December 9, 2022 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 9, 2022
Democrats Ramp Up Investigation of Kushner Family Business Dealings
MSN – Michael Kranish (Washington Post) | Published: 12/7/2022
Democrats on a pair of congressional committees launched a new effort to obtain information about whether Jared Kushner’s actions on U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf region as a senior White House adviser were influenced by the bailout of a property owned by his family business. Citing previously undisclosed documents related to former President Trump’s son-in-law, the committees sent letters to the State and Defense departments requesting material they say could shed new light on whether “Kushner’s financial conflict of interest may have led him to improperly influence U.S. tax, trade and national security policies for his own financial gain.”
DNC Moves Forward with Dramatic Change to Presidential Primary Calendar
MSN – Elena Schneider (Politico) | Published: 12/2/2022
The Democratic National Committee voted to radically alter its presidential nominating calendar, following President Biden’s recommendations to elevate South Carolina as the first primary state and to eliminate Iowa, breaking with historical precedent. But there are still several logistical hurdles for the party to clear to make the new vision a reality. Members of the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, charged with recommending a new calendar, gave a near-unanimous vote of approval for Biden’s proposal, with only minor tweaks to the dates and two ‘no’ votes from Iowa and New Hampshire members.
Ex-Miami US Rep. David Rivera Arrested in Venezuela Probe
Yahoo News – Joshua Goodman and Terry Spencer (Associated Press) | Published: 12/5/2022
Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who signed a $50-million consulting contract with the Venezuela government, was arrested on suspicion of money-laundering and representing a foreign government without registering. The indictment alleges Rivera, at the start of the Trump administration, was part of a conspiracy to lobby on behalf of Venezuela to lower tensions with the U.S., resolve a legal dispute with an American. oil company, and end U.S. sanctions against the South American nation – all without registering as a foreign agent.
Fearing Scandal, Air Force Blocked Generals’ Foreign Consulting Deals
MSN – Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2022
During the height of the war in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials persuaded Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to open his country’s borders and airspace to allied supply routes. In exchange, U.S. officials promised a closer diplomatic partnership with Aliyev and steered $369 million in defense contracts to Silk Way Airlines, an Azerbaijan cargo carrier that U.S. investigators say was controlled by the government. Two U.S. Air Force generals, Duncan McNabb and William Fraser III, who oversaw the supply routes later tried to cash in on their Azerbaijan connections. Upon retiring from active duty, they negotiated valuable consulting deals with Silk Way Airlines.
Federal Election Commission Passes New Digital Ad Disclosure Rule
OpenSecrets – Taylor Giorno | Published: 12/1/2022
The FEC adopted a new rule requiring disclosures for political advertising online. Previously, digital ads were not subject to the same disclosure requirements as those in broadcast or print media. The rule expands the definition of “public communication” to “any public communication over the internet that is placed for a fee on another person’s website, digital device, application, or advertising platform.” But the commissioners rejected language requiring those who promote digital political ads to disclose if they are being paid to do so.
House Ethics Committee Admonishes Rep. Madison Cawthorn Over Crypto Promotion, Failure to Disclose Stake
CNBC – Dan Mangan | Published: 12/7/2022
The House Committee on Ethics said it admonished outgoing U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn and ordered him to pay more than $15,000 for violating conflict-of-interest rules by publicly promoting a cryptocurrency he owned and for failing to promptly disclose crypto transactions. The committee also said an investigative subcommittee’s report did not find evidence Cawthorn engaged in an improper romantic or sexual relationship with a staffer, with whom he had been seen in videos “engaging in explicit and sexually suggestive comments and conduct.”
Items with Classified Markings Found at Trump Storage Unit in Florida
MSN – Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Spencer Hsu, Devlin Barrett, and Rosalind Helderman (Washington Post) | Published: 12/7/2022
Lawyers for former President Trump found at least two items marked classified after an outside team hired by Trump searched a storage unit in West Palm Beach, Florida, used by the former president, according to people familiar with the matter. Those items were immediately turned over to the FBI. The search was one of at least three conducted by an outside team of his properties for classified materials in recent weeks, after they were pressed by a federal judge to attest they had fully complied with a grand jury subpoena to turn over all materials bearing classified markings.
