Trump Tried to Bypass the Justice Department and Extradite a Turkish Cleric. This Is Much Less Boring Than It Sounds.

Trump Tried to Bypass the Justice Department and Extradite a Turkish Cleric. This Is Much Less Boring Than It Sounds.
Trump administrations reported effort to barter a US resident to convince Turkey to ramp down Khashoggi probe stuns foreign-policy veterans
There are more than a few problems with the thesis that Donald Trump only puts America First because America does the same for the concept of universal human rights. But an especially conspicuous one is that the president disdains the concept of human rights more than he reveres his fellow Americans.

Or so Trumps handling of Jamal Khashoggis murder would suggest. From the moment the Turkish government revealed that Saudi agents had killed a Washington Post columnist — and legal U.S. resident — in Istanbul, the American president made it clear that he viewed the murder as less of a moral atrocity than a PR headache.

Trumps first response to Turkeys revelation was to demand that the public give his friends in Riyadh the presumption of innocence. His second was to allow that, if the Saudis did in fact murder and dismember a U.S.-based journalist, it would not be a positive — but nevertheless insisted that the American government couldnt respond too harshly to such an offense because the Saudis are spending $110 billion on [American] military equipment (and those arms sales must be protected at all costs).

In remarks to reporters traveling with him, Pompeo acknowledged having discussed Gulen with the Turks. “We did talk about Fethullah Gulen and we talked about the set of issues surrounding that organization as well,” Pompeo said. “Its something that the Turks remind us of often, and were mindful of places that we can work with them to make sure that we all have a shared set of facts as well. But its mostly not a State Department issue; its mostly a Justice Department issue.”

The presidents third response — after the Saudis admitted that their agents had killed Khashoggi (supposedly, without official authorization) after trying to kidnap him (with official authorization) — was to criticize the murder in strictly tactical terms. They had a very bad original concept, Trump said of the Saudi plot, adding that it was carried out poorly and the worst cover-up ever.

Trump and Erdogan also recently discussed another option to relieve tensions — the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced in May to 32 months in prison by a U.S. federal judge for his role in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, two people familiar with the discussion said. Erdogan has criticized the case against Atilla as a political attack aimed at undermining his government.

Now, with Khashoggis death buried beneath the ruins of a thousand subsequent news cycles, Trump has (reportedly) shifted his focus away from offering Riyadh constructive criticism on its lackluster cover-up, and toward getting Turkish president Recep Erdogan to let bygones be bygones.

One option that Turkish and Trump administration officials recently discussed is forcing Gulen to relocate to South Africa rather than sending him directly to Turkey if extradition is not possible, said the U.S. officials and people briefed on the discussions. But the U.S. does not have any legal justification to send Gulen to South Africa, they said, so that wouldnt be a viable option unless he went willingly.

More specifically, the president is reportedly trying to persuade Erdogan to forgive the Saudis for murdering a U.S. resident who was critical of their government by helping Erdogan imprison (and potentially kill) a U.S. resident who was critical of the Turkish government.

Saudi Arabia is critical to Trumps Middle East policy. The White Houses relationship with Prince Mohammed is key to Trumps goals of countering Iran and helping to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Turkey is a NATO ally in possession of evidence about Khashoggis murder that positions Erdogan to stoke international outrage over Riyadhs culpability in and cover-up of Khashoggis murder.

The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for almost two decades, denies any involvement in the failed coup in Turkey in 2016. A one-time ally of Erdogan, hes become an influential cleric with a wide network of followers known as “Gulenistas.” His movement includes a host of nonprofit organizations, businesses and schools, in the U.S., as well as South Africa.

… They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulens residency status in the U.S. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.

Turkey provided boxes of materials to the U.S. in 2016 that Erdogan says shows Gulen was behind the failed coup. But officials at the Justice Department and FBI didnt find evidence that met the standard for extradition, which requires U.S. prosecutors to determine that someone committed crimes abroad that would also be illegal in the U.S.

Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said.

At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious, said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.

Trump has expressed reluctance to respond too strongly given Saudi Arabias economic and strategic value to the U.S. At a news conference last week, Trump said he is working with Turkey, Congress and Saudi Arabia to determine next steps and will have a “much stronger opinion” on Khashoggis killing over the next week.

Erdogan has accused Gülen (without hard evidence, in the view of Western intelligence agencies) of masterminding the failed 2016 coup attempt against his government. Last year, Erdogan vowed to behead the traitors who had attempted to depose him. So, there is reason to fear that, even though Turkish law does not currently allow for capital punishment, expelling Gülen to Turkey would put the longtime Keystone State resident, and charter-school entrepreneur, in mortal danger.

The secret effort to resolve one of the leading tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations — Gulens residency in the U.S. — provides a window into how President Donald Trump is trying to navigate hostility between two key allies after Saudi officials murdered Khashoggi on Oct. 2 at the kingdoms consulate in Istanbul.

To review: In order to help an Islamist theocracy get away with kidnapping and executing one American immigrant, Trump is (reportedly) trying to find a legal rationale for letting another Islamist nation imprison (and possibly execute) a different American immigrant.

The U.S. and Turkey have been engaged in negotiations over a series of sensitive diplomatic issues over the past few months, including a deal for last months release of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey and an agreement for joint U.S. and Turkish military patrols in Manbij, Syria.

If this is true, then it seems safe to say, contra Rubio, that Trump is less of an American nationalist who harbors a deep commitment to human rights than an American solipsist who is ready and willing to abet crimes against humanity if he believes that he stands to benefit personally from doing so.

They said the White House specifically wanted details about the terms under which Gulen resides in the U.S. Officials from the law enforcement agencies informed the White House there is no evidence that Gulen has broken any U.S. laws, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said.

Foreign-policy veterans were floored Thursday following a bombshell report that the White House considered extraditing one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogans top enemies to get Ankara to back off the investigation into the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Erdogan has for years demanded the U.S. send Gulen back to Turkey. The Turkish leader accuses the elderly cleric of being a terrorist who was behind a failed coup against Erdogans government in 2016. After the coup attempt, Ankara made a formal request to the U.S. for Gulens extradition.

NBC News reported that the White House was looking for legal ways to boot out Fethullah Gulen — an exiled Turkish cleric whom Erdogan accuses of orchestrating a failed coup against him in 2016 — in exchange for Turkey easing pressure on the Saudi government, which is responsible for Khashoggis killing.

The requests on Gulen in mid-October mark at least the second time the Trump administration has re-examined Turkeys extradition request since taking office. In the weeks after Trumps inauguration, the White House asked the Justice Department to review Gulens case, NBC has reported.

Gulen is a legal US resident and a green-card holder whos been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.

After nearly a month, Saudi Arabia admitted its government officials carried out a premeditated murder of Khashoggi. The government, though, has insisted Prince Mohammed knew nothing of it in advance. Some officials from the U.S. and other countries have said they believe otherwise.

When the White House first floated the idea of extraditing Gulen, career officials at top federal agencies thought it was a joke but became “furious” when they learned it was a serious request, according to NBC News.

Justice Department officials responded to the White Houses request saying the review of Turkeys case against Gulen two years ago showed no basis for his extradition and that no new evidence to justify it has emerged, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said.

Ned Price, the former senior director of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, said the reported move was “hugely significant.”

“This is the Trump administration seeking to barter away a US resident who has lived here legally for years,” Price told INSIDER.

