“Let Them Impeach And Be Damned”: History Repeats Itself With A Vengeance As The House Impeaches Donald Trump

Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the striking similarities between the Johnson and Trump impeachments — a comparison that should be unsettling for most voters as history repeats itself with a vengeance.

Here is the column:

“Let them impeach and be damned.” Those words could have easily come from Donald Trump, as the House moves this week to impeach him. They were, however, the words of another president who not only shares some striking similarities to Trump but who went through an impeachment with chilling parallels to the current proceedings. The impeachment of Trump is not just history repeating itself but repeating itself with a vengeance.

The closest of the three prior presidential impeachment cases to the House effort today is the 1868 impeachment of Andrew Johnson. This is certainly not a comparison that Democrats should relish. The Johnson case has long been widely regarded as the very prototype of an abusive impeachment. As in the case of Trump, calls to impeach Johnson began almost as soon as he took office. A southerner who ascended to power after the Civil War as a result of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson was called the “accidental president” and his legitimacy was never accepted by critics. Representative John Farnsworth of Illinois called Johnson an “ungrateful, despicable, besotted, traitorous man.”

Johnson opposed much of the reconstruction plan Lincoln had for the defeated south and was criticized for fueling racial divisions. He was widely viewed as an alcoholic and racist liar who opposed full citizenship for freed slaves. Ridiculed for not being able to spell, Johnson responded, “It is a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.” Sound familiar? The “Radical Republicans” in Congress started to lay a trap a year before impeachment. They were aware that Johnson wanted their ally, War Secretary Edwin Stanton, out of his cabinet, so they then decided to pass an unconstitutional law that made his firing a crime.

To leave no doubt of their intentions, they even defined such a firing as a “high misdemeanor.” It was a trap door crime created for the purposes of impeachment. Undeterred, Johnson fired Stanton anyway. His foes then set upon any member of Congress or commentator who dared question the basis for the impeachment. His leading opponent, Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania demanded of them, “What good did your moderation do you? If you do not kill the beast, it will kill you.”

As with Trump, the Johnson impeachment was a fast and narrow effort. On paper, his was even faster, since Johnson was impeached just days after the approval of an inquiry. But the underlying investigation began more than a year earlier and was actually the fourth such effort. Yet it also was largely based on the single act of firing Stanton. It collapsed in the Senate due to seven courageous Republicans who voted to acquit a president they despised. One of them, Edmund Ross of Kansas, said that voting for Johnson was like looking down into his open grave. Ross then jumped because he felt his oath to the Constitution gave him no alternative.

The Trump impeachment is even weaker than the Johnson impeachment, which had an accepted criminal act as its foundation. This will be the first presidential impeachment to go forward without such a recognized crime but, like the Johnson impeachment, it has a manufactured and artificial construct. The Trump impeachment also marks the fastest impeachment of all time, depending on how you count the days in the Johnson case.

Take the obstruction of Congress article. I have strongly encouraged the House to abandon the arbitrary deadline of impeaching Trump before Christmas and to take a couple more months to build a more complete record and to allow judicial review of the underlying objections of the Trump administration. But Democrats have set a virtual rocket docket schedule and will impeach Trump for not turning over witnesses and documents in that short period even though he is in court challenging congressional demands. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both were able to go to court to challenge demands for testimony and documents. The resulting judicial opinions proved critical to the outcome of the cases.

Under the theory of the House, members can set any ridiculously short period and then impeach a president who, like Trump has done, seeks judicial review over claims of executive privileges and immunities. It is another trap door impeachment. Democrats did subpoena documents until October but have not issued any subpoenas for critical witnesses such as John Bolton. They did not hold a vote for an inquiry until the end of October. They set a vote for December to manufacture a time crush.

The same is true with the abuse of power article. I testified that the House had a legitimate reason to investigate this allegation and, if there was a showing of a quid pro quo, could impeach Trump for it. Democrats called highly compelling witnesses who said they believed such a quid pro quo existed, but the record is conflicted. There is no statement of a quid pro quo in the conversations between Trump and the Ukrainians, and White House aides have denied being given such a demand. Trump declared during two direct conversations, with Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, that there was no quid pro quo.