Justice Dept. Subpoenas Ariz., Mich., Wis. Officials for Trump Communications
MSN – Amy Gardner, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, and Patrick Marley (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2022
Special counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed local officials in Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin – three states that were central to former President Trump’s failed plan to stay in power following the 2020 election – for any and all communications with Trump, his campaign, and a long list of aides and allies. They are among the first known subpoenas issued by Smith, who was named to oversee the U.S. Capitol attack case as well as the criminal probe of Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents at his Florida home.
Rupert Murdoch to Be Deposed in $1.6 Billion Defamation Case Against Fox
MSN – Jeremy Barr and Rachel Weiner (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2022
Rupert Murdoch, chairperson of Fox News parent company Fox Corp, will be forced to answer questions under oath about his network’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Murdoch will be deposed as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. The lawsuit alleges the network purposely aired false claims about Dominion’s role in the 2020 presidential election to boost ratings and fight off competition from more-conservative-leaning television networks.
Ted Cruz’s Podcast Deal With iHeartMedia May Violate Ethics Laws, Watchdog Says in New Complaint
MSN – Zach Everson (Forbes) | Published: 12/1/2022
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz may have violated a federal law barring senators from receiving gifts from registered lobbyists when he accepted podcast production services from iHeartMedia, according to a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. Senators also are barred from accepting honoraria for oral presentations transmitted electronically. The complaint claims that Cruz’s deal with iHeartMedia could not be qualified as a political contribution either, because corporations are banned from donating directly to campaigns, even via in-kind contributions.
Trump Mar-a-Lago Special Master Struck Down by Appeals Court
MSN – Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett (Washington Post) | Published: 12/1/2022
A federal appeals court panel halted an outside review of thousands of documents seized from former President Trump’s Florida residence, ruling a lower-court judge was wrong to appoint an expert to decide whether any of the material should be shielded from criminal investigators. The ruling, which Trump may appeal to the Supreme Court, means criminal investigators can again access the unclassified documents that were recovered in the search. The Justice Department has said those materials may be important in their probe of the possible mishandling of classified documents, obstruction, and destruction of government property at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s Committee Paying for Lawyers of Key Mar-a-Lago Witnesses
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, and Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post) | Published: 12/5/2022
Former President Trump’s PAC is paying legal bills for some key witnesses involved in the Justice Department investigation into whether Trump mishandled classified documents, obstructed the investigation, or destroyed government records. Jim Walden, a former federal prosecutor, said the payment arrangement raises concerns about whether the reimbursement of legal fees may influence what the witnesses say or do. He noted if Justice Department officials have ethical concerns, they could ask a judge to, at a minimum, question the clients about whether they are certain their interests are being protected.
Vows to Reject Corporate PAC Money on the Rise for Incoming Congress
MSN – Kate Ackley (Roll Call) | Published: 12/5/2022
More than 70 members of the 118 Congress say they are swearing off contributions from corporate PACs, indicating that a trend, almost exclusively among Democrats, that caught on during the 2018 election cycle has persisted. Business PACs face an uncertain future as the scramble for their money diminishes. Recent cycles have also seen an explosion in contributions of small amounts by more donors, especially among Democrats.
Canada – MPs Step in to Delay New Lobbying Code of Conduct Following Complaints
Globe and Mail – Bill Curry | Published: 12/1/2022
Members of Parliament delayed a new code of conduct for lobbyists after receiving a wide range of complaints. Some of the changes are being criticized as a major softening related to situations in which lobbyists campaign for politicians, while some lobbyists are objecting to proposed new restrictions on the many evening events hosted by organizations on Parliament Hill.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Ariz. County Ordered to Certify Election as GOP Lawyers Are Sanctioned
MSN – Isaac Stanley-Becker and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez (Washington Post) | Published: 12/1/2022
A judge in Arizona ordered the governing board of Cochise County to certify the results of the November 8 election, finding its members had no authority to shirk a duty required under state law. The surrender, under court order, ended a standoff that threatened to upend the state’s process for affirming the will of more than 2.5 million Arizona voters. The ensuing chaos could have undermined the projected victories of Republicans in a U.S. House seat and the statewide race for schools superintendent.
California – Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan Faces $19,000 Ethics Fine
MSN – Darwin BondGraham (Oaklandside) | Published: 12/2/2022
Oakland City Councilperson Rebecca Kaplan is facing a $19,000 fine because she allegedly failed to disclose her ownership of a condominium located next to a waterfront park which she and the rest of the council voted to expand, using over $1 million in city funds. The improvement to the park stood to increase the value of her condo. Kaplan purchased the condo in 2013 along with her parents, but for the next seven years she did not list it on the annual financial disclosure forms that elected officials are required to file with the city.
California – L.A. City Council Votes to Reinstate Salary of Indicted Member Mark Ridley-Thomas
MSN – David Zahniser (Los Angeles Times) | Published: 12/7/2022
The Los Angeles City Council voted to reinstate the salary of indicted Councilperson Mark Ridley-Thomas, more than a year after he was suspended from his post while facing federal corruption charges. Ridley-Thomas sued the city over his suspension earlier this year, saying it violated the City Charter and was politically motivated. He will receive about $265,000, while an additional $99,500 will go to his legal team.
Florida – Florida Lawmaker Charged with Defrauding Pandemic Loan Program
MSN – Andrew Jeong (Washington Post) | Published: 12/8/2022
A Florida lawmaker known for sponsoring legislation that regulates classroom talk about sexual orientation and gender identity was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly trying to illicitly obtain more than $150,000 in federal pandemic relief funds. State Rep. Joseph Harding was accused of making fraudulent applications to the Small Business Administration using the names of dormant business entities. Harding is also accused of submitting “fraudulently created bank statements” in the applications, federal prosecutors said.
Florida – Matt Gaetz Associate Joel Greenberg Gets 11 Years as Probe into Congressman Stalls, Sources Say
ABC News – Will Steakin | Published: 12/1/2022
Joel Greenberg, the former Florida tax collector who sources say agreed to cooperate in the federal probe into his one-time close associate, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to six of the 33 charges he was facing, including stalking, identity theft, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official, as well as one charge of sex trafficking. Multiple sources familiar with the probe said the investigation into Gaetz has stalled.
Florida – Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor Resigns Amid Traffic Stop Controversy
MSN – Tony Marrero (Tampa Bay Times) | Published: 12/5/2022
Tampa’s chief of police, Mary O’Connor, resigned after an investigation into a Pinellas County traffic stop where she flashed a badge and asked a deputy to “just let us go.” A deputy pulled over O’Connor and her husband because their golf cart did not have a license plate. Keith O’Connor said they stopped at nearby restaurant and did not usually drive the cart on public roads. The deputy let them go without a citation. Mary O’Connor handed over what appeared to be her business card, telling the deputy, “You ever need anything, call me.”
Georgia – After Georgia Loss, G.O.P. Stares Down Its Trump Dilemma
DNyuz – Jonathan Weisman and Maya King (New York Times) | Published: 12/7/2022
The Democrats’ capstone re-election victory of U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock forced Republicans to reckon with the red wave that was not, as they turned with trepidation to 2024 and the intensifying divisions in the party over former President Trump. For a handful of Republicans, newly emboldened by re-election or retirement to say so aloud, the biggest culprit was Trump. They slammed him for promoting flawed candidates, including Herschel Walker, dividing his party, and turning many swing voters against the GOP for the third election cycle in a row.