The ad is the loudest in a series of racist dog whistles by the president in the closing weeks of the midterm election cycle. Last month, Trump explained that his campaign talking points would focus on Kavanaugh; the caravan; law and order; and common sense. But as Republican odds of holding onto the House have slipped, the president refined his message to focus on the most xenophobic elements animating the conservative base. In recent days, he ordered thousands of troops to defend the southern border, provoking accusations that he is using the U.S. military as a political prop. (Increasing troops for a nonexistent crisis is a racist ploy and an irresponsible waste of resources, Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the A.C.L.U., told The Guardian.) On Tuesday, Axios published an interview in which Trump discussed repealing birthright citizenship, a right enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which legal experts say would be impossible. The following day, pouring conspiratorial accelerant on the fire, he told reporters he wouldnt be surprised if billionaire George Soros—a Jewish philanthropist who is an obsession of anti-Semites and was recently the target of a mail-bomb plot—was secretly funding the caravan. Throughout, his Twitter feed has remained a reliable dumping ground for random musings about the very bad thugs and gang members, as well as the criminals and unknown Middle Easterners, he claims are interspersed throughout the caravan.)

Diplomatic, immigration, and law-enforcement officials during the Obama administration determined that Turkeys case for Gulens extradition did not meet the required threshold.

Trump: I never thought of it that way but I guess I did, I suspect I did. Look, Ive been in a lot of different jobs, I love building, I love the real-estate industry, its been very good to me, I think Ive been good for it. I always pride myself on building on time, on budget, ideally ahead of time and ahead of budget. And we really have learned a lot. When you build a building, its almost like every trade. Youre involved with the unions in many cases, youre involved with labor, youre involved with finance, youre involved with design, youre involved with so many different things. In many cases, you are involved with international concepts and deals. So you learn a lot. And then I did The Apprentice, which became a great show, a very, very successful show. Tremendously successful. I did it for 14 seasons, 12 years. So successful they put it on twice sometimes. And as soon as I left, that show went down the tubes. So you know? Just one of those things, right? I dont know if I feel happy about that or sad. Ive never figured that out . . . And Ive certainly learned a lot here, were here almost two years. And weve learned a lot from doing this and I think weve put a lot of talent to work. We have great people that we work with and when theyre not so good we make changes and we have to do them maybe faster than other people would but I sort of can figure it out pretty well.

Price said it now seems “that the Trump White House, in order to make life easier for the Saudi Crown Prince, is seeking to skirt the rule of law by pressuring officials to return Gulen to Turkey, even without a sufficient evidentiary basis.”

Since it first publicly commented on the matter of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and never coming out, the Trump administration has made one thing clear: it has no plans whatsoever to let a U.S. resident’s murder and dismemberment get in the way of its friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “I think that would be hurting us,” Donald Trump said last month when asked if he’d cancel a deal to sell $110 billion worth of arms to the kingdom. “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country.” Making his disregard for Khashoggi’s death even more obvious, the president added, “This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen . . . He’s a permanent resident, O.K.” At the time, Saudi Arabia still denied it had any knowledge at all about what happened to the Washington Post columnist, but even after the government admitted he’d been killed by officials in a pre-meditated fashion, the president and his son-in-law—who reportedly argued internally that the prince could survive the outrage—have been loath to punish the country in any real way. In fact, they’re apparently willing to trade a man’s life to get Turkey off of their buddy M.B.S.’s back!

“The question to ask is can the Trump administration legally do it?” Slim told INSIDER, emphasizing Gulens status as a legal resident as an impediment for the White House.

“If the White House seriously considered it, it shows to what lengths the [Jared] Kushner camp was willing to go to protect their young protege in Riyadh,” she added.

“I am personally outraged that any employee of the firm would undertake the actions spelled out in the government’s pleadings,” David Solomon told employees in a voicemail left on their phones Thursday morning, referring to the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s state-run investment fund. “It goes without saying that they violated the firm’s policies and procedures and acted in conflict with all that we stand for.” Earlier this week, Malaysian officials demanded a “full refund” of the $600 million the bank made in fees for underwriting three bond deals that raised $6 billion, roughly half of which were allegedly siphoned off by financier Jhlo Low with the help of Goldman partners. On November 1, former Goldman managing director Roger Ng was indicted by the Justice Department. Ex-Goldman partner Tim Lessiner pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to launder money and to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, agreeing to forfeit $43.7 million. While the firm has tried to cast the scandal as the work of a few rogue employees, the criminal indictment suggested the bank made it exceedingly easy on them, alleging that its “internal accounting controls could be easily circumvented.” (A lawyer for Low maintains his client’s innocence.)

