Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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President Trump on Tuesday issued full pardons to Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, Oregon cattle ranchers convicted for arson who became a cause célèbre among the anti-government far-right.

“The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West,” the White House said in a statement. “Justice is overdue.”

The Hammonds’ case inspired the weeks-long 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federal national preserve in rural Oregon, by “sovereign citizen” militia activists led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Hammond supporters viewed the sentencing of the father-son duo as proof of federal government overreach.

Their case dates back to a series of fires they set on public lands that prompted warnings from the Bureau of Land Management. In 2012, they were convicted for a massive 2001 fire they set that burned 139 acres of public land and interrupted production on the lands for two growing seasons. The Hammonds claimed that they were trying to burn off invasive species, but the Justice Department maintained that the fires were set to cover up the Hammonds’ illegal slaughter of deer on BLM property.

Their convictions became a flashpoint in Oregon’s ranching community, with some resenting that the Hammonds were convicted under a 1996 law targeting domestic terrorists.

At sentencing, an Oregon federal judge imposed limited sentences of three months imprisonment for Dwight Hammond and a year and a day for Steven Hammond, who faced separate charges for another fire he had set in 2006. The judge said that imposing the law’s five-year mandatory minimum would “shock the conscience” given the charges.

But the DOJ appealed the sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which, in 2015, ordered that the pair be re-sentenced. In her subsequent re-sentencing, Oregon federal judge Ann Aiken upheld the mandatory minimum, with time served, noting that arson is a dangerous federal crime that places human lives in jeopardy, and she sent the Hammonds back to jail.

It was that decision that sparked the uprising at Malheur. The Bundy brothers—already versed in clashes with the BLM from the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing rights that their father, Cliven, led on their family’s Nevada ranch—decamped to Oregon to take control of the wildlife refuge.

During the dramatic 40-day standoff, one of the militia members, LaVoy Finicum, was fatally shot in a standoff with law enforcement, sparking anti-government conspiracy theories. The Malheur takeover ended with some 26 people being charged with felony conspiracy to prevent federal workers from doing their jobs, among other charges.
Most have since been acquitted by federal grand juries.

In its Tuesday statement, the Trump White House blamed the Obama administration for taking an “overzealous” and “unjust” approach towards the Hammonds’ case.

The Hammonds had filed paperwork with the DOJ formally requesting a pardon, and their petition received some 8,500 signatures.

Trump’s decision to grant the pair executive clemency is the latest in a string of pardons for high-profile conservatives. The administration has also granted pardons to controversial figures including far-right pundit Dinesh D’Souza, former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and former George W. Bush White House official Scooter Libby.

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting. 

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A Michigan group has collected over 430,000 signatures to get a measure expanding voting access on the November ballot, in the latest citizen-driven push to modernize and streamline the voting system in that key Midwestern state.

Promote the Vote, a non-partisan group backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and League of Women Voters, submitted the signatures to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office on Monday, the deadline for any ballot measures that would amend the state constitution.

“Today is a good day,” Todd Cook, Promote the Vote’s campaign director, told TPM in a Monday phone interview.

The proposal would impose fixes including automatic voter registration, same-day registration, access to absentee ballots on request, and better access for military service members and overseas voters.

It is the second sweeping citizen-driven ballot measure intended to address issues with voting access and fairness in a state that narrowly swung for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

The other is an anti-gerrymandering proposal brought by Voters Not Politicians (VNP). That measure seeks to take power to draw congressional and legislative maps away from the state legislature and turn it over to a 13-member redistricting commission.

The VNP proposal was finally approved for the November ballot last month after a months-long legal fight brought by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), a conservative group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. But that fight is not yet over.

Though the Michigan Court of Appeals strongly ruled in VNP’s favor, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette successfully pushed the Michigan Supreme Court to consider overruling that decision. Both CPMC and Schuette maintain that the proposal is so complex that it can’t be considered an amendment to the state Constitution, and should instead be addressed at a constitutional convention. The Republican-dominated state Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the initiative on July 18.

Bearing witness to this ugly legal battle has not deterred Cook and his army of volunteers, he told TPM.

“You always hope that people will look at matters in terms of what they actually are and not read into any political implications,” Cook said of possible court challenges. “We’ll see what happens in terms of Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution and what they do.”