Hawaii – ‘A Deep Moral Crisis’: Commission Proposes ‘Bold’ Reforms in Government
Honolulu Civil Beat – Chad Blair | Published: 12/1/2022
A panel tasked with identifying ways to better Hawaii government is calling for sweeping reforms to restore public trust in government. The report from the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct details more than 30 proposals to reshape state laws and legislative processes in the areas of ethics, corruption, elections, and government operations. The report was triggered by a string of corruption cases involving government officials statewide that made national headlines and raised doubts about the integrity of local government operations.
Illinois – Despite Ban on Lobbyists’ Campaign Money, Lightfoot Took $68K from Lobbyist’s Companies. Now, She’s Giving Much of it Back.
Chicago Sun-Times – Tim Novak and Frank Main | Published: 12/2/2022
More than a decade ago, then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued an executive order that prohibited him and future mayors from taking any campaign money from lobbyists. This year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has accepted more than $53,000 in 39 campaign contributions from 14 companies affiliated with Carmen Rossi, a registered city lobbyist. Since Lightfoot was elected mayor in 2019, she has gotten a total of $68,500 from companies affiliated with him. A Lightfoot campaign spokesperson said the mayor has decided to return $44,500 in contributions she has received from companies affiliated with Rossi.
Maryland – Mayor Scott Accepts Money from Businessman He Disavowed During Pugh’s Healthy Holly Scandal
Baltimore Brew – Mark Reutter | Published: 12/7/2022
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott’s campaign committee reported a $5,000 donation from J.P. Grant, who was linked to the scandal surrounding former Mayor Catherine Pugh. Scott got still more money from two parties linked to the construction company that is secretly financed by Grant, Commercial Utilities LLC. The Board of Estimates recently approved a $12 million increase to the conduit contract that Commercial Utilities co-manages. Scott has said that contributions do not influence his votes on the Board of Estimates.
Mississippi – Ethics Commission Says Legislature Not Subject to Open Meetings Law
Daily Journal – Bobby Harrison (Mississippi Today) | Published: 12/2/2022
The Mississippi Ethics Commission determined the state Legislature is not bound by the open meetings law. The ruling came in a complaint filed by the Mississippi Free Press saying the House Republican caucus members, which currently consist of 75 of the 122 House members, are violating the law when they meet behind closed doors to discuss policy. A news report cited reports of various House members and detailed how the caucus meetings were usually the first place that rank-and-file House Republicans were informed of details of major policies developed by Speaker Philip Gunn and a handful of other leaders.
Missouri – ‘A Scar’ on St. Louis: 3 former aldermen get prison for bribery
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Katie Kull | Published: 12/6/2022
Three former St. Louis aldermen, including the longtime board president, will go to prison for accepting bribes. John Collins-Muhammad and Lewis Reed each received sentences of three years and nine months, while Jeffrey Boyd was sentenced to three years. It was a conclusion to a case that involved surveillance, hundreds of hours of recorded phone calls and meetings, and thousands of text messages and emails, prosecutors said. The key player was a local businessperson facing his own federal charges who handed out bribes in exchange for tax breaks and a reduced rate on a city-owned property.
New Mexico – Ethics Agency Settles ‘Revolving Door’ Allegations
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 12/7/2022
New Mexico’s ethics agency reached a $13,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit it filed alleging violations of a revolving-door ban. The State Ethics Commission accused a former Sandoval County assessor’s office employee, Gabriel Vargas, and Double Eagle Property Tax Consultants of violating the law, which prohibits an ex-government employee from leaving an agency and then representing clients before the agency on a matter they had worked on, or from being paid to represent anyone before the agency at all for one year.
New Mexico – Ethics Board Advances Complaint Against County Commissioner
Albuquerque Journal – Jessica Dyer | Published: 12/2/2022
A Bernalillo County ethics board advanced a complaint alleging an elected official improperly accepted a $5,000 campaign contribution from a lobbyist. The county’s Code of Conduct Review Board decided the complaint against county Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty warranted an evidentiary hearing. Vanessa Alarid gave a $5,000 in-kind donation to Pyskoty’s reelection campaign in June. Alarid represents the developers behind Santolina, a planned community that has been, and will continue to go, before county commissioners to get necessary approvals.
