those communities will be worried that their answers will be used against them and will not respond.

“They clearly have an agenda for not counting undocumented immigrants in the apportionment count, Gupta said. I think the administration knows their order isn’t going to be constitutional. Maybe through fear of it, they’re trying to get to the same place.”

If that order goes through, it could drastically shift the outcome of the census. Studies have shown that not counting undocumented immigrants could help Republicans.

According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, excluding undocumented immigrants from the census would mean California would lose two House seats, New Jersey would lose one seat, Texas would gain two seats instead of three.

Meanwhile, Alabama and Ohio would both gain a seat despite the fact that they are currently not expected to gain seats under a conventional count.

Trump Accused of Skewing Data Intentionally

Many have said that Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants explains why the administration wants to speed up the census. 

According to legal experts, if the order is to have any chance of succeeding, the census totals for redistricting need to be delivered to Trump while he is still in office.

“An end-of-year delivery of population figures could provide a different avenue for Mr. Trump to remove undocumented immigrants — by not counting them in the first place,” The New York Times explains. “And delaying the totals until next year, as had been planned, would open the possibility that the totals would go to a new president and Congress.”

Due to both the recent order and the decision to cut the count a month short, numerous people have accused Trump of intentionally taking actions to directly benefit Republicans. 

“The 2020 Census will also guide the distribution of political power. With an inaccurate count, under Trump’s scheme, congressional districts, apportioned by Congress every 10 years, will become whiter and more Republican, despite population trends that run the exact opposite direction,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Ca.) and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrahms wrote in an op-ed published The Post.

“The electoral college will be further weighted against the will of the people. District maps from the state house to the school board will be inaccurate, silencing entire communities from being seen and heard.”

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, however, defended the move in Monday’s statement, and claimed that the bureau is “committed to a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

“Building on our successful and innovative internet response option, the dedicated women and men of the Census Bureau, including our temporary workforce deploying in communities across the country in upcoming weeks, will work diligently to achieve an accurate count,” he added.

If your household has not filled out the census, you can visit My2020Census.gov to be counted today.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Politico) (The Washington Post)

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