Cook said that Promote the Vote’s proposal was “much simpler and much more straightforward” than VNP’s, which would make it difficult for CPMC to just replicate the same line of attack.

CPMC spokesperson Dave Doyle told TPM that the group had not yet reviewed Promote the Vote’s amendment and had no further comment at this time.

For now, Promote the Vote is waiting for the Secretary of State’s office to certify their signatures and holding its breath for any possible legal challenges. According to Cook, they have organized community meetings across the state and are going door-to-door to try to educate Michiganders about the reforms they hope to achieve.

This post has been updated. 

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The Republican frontrunner in Georgia’s gubernatorial race is learning the hard way that it’s not good idea to spill your heart to a former rival.

On Monday, secretly recorded audio was released of Lt. Gov Casey Cagle dismissively describing his state’s wild five-man primary as a contest between “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”

This is the second snippet of covertly recorded audio from a conversation between Cagle and his onetime primary rival Clay Tippins.

In the first segment, which was leaked to the media in June by Tippins himself, Cagle admitted to supporting an education bill that he described as bad in “a thousand different ways” in order to damage another primary candidate.

The latest 50-second clip was put out by Cagle’s opponent in the runoff, far-right Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

The tapes threaten to upend a very tight race between Kemp and Cagle ahead of the July 24 runoff election. A recent Cygnal poll of likely Republican runoff voters had Cagle ahead by only one point, 44 percent to Kemp’s 43 percent.

Kemp, who released primary ads in which he pointed a gun at a teenager courting his daughter and pledged to hunt down “criminal illegals” in his “big truck,” is running to Cagle’s right. The tapes are perfect fodder for his message that Cagle is not a true conservative in the Trumpian mold.

“Like Hillary Clinton, Cagle thinks the electorate is a basket of deplorables who lack the intelligence and attention span to comprehend all of the high-level policy proposals that he’s saving for the General Election,” Kemp wrote in one of several Monday tweets about the new recording.

The Cagle campaign did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment, and did not release a public statement. But the lieutenant governor is pushing his conservative bona fides on social media, tweeting out a link to a trio of upcoming rallies with incoming NRA President Ollie North. The linked press release informs voters that Cagle is the only gubernatorial candidate endorsed by the NRA, and warns that “radical liberals are coming for your guns.”

The runoff victor will face off against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in the fall.

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Does Rudy Giuliani believe longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen will flip on his former boss? It depends on the day.

Giuliani, the TV-friendly face of the President’s legal team, has been all over the map on this question in the weeks since FBI agents raided Cohen’s apartment, office and hotel room. The one thing Giuliani has repeated over and over is that Cohen has nothing incriminating on Trump—but Giuliani’s public comments have undercut that claim, too.

Underlying all of this public blustering and flip-flopping is an important fact: plea deals aren’t just handed out like candy. Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York are likely still digging through the reams of documents they seized from Cohen as part of their probe into Cohen’s business dealings and the hush money payments he made to women on Trump’s behalf.

If Cohen doesn’t have additional useful, incriminatory information to divulge, they won’t offer him a deal. Cohen, for his part, is suggesting that he has a pretty song to sing, and that he intends to do so.

Back on May 6, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Giuliani if he was “concerned” that Cohen would cooperate with prosecutors.

“No,” Giuliani replied. “I expect that he is going to cooperate with them. I don’t think they’ll be happy with it because he doesn’t have any incriminating evidence about the President or himself.”

But these comments came days after Giuliani divulged that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 October 2016 payment to former adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her from publicly discussing her alleged affair with Trump. Trump had previously said he knew nothing about the payment, which is reportedly one of the topics under scrutiny in the New York probe of Cohen.

In the same interview with ABC, Giuliani said Cohen may even have doled out payments to other women on Trump’s behalf.

“The agreement with Michael Cohen, as far as I know, is a longstanding agreement that Michael Cohen takes care of situations like this then gets paid for them sometimes,” Giuliani said.

As the weeks passed, stories piled up about Cohen feeling sidelined and abandoned by Trump, fueling rumors that Cohen planned to flip. Giuliani dropped in to the Fox News studios on June 13 to try to quash the gossip.

“I checked into this last night. It’s not so,” he said of Cohen. “He’s not cooperating, nor do we care because the President did nothing wrong.”

“We’re very comfortable if he cooperates that there’s nothing he can cooperate about with regard to President Trump. I am absolutely certain about that from everything I know about that investigation,” Giuliani added.

Not long after, Cohen broke his silence. In a July 1 interview with Stephanopoulos, he said his first loyalty was to his family and country. He hinted, for the first time, that he may have damaging information on the President, declining to answer questions on whether Trump had advance knowledge of the Daniels payment or the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign staffers and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Cohen said he’d wait to consult with his new lawyers—one of whom is Clinton ally and Trump critic Lanny Davis—before deciding on any cooperation deal, but acknowledged he planned to break his joint-defense agreement with Trump.

Giuliani brushed off these significant developments in a round of July 8 interviews, telling CNN Cohen “should cooperate.”

“I don’t know what he has to flip over,” Giuliani said. “What I do know is there is no evidence of wrongdoing with President Trump. So we’re very comfortable. If he believes it’s in his best interest to cooperate, God bless him. He should cooperate. I think the man has been horribly treated by the people he’s going to cooperate with, but sometimes you have no other choice.”

As long as Cohen tells the truth, Giuliani continued, “we’re home free.”

In further evidence of the Trump-Cohen split, Davis mocked Giuliani’s “definition of ‘truth’” on Twitter.

“Trump/Giuliani next to the word ‘truth’ = oxymoron,” Davis wrote. “Stay tuned. #thetruthmatters.”

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A former Playboy model has sued top GOP donor Elliott Broidy over his decision to end a hush money agreement related to their extramarital affair that was brokered by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Shera Bechard filed the suit under seal in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At issue, per the Journal, is the $1.6 million that Broidy agreed to pay Bechard late last year in exchange for her silence about their sexual relationship, which allegedly resulted in Bechard’s pregnancy.

The complaint also names Bechard’s former attorney Keith Davidson and Michael Avenatti, attorney for onetime adult film star Stormy Daniels, as defendants. Cohen is not a defendant.

Earlier this week, the Journal reported that Broidy was cutting off the regular installments he paid out to Bechard under the agreement because Davidson violated her non-disclosure agreement by discussing the arrangement with Avenatti.

In a statement released on Twitter, Avenatti said he had no relationship with Bechard and that his inclusion in the complaint suggested “a ploy by Ms. Bechard to get publicity.” Avenatti requested that she unseal the suit “immediately.”

Cohen’s involvement in this tangled web of hush money payments made on behalf of the President and others in their orbit is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors.

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To ensure his safety, Paul Manafort is being held in solitary confinement at a Virginia jail for “at least 23 hours a day,” his attorneys claimed in Thursday court filings appealing his pretrial detention.

The attorneys argued that Manafort’s confinement at Warsaw, Virginia’s Northern Neck Regional Jail made it “effectively impossible” for him to prepare for his two separate upcoming criminal trials.

The former Trump campaign chairman’s bail was revoked in mid-June after he allegedly engaged in witness tampering while confined to house arrest. Manafort allegedly attempted to communicate with former business partners who helped coordinate his shady lobbying work in the Ukraine. A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., convened by special counsel Robert Mueller, subsequently indicted Manafort for the alleged witness tampering. He already faced charges including failure to disclose foreign lobbying, money laundering, bank fraud and tax fraud.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Washington D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she could think of no other alternative than jail to ensure that Manafort would not commit crimes while awaiting trial.

Appealing that ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Manafort’s lawyers said that Mueller’s team failed to provide sufficient evidence that their client engaged in obstruction of justice. His communications with his former business partners, they said, “were extremely limited.”

In its own Thursday filing, Mueller’s team opposed Manafort’s request for the “extraordinary relief” he seeks. Prosecutors noted that both they and the district court have “taken steps to minimize the impact” on Manafort’s trial preparation, offering to work with his attorneys on requests to house him in a more accessible facility. Mueller also said these difficulties were common to all “defendants incarcerated pending trial.”

Prosecutors also rejected the argument that they did not adequately prove that Manafort was improperly contacting potential witnesses.

Manafort’s trial in the DC case is set to begin Sept. 17. His separate case in the Eastern District of Virginia on