One can question the veracity of his statement, as he likely knew of the whistleblower at the time of the calls. But there is no direct statement in the record by Trump to the contrary. Democrats and their witnesses have instead insisted that the impeachment can be proven by inferences or presumptions. The problem is that there still are a significant number of witnesses who likely have direct evidence, but the House has refused to go to court to compel their appearance. The House will therefore move forward with an impeachment that seems designed to fail in the Senate, as if that is a better option than taking the time to build a complete case.

With half of the country opposing impeachment, the House is about to approve two articles of impeachment designed to play better On CNN than in the Senate. Meanwhile, a lack of tolerance for constitutional objections is growing by the day. Some critics have actually cited Johnson as precedent to show that impeachment can be done on purely political grounds. In other words, the very reason the Johnson impeachment is condemned by history is now being used today as a justification to dispense with standards and definitions of impeachable acts. One commentator has embraced the use of Johnson as precedent with a statement that might make every “Radical Republican” from the 19th century smile, saying, “At least they impeached the motherf—-r.”

Indeed, many Democrats seem to be taking away the wrong lesson on impeachment from Johnson himself, who declared, “Whenever you hear a man prating about the Constitution, spot him as a traitor.” This is how history not only repeats itself, but repeats itself with a vengeance.

Jonathan Turley is the chair of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a Republican witness in House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Follow him @JonathanTurley.

146 thoughts on ““Let Them Impeach And Be Damned”: History Repeats Itself With A Vengeance As The House Impeaches Donald Trump”

  1. It is absurdly preposterous that Turley thinks that there might be an impeachable offense in Trump’s behavior if only the House spent more time investigating. What a loon. Trump’s call was perfect. Reason? Because quid pro quo is not an offense. As Joe Biden says, do what I tell you or you’re not getting the money. In other words, ALL foreign diplomacy involves quid pro quo.

    If the House had 2,000 more YEARS to investigate, there would still be no impeachable offense to surface. Turley’s supposition is absurd. This impeachment is completely false.

    1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me forty citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-five weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – you would have hated me as a student. I would have made your life a living hell.

    1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me forty citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-five weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. It’s Grigio, not Gringo. You may be over the limit already.

    1. Even Republican voters favor hearing witnesses (2 out of 3) in the Senate, so keeping a lid on it will not be easy. It won’t take many endangered GOP Senators – and Romney -to blow it off with Democrats.

      1. “Even Republican voters favor…”

        Indeed, the American Founders restricted the vote generally to: Male, European, 21 with 50 lbs. Sterling or 50 acres. As did the Greeks and Romans, the Americans restricted the vote to those capable, successful and vested.

        One man, one vote democrazy is immutably self-destructive, always ending in dictatorship.
        _______________________________________

        “the people are nothing but a great beast…

        I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

        – Alexander Hamilton

        1. David, you keep talking about beer. I guess that means they won’t let you have any. Interacts with your pills. Quiet down or you go back into your rubber room.

          1. Allan is another one, all too common, who cannot engage on substance and so must descend to insult.

            Far worse, those aren’t even clever.

            Think!

            1. David I know that all those medications impair your ability to think but all I have been hearing from you to other posters is beer, beer and beer. Maybe you need ECT to straighten you out but do something. You are very bizarre.

            2. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me forty citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-five weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – Projecting again!!!

        2. D.B. Blooper must be in an assylum, his familiarity is such that he knows well how to spell it.
          ________________________________________________________________________

          Benson, the God Emperor, is actually D.B. Cooper who, having parachuted into a freezing rainstorm at night, has been

          decompensating somewhere in the fetid forests of the Pacific Northwest for 48 years.

          1. DBB:

            In your honor, David, I’m now shaking up a mild Blood & Sand (Dewars, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, OJ and a little lemon juice. Think Valentino) and thereafter retiring to finish reading Prof. Stanley Weintraub’s “Disraeli.” I’ll toast your unending strabismus on issues of the day juxtaposed against the great Englishman’s clear rationality. One needs a cocktail after muddling through your confusion but is refreshed with his prescience.

                1. David:
                  Oh?

                  Explain why Einstein-Cartan theory improves upon General Relativity.
                  ************
                  “The Einstein–Cartan Theory (ECT) of gravity is a modification of General Relativity Theory (GRT), allowing space-time to have torsion, in addition to curvature, and relating torsion to the density of intrinsic angular momentum. This modification was put forward in 1922 by Elie Cartan, before the discovery of spin.Jun 14, 2006”.

                  There and In .46 seconds, I can answer your question; you’ve been feebly and pedantically trying to explain Trump for three years. You focus on the individual drop of water easily explained by the microscope, while I explain to you the ocean currents that takes years of reading and perspective. It’s the myopia of the specialist to focus on the arcane and miss the essential.

          2. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me forty citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-five weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – you have beer on the mind and you are clearly projecting.

  2. WSJ

    Pelosi Has Second Thoughts:

    McConnell should hold a trial with or without House managers.

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
    The House impeachment of President Trump is only a day old and it has already moved from folly to farce. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now threatening to withhold the articles of impeachment that Democrats just passed until the Senate sets trial terms that she and her left-wing faction deem adequate.

    “We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday night after the impeachment vote, referring to the House Members who would present the case for removal to the Senate. “So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us.”

    The Constitution gives the House “the sole power of impeachment.” It also gives the Senate “the sole power to try all impeachments.” Mrs. Pelosi nonetheless wants to use the articles the House has passed as leverage to force the Senate to do what she wants. The idea was floated this week by Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe and has been picked up on the left, apparently as a way to discomfit Senate Republicans.

    This further trivializes the impeachment power that the Pelosi Democrats have already done so much to diminish. The House raced to an impeachment vote to please swing-district Members who wanted it over before Christmas. Democrats barred GOP witnesses and truncated questioning. Rep. Adam Schiff even said speed was essential and the House couldn’t wait for court rulings on witnesses, lest Mr. Trump steal the 2020 election.

    But now Mrs. Pelosi says speed isn’t essential because Senate Republicans might not hold the kind of trial she wants. She is running interference for Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, who is demanding that the Senate call witnesses the House refused to call. The goal seems to be to turn the Senate trial into a second impeachment investigation ad infinitum. Keep the machinery running, and who knows what else might turn up that pressures Republicans to convict.

    This isn’t what the Founders intended for the Senate trial, which is supposed to judge the President based on the charges in the House articles. The Senate can call any witnesses it thinks will shed light on House claims, incriminating or exculpatory, but Mrs. Pelosi can’t dictate which witnesses the Senate calls or anything else about the trial.

    Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, ridiculed all of this in remarks on Thursday. “Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate. The prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country and second-guessing whether they even want to go to trial,” he said. “They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical.”

    He’s right, but the harm from Mrs. Pelosi’s impeachment shenanigans is too serious to dismiss as comic relief. The Senate needs to quarantine the damage by taking the trial more seriously than the House took impeachment.

    Mr. McConnell may be tempted to let Mrs. Pelosi delay naming managers for as long as she wants, figuring that she’ll look increasingly cynical to the public. But now that the House has voted to impeach, Republicans should honor the Constitution by holding a trial. It needn’t be long, but the President deserves the chance to marshal a defense that he didn’t get in the House, and to get a Senate verdict.

    Mr. McConnell should put Mrs. Pelosi on public notice that she has a certain period of time, perhaps until the end of the year, to name House managers. If she still refuses, he should declare that the Senate will appoint managers to make the House impeachment case for the Democrats.

    The House will howl, but there are plenty of lawyers who could make a better argument for removing Mr. Trump from office than Mr. Schiff or Rep. Jerrold Nadler would. If Mrs. Pelosi wants her Members to make the case, stop the unconstitutional meddling with the Senate’s prerogatives and appoint them.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/pelosi-has-second-thoughts-11576802073

  3. So the House Democrats impeached President Trump over a perceived QPQ and Obstruction of Congress and now Pelosi has decided to obstruct the Senate trial with her own actual QPQ.

    The irony is completely lost on them.

    1. But will Mitch McConnell cave?

      Republicans historically always cave. Bush and Bush lost their gonads and it was painful to watch as an American to see two Presidents act castrated. McConnell and Ryan were a perpetual charlie foxtrot in the US Congress, a prolonged, botched abortion on an epic scale.

      Mitch will cave. Republicans do that best of all.

      McConnell Remarks on House Democrats’ Impeachment of President Trump

      ‘A political faction in the lower chamber have succumbed to partisan rage. They have fulfilled Hamilton’s prophesy that impeachment will, quote, “connect itself with the pre-existing factions… enlist all their animosities… [and] there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” End quote.

      ‘That is what happened in the House last night. The vote did not reflect what had been proven. It only reflects how they feel about the President.

      ‘The Senate must put this right. We must rise to the occasion.

      ‘There is only one outcome that is suited to the paucity of evidence, the failed inquiry, the slapdash case.

      ‘Only one outcome suited to the fact that the accusations themselves are constitutionally incoherent.

      ‘Only one outcome that will preserve core precedents rather than smash them into bits in a fit of partisan rage because one party still cannot accept the American people’s choice in 2016.

      ‘It could not be clearer which outcome would serve the stabilizing, institution-preserving, fever-breaking role for which the United States Senate was created… and which outcome would betray it.

      ‘The Senate’s duty is clear. The Senate’s duty is clear.

      ‘When the time comes, we must fulfill it.’

      https://www.republicanleader.senate.gov/newsroom/remarks/mcconnell-remarks-on-house-democrats-impeachment-of-president-trump-

  4. Any thoughts on Nancy Pelosi not transmitting articles to the senate?
    Democrats playing games obviously, but what are legalities?

    1. “Any thoughts on Nancy Pelosi not transmitting articles to the senate?
      Democrats playing games obviously, but what are legalities?”
      ********************
      Well, it’s simple:

      𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘦
      𝘉𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦
      (…)
      𝘊𝘳𝘺 𝘮𝘦 𝘢 𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘰𝘤𝘦𝘢𝘯
      𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘯𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘮𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵
      𝘐𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘢 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵
      𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳
      𝘊𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘶𝘱 𝘪𝘯 𝘴𝘰𝘳𝘳𝘰𝘸, 𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘪𝘯 𝘮𝘺 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘭

      1. I’m sure that song according to some was influenced by Putin. “Crimea River” obviously leads to the ocean. The Bee Gees were Russian Agents.

        1. Darren:

          And, of course, “You’ve gotta go find your shining star” has got to refer to that one above the sickle on the Soviet flag. lol

  5. Well it remains to be seen whether the president will be convicted of the high-crime and misdemeanor of “Orange Man Bad”–a capitol offense. (and no I did not spell that incorrectly.)

  6. PUTIN AGREES WITH TRUMP

    IMPEACHMENT CHARGES MADE-UP

    Vladimir Putin has criticised the impeachment of Donald Trump, dismissing the charges as “absolutely made up” and saying he expected the US president to survive the historic proceedings.

    In remarks reminiscent of Trump himself, Putin said during an annual press conference that US Democrats were seeking to make up for their loss in the 2016 presidential elections “by other means”, ascribing the impeachment proceedings to political infighting.

    “The Democratic party, which lost the elections, is achieving results through other means, by accusing Trump at first of conspiracy with Russia, then it turns out, there was no conspiracy at all,” Putin said during the marathon Q&A session in Moscow. “It then turned out that there was no collusion and it could not form the basis for an impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.”

    Edited from: “Vladimir Putin Says Impeachment Charges Totally Made-Up”

    Today’s The Guardian
    ………………………………..

    Putin gave a wide-ranging news conference yesterday in which he addressed a number of different issues.

      1. Olly, does it surprise you that the Democrats are so lame. Many of them were in bed with the Russians for years. Suddenly they would like to start a war. Years ago the Democratic Party featured some accomplished foreign affairs specialists but today it seems national politics dominates their policy.

        1. They have turned into political extremists. I’ll call them Demists, like Islamist’s, but to reorder government and society in accordance with their version of the law. They are waging a war on this country that they will lose bigly.

          1. Good term. Their ideology has turned into a religious faith based belief so like Sharia there exists a religious and political component when in our society it should only be political.

          2. Peggy Noonan captured it succinctly:

            https://www.wsj.com/articles/crazy-wont-beat-trump-11576799917

            Here is how the party’s lurch left has improved the president’s position.

            It makes the 2020 race not “Trump vs. the Democrat,” a race he can lose, but “Trump vs. Lefty Madness,” which he can win.

            The left is turning Donald Trump into a savior. He was not a savior before AOC. He was not a savior before Elizabeth and Bernie said they’d ban your health insurance.

            But the past year has allowed the president’s supporters, and independents, to see him that way. It has given them something new to fight for, something better. They don’t have to say, “I’m for Trump because I love him,” or think, “I’m for Trump because I have sacrificed all standards for power.” They can say, “I’m going to defend the free-market system and our liberties by voting for Trump.”

            But 2020 is already printing its bumper stickers. “I’ll take the somewhat demented over the wholly destructive.” “The imperfect over the obnoxious.” “Vote for the barbarian, it’s important.”

            😉

            1. Trump, love him or hate him doesn’t matter. The only thing that should matter is what he has done for the country and that is a lot more than anyone could have expected. We should all be grateful to him whether one likes his tweets or not. He has been portrayed as an awful person but he was well liked with very good press before he decided to run as a Republican. A bit eccentric but what great leader doesn’t have some eccentricities.

              Trump 2020

    1. You guys fell right into his trap. He’s discrediting our electoral system based on the forked attack i have elaborated before, ie, helping BOTH candidates, Trump with the small number of FB ads, and Hillary with the pee pee dossier disinformation. The “help” to both candidates allowed the loser, whichever one, to be in a position of “discrediting” the victory of the rival.

      But it succeeded beyond expectation partly because of how deeply the Democrat leadership and yes their collaborators in FBI and CIA took the bait. Trying to discredit Trump long before he won.

      You guys are totally dense about this. Putin is an adversary but he is a genius and the intelligence operations of the Russians were fantastically effective most of all not because of “Trump” but because the Democrats have gone wild over their loss and sought to impeach the whole system out of pique.

      Greed, power-lust, and arrogance, Democrat leadership has had it in great supply! A con job always depends at least in some small part on the mark being greedy. It’s human nature. But the greedier the mark, the deeper of a con job is thereby made possible.

      now he’s up there laughing, pleased in his own success. But, hey, America is resilient, whatever its many faults, adaptability is not a problem. So, we’ll survive this mess just like we survived a thousand others.

      The one mess that we all might not survive, is actually, getting NUKED by Russia, and that’s the thing our POTUS should be working to avoid, by deconfliction. A wise Trump policy that has been much maligned by the ignorant press and the warmongers in the Deep State.

    1. No role for the courts is specified in the Constitution.

      All of us that are opposed to progressivism and the massive, unconstitutional, administrative state have made similar arguments for the elimination of other federal agencies not specified in the constitution.

      Welcome aboard!

    2. You might want to re-read the constitution before you type.

      From the U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6

      The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

        1. Then what is it that you are arguing? When a judge or justice in an individual capacity makes a ruling or such he/she is acting as “The Court” in both name and official capacity. You also seem to forget that individual justices bind the court in circumstances of their individual acts.

        2. No role for the courts is specified in the Constitution.

          The obvious answer is the Chief Justice is a role in the Supreme Court and that role presides over the impeachment trial in the Senate.

          I’ll bet you that Putin understands this better than you.

        1. oft, you mean often?

          I think so. So why not just say, “often.”

          Because, more presumptuousness and arrogance.

          What trite words come next, “Twas” or something else you think makes you sound clever?

    3. DBB:

      Really, David. Where’s “judicial review” of laws set out in the Constitution? Sounds like you’re in a time warp with federalistpapersrevisited circa 1802.

  7. Hamilton makes clear in Federalist 63 the important role the Senate plays as a check on the reckless passions that have been on display in this impeachment process.

    Thus far I have considered the circumstances which point out the necessity of a well-constructed Senate only as they relate to the representatives of the people. To a people as little blinded by prejudice or corrupted by flattery as those whom I address, I shall not scruple to add, that such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions? Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.

  8. Anyone seen this one?

    Pelosi will send over articles of impeachment “when we see the process set forth in the Senate.”

    Why should the Senate set forth a process before the articles of impeachment have been filed.

    Is delaying delivery, and for that matter preparing for a trial before the articles have been delivered Constitutional under a reasonable interpretation of Article 1? — not that anyone in Congress cares about that anyway.

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