Slim was referring to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who once reportedly bragged that he had Kushner, a senior White House adviser, “in his pocket.”

Vice President Mike Pence issued a statement condemning the attacks and thanking the Secret Service, which Trump later quote-tweeted, adding, I agree wholeheartedly! Among his supporters on the right, however, suspicion quickly turned to whether the bombs were a false flag, or an attempt by the left to smear Republicans ahead of the midterms. Investigators need to look at the left, right, center, and non-political, Cardillo wrote on Twitter, after deleting his initial post. However, strategically speaking, there is no political upside for the right here. Jack Posobiec, a right-wing commentator who previously pushed the Pizzagate hoax, urged both sides to dial down the rhetoric—Its not funny, and you arent edgy. Take the pledge to always support peace—before wondering, an hour later, How did they get all the bombs to arrive at the same time? The answers bubbling up from the MAGA fever swamps, in this case, ranged from PSYOPS to #Alinskytactics to a mainstream-media hoax. They had it all with them all along. When their synchronized alarms beeped? It was time to call the authorities, suggested one of Posobiecs followers. (The Soros package and the CNN package were both delivered by hand, and were packaged to appear as if they were sent through the mail.)

The crown prince is largely believed to have played a key role in carrying out the Khashoggi killing last month, but the Saudi government denies this, and Trump has mostly accepted this narrative.

Perhaps it is this possibility that has gotten under Trumps skin. While he rails about the costs associated with protecting Macron and Merkel—the U.S. currently has about 60,000 troops stationed in Europe—America also benefits from billions of dollars in weapons sales to Europe. In the 2018 fiscal year alone, European countries accounted for $37.4 billion of U.S. defense companies sales—the most of any region in the world, beating out the Middle East ($22.1 billion), which was previously the biggest spender in the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. The Macron-Merkel pivot away from the U.S. could jeopardize all that. In an interview taped Sunday, before the centenary event at the Arc de Triomphe, Macron told CNNs Fareed Zakaria that he wants Europes increased military spending to go to European companies—not American ones. What I dont want to see is European countries increasing the budget in defense in order to buy Americans and other arms or materials coming from your industry, Macron said. I think if we increase our budget, its . . . to build our autonomy and to become an actual sovereign power. As Politico notes, France happens to have one of Europes biggest defense manufacturing industries. Make France great again, indeed.

Legal experts also weighed in, saying it would be extremely “complicated” to extradite Gulen to Turkey.

“Under current US law and the applicable extradition treaty, the process of extraditing Gulen would be complicated and fraught with controversy,” Bradley P. Moss, a DC lawyer specializing in national security, told INSIDER. “To this day, the specific crimes(s) for which Gulen would actually be prosecuted if returned to Turkey remains unclear.”

But Moss said there was a “political offense” exception in the 1979 extradition treaty between the US and Turkey that “Gulens lawyers would almost certainly argue is applicable here and which they would argue justifies preventing the extradition.”

Inside Washington, foreign-policy experts hoping for a reset swiftly downgraded their expectations. And as the Khashoggi affair has played out, disappointment has morphed to cynicism within the diplomatic community. Its fairly clear that this administration is hoping this will blow over in some respect or another, Peter Juul, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, sighed in an interview. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had made a perfunctory concession to critics by revoking the visas for some of the Saudi officials linked to Khashoggis death. But it was largely an empty gesture—18 of the 21 Saudi suspects were already under arrest, and likely fated to die in a Saudi prison. (At least one of the men involved in the hit team had already [died in a mysterious traffic accident upon returning to Riyadh.) This was a perfect moment for Trump to step out and say, We Americans reject this, because we believe in what we believe, former U.S. ambassador Nicholas Burns, said, incensed. He missed it, because he doesnt think about these things . . . I think were seeing the hollowness of his presidency. Truly. Theres no moral center to it.