New York – Bribery, Fraud Charges Dismissed Against Ex-NY Lt. Governor
MSN – Larry Neumeister (Associated Press) | Published: 12/5/2022
Bribery and fraud charges against former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin were tossed out by a federal judge, leaving Benjamin to face only records falsification charges. U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken said prosecutors failed to allege an explicit example in which Benjamin provided a favor for a bribe, an essential element of bribery and honest services fraud charges. Benjamin pleaded not guilty to charges he obtained a campaign donation from a real estate developer in exchange for his influence to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization the developer controlled.
New York – Trump Organization Convicted in Executive Tax Dodge Scheme
MSN – Michael Sisak (Associated Press) | Published: 12/6/2022
Donald Trump’s company was convicted of tax fraud in a case brought by the Manhattan district attorney in a repudiation of financial practices at the former president’s business. A jury found two corporate entities at the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts, including conspiracy charges and falsifying business records. As punishment, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million, a relatively small amount for a company of its size, though the conviction might make some of its future deals more complicated.
New York – Twin Friends of Eric Adams Are Dogged by Allegations and Unpaid Debts
DNyuz – Michael Rothfeld, William Rashbaum, and Susan Beachy (New York Times) | Published: 12/5/2022
Over the past decade, Johnny and Robert Petrosyants have boasted of their friendship with New York City Mayor Eric Adams while courting partners for a range of business ventures. The relationship has helped them gloss over that both brothers pleaded guilty in 2014 to financial crimes related to insurance claims. By all accounts, Adams has maintained a close relationship with the brothers. For their part, the brothers have generated tens of thousands of dollars for Adams’ campaigns by holding fundraising events and enlisting friends to solicit contributions.
North Carolina – Supreme Court Seems Poised to Reject Robust Reading of ‘Independent State Legislature’ Theory
MSN – Zach Montellaro (Politico) | Published: 12/7/2022
The Supreme Court seemed splintered about whether to adopt a legal theory that would radically reshape how federal elections are conducted. The North Carolina Supreme Court tossed congressional maps drawn by the Legislature as an illegal partisan gerrymander, with court-drawn maps ultimately being used for the 2022 election. Republican legislators asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out those court-drawn maps, advancing a once-fringe legal idea called the “independent state Legislature” theory, which argues that an interpretation of a clause in the U.S. Constitution leaves little, or no, room for state court review of election laws.
Ohio – City Council Bans Cleveland from Doing Business with Companies That Practice Wage Theft
MSN – Courtney Astolfi (Cleveland Plain Dealer) | Published: 12/6/2022
The Cleveland City Council approved an ordinance banning the city from doing business with companies found to practice wage theft and those that commit payroll fraud. The new law bars Cleveland from granting financial assistance to such companies or entering into contracts with them for city services or construction. Wage theft is defined as any violation of state or federal law regarding the prompt payment of wages, payment of minimum wage, or prevailing wage rates. Payroll fraud is defined as the concealment of a business’s true tax liability by not reporting or underreporting applicable wages or by paying employees under-the-table.
Oklahoma – With Weak Laws and Little Enforcement, Oklahoma Sees Record-Breaking Dark Money Spending
The Frontier – Clifton Adcock | Published: 12/6/2022
Spending from outside groups soared to more than $33.6 million in Oklahoma’s election cycle this year, the highest recorded level in the state’s history. In the face of increasing outside political spending from secretive groups, some states have moved to require greater disclosure in state and local elections in recent years. But thanks to a lack of funding from the Legislature, Oklahoma has weak enforcement and some lawmakers have even attempted to head off disclosure requirements for “dark money” groups.
Oregon – Long-Serving Director of Oregon Government Ethics Commission Retires
Willamette Week – Nigel Jaquiss | Published: 12/3/2022
One of the state’s longest-serving agency directors officially retired on November 30. Ron Bersin, who has led the Oregon Government Ethics Commission since 2006, told the commission it was time to find his successor. Bersin ensured that local officials complied with ethics laws and public officials and lobbyists filed disclosure statements in a timely manner to provide a way for the public to track their financial interests and activity. He will stay on as interim director through the legislative session but has asked the commission to find a new director by the end of next year.
Oregon – Portland City Officials Avoid Competitive Process for Gunshot Detection Pilot
OPB – Jonathan Levinson | Published: 12/5/2022
Public records show a yearlong courtship between the Portland police and ShotSpotter, a company providing gunshot detection technology, and almost no consideration of a competitor. Text messages between a Portland Police Bureau officer and a ShotSpotter representative suggest a cozy relationship helped pave the way for the city’s decision to pilot the technology. If the city moves forward and puts ShotSpotter in the five Portland neighborhoods with the most gun violence the contract could be worth over $1 million per year.
South Carolina – Judge to Decide Whether to Dismiss Charges Against Quinn, Alleged Kingpin of Corruption Scandal
MSN – John Monk (The State) | Published: 12/2/2022
After a hearing, the issue of whether to dismiss state grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice charges against political consultant Richard Quinn Sr. is now in the hands of Judge Carmen Mullen. The judge said she would weigh complex legal issues, including the relevance of 2021 South Carolina Supreme Court opinion on corruption charges against a former state representative, whether Quinn was afforded due process, and whether prosecutors were right to have Quinn testify in front of a state grand jury where he made statements that resulted in his indictment.
Virginia – Restaurant Refuses Service to Christian Group, Citing Staff ‘Dignity’
MSN – Emily Heil (Washington Post) | Published: 12/6/2022
A restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, refused to host a private event for a conservative Christian organization over the group’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. The restaurant, Metzger Bar and Butchery, called itself an “inclusive” establishment that has rarely refused service to willing patrons, but said it denied service to the group to protect its staff, many of whom are women or members of the LGBTQ+ community. Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb likened the restaurant’s move to establishments that refused to serve Black customers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Washington – SEIU Secretly Lobbied the Washington State Redistricting Commission, Court Filings Allege
The Olympian – Shauna Sowersby (McClatchy) | Published: 12/7/2022
A lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) failed to report lobbying activities related to the Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2021, court records allege. Arthur West, an open government advocate, is suing the commission and the state for withholding and deleting public records. West told said the Legislature recently disclosed more communications the commission intentionally withheld from him in previous public records requests, and they included the unreported lobbying activity by SEIU lobbyist Lindsey Grad.
Washington – WA Appeals Court Largely Upholds Eyman Campaign Finance Violations
Seattle Times – David Gutman | Published: 12/6/2022
A Washington appeals court upheld the majority of campaign finance violations that longtime anti-tax activist Tim Eyman was found liable for last year, keeping in place the multimillion-dollar verdict against him and most of the restrictions barring Eyman from controlling the finances of political committees. It threw out one of the violations against Eyman, a small portion of the restrictions imposed on him, and asked the trial judge to reconsider the size of the fine levied against him. Eyman was fined more than $2.6 million for his campaign finance violations and ordered to pay attorneys’ fees to the state of more than $2.9 million.
Washington DC – Giuliani Puts 2020 Election Back on Trial in DC Ethics Case
MSN – Zoe Tillman (Bloomberg) | Published: 12/5/2022
Rudy Giuliani “weaponized his law license” to try to undermine the U.S. Constitution when he led a failed effort for Donald Trump to invalidate potentially millions of Pennsylvania votes after the 2020 election, District of Columbia Bar officials argued at a hearing. Giuliani’s Washington law license is on the line as he faces allegations that he violated attorney practice rules by filing a “frivolous” post-election lawsuit in federal court that featured baseless claims of widespread fraud. Giuliani’s defense against the ethics complaint involves digging in two years later on his belief there was evidence that the election was tainted by voting irregularities and fraud.
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