“Ultimately, any extradition effort would hinge on the level of detail provided by the Turkish government regarding Gulens purported criminal offenses and the particular nature of the crime(s) regarding which he is alleged to have committed,” Moss added.

Over the past few weeks, in the run-up to midterm elections that will likely see Republicans lose the House, Donald Trump has worked diligently to convince voters that they are in grave danger. Not from, say, job-killing trade wars, or domestic terrorists, but something much scarier: a caravan of migrants traveling north toward the U.S. border. Earlier in the month, the president claimed, with zero evidence, that criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in with groups of Central Americans seeking refuge in America. Over the weekend, he attempted to heighten the drama by ordering thousands of troops to the border—a wildly transparent political ploy, considering the caravan is weeks away and those in it plan to surrender and apply for amnesty. Now, with exactly a week until the election, Trump has lobbed a Hail Mary that he clearly hopes will convince voters that Republicans like him are the only thing standing between them and a United States in which every undocumented immigrant gets to kick an American out of their house: a bald-faced lie about how hes going to issue a (likely unconstitutional!) executive order to end birthright citizenship.

Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer in Memphis, said the language of the extradition treaty “would certainly seem to open up a line of defense” for Gulen given Erdogans case against him appears to be “politically motivated.”

Notably, many are sympathetic to the bind the Trump administration has found itself in. To be fair, any administration of either party—Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton—would have found this challenging, Burns told me. I dont think theres anybody out there, a senior person whos worked in government, saying we should end our relationship with Saudi Arabia over this. After all, Saudi Arabia is a critical U.S. ally—from both a strategic and economic standpoint. The Saudis serve as an imperfect ally of Israel, and are seen as a check on Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. To be honest, when it comes to tangible policy, another administration may not have been all that different than Trump, John Glaser, the director of foreign policy at the Cato Institute, told me. A typical administration would almost certainly have been more critical of the Saudis following the Khashoggi murder, but probably gently so. With the exception of some symbolic penalties—formal condemnations, calls for investigation, possibly a temporary suspension of arms sales—the U.S.-Saudi relationship would probably not be fundamentally altered.

Riyadhs story on Khashoggis slaying has shifted several times over the past month amid increased international pressure to bring his killers to justice.

On Wednesday afternoon, the White House devoted a large chunk of Donald Trumps three-hour work day to an event called Our Pledge to Americas Workers. The discussion followed the July creation of the National Council for the American Worker, a group tasked with gathering signatures from private-sector companies pledging to create educational and training opportunities, and the first five minutes involved Ivanka Trump reading off a list of signatories and talking about how daddys tax cuts and deregulations have made the economy so awesome. The rest of the event, for some reason, involved National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow pretending he was back at the ole news desk and interviewing the president about—and were paraphrasing here, but only slightly—what its like to be so f–king magnificent. (Kudlows actual opener: You beat your critics, you beat your naysayers . . . howd you do it?) Naturally, this opened the door for some patented Trump-style answers (rambling, stream-of-conscious, riddled with falsehoods, completely unintelligible) about:

Though the Saudi government initially denied it had any role in the killing, the Saudi public prosecutors office on Thursday said 11 people had been indicted in connection to Khashoggis death and that the death penalty had been requested for five of them.

Trump looked sullen throughout the event. When he returned to Washington, the aggrieved tweeting began in earnest. Never easy bringing up the fact that the U.S. must be treated fairly, which it hasnt, on both military and trade, he wrote, over the course of several posts. It is time that these very rich countries either pay the United States for its great military protection, or protect themselves. It is somewhat curious, then, that Trump should be so triggered by the thought of a European army. Macron, after all, is hardly the first European leader to propose such a thing. On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the French president in calling for the formation of a common European army to serve as a complement to NATO. The time when we could rely on others is over, Merkel said in an address to the European Parliament. As she noted, European countries currently employ a vast, uncoordinated network of weapons systems, which cannot be easily integrated. A centralized military would also be a more efficient military. (No wonder the Germans are on board.)

The public prosecutor added that 21 people had been detained overall. Riyadh said last month that it detained 18 people.

The White Houses reported effort to extradite Gulen sheds light on US President Donald Trumps attempt to ease rising tensions with Turkey — which is said to be furious over the fact that Saudi officials killed Khashoggi at the kingdoms consulate in Turkey — while providing some cover to the crown prince, with whom Trump has touted a close alliance.

The attempted bombing of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, CNN, and other high-profile political targets feels as predictable as it is horrific, following a month of steadily darkening passions: bloody clashes between white nationalists and Antifa on the Upper East Side, angry diners chasing Republicans out of restaurants, children in cages on the southern border, and Donald Trumps incitements to violence against journalists and conspiratorial ravings about Soros, leftist agitators, and a caravan of criminal migrants winding its way up through Central America. Equally predictable was the response on the far-right, which quickly divined a more sinister purpose behind what appeared to be a coordinated act of terrorism. Just too coincidental, tweeted right-wing radio host John Cardillo, that two weeks before Election Day, as the blue wave has turned into a ripple, and the left is losing ground because of incivility and violent rhetoric, explosive devices show up in the mailboxes of Soros, Clinton, and Obama.

Trump has also consistently emphasized Americas strong strategic partnership with the Saudis, as well as the economic benefits of US arms sales to the kingdom.

Erdogan has called for Gulens extradition for years, saying after the 2016 coup attempt that Turkey had never turned back any extradition request for “terrorists” by the US.

Mysteriously, the number of troops that Trump insists are very, very necessary keeps shifting every time the president opens his mouth. As recently as Tuesday, the Air Force general running the show shot down reports that as many as 14,000 troops will be deployed, saying the number was not consistent with whats actually being planned. But the military was caught by surprise again after Trump told reporters on Wednesday that the number could be anywhere between 10 [thousand] and 15,000. (Thats about how many U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan.) The Pentagon released a statement saying the number of troops deployed will change each day as military forces flow into the operating area, but the initial estimate is that the DOD will have more than 7,000 troops supporting DHS across California, Arizona, and Texas—about half the number Trump suggested. (Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the man who is supposedly in charge of this stunt, told reporters on Wednesday, We dont do stunts.)

A Turkish official told NBC News that the government did not link its concerns about the Khashoggi murder with Gulens extradition case.

“We definitely see no connection between the two,” the official said. “We want to see action on the end of the United States in terms of the extradition of Gulen. And were going to continue our investigation on behalf of the Khashoggi case.”

Similarly, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected the report from NBC News on Gulen. “The White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen,” Nauert said.

Regardless of the Gulen situation, Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Erdogan has come out on top.

“Todays developments have provided Erdogan yet another opportunity to claim the moral high ground in the Khashoggi case,” Erdemir told INSIDER. “As the worlds top jailer of journalist, the Turkish president has already presented himself as a champion of press freedoms and human rights.”

Erdemir added that Erdogan — who he said has “destroyed the justice system” in Turkey — could also “claim the moral high ground on the rule of law and due process.”

The former Turkish politician also said the Trump administrations relatively toothless approach to the killing has strengthened Erdogans position.

“Washington has given Erdogan the greatest gift — that is, the ability to reframe the debate by airbrushing his egregious violations of human rights and freedoms in Turkey while also refashioning himself as a champion of justice and righteousness,” Erdemir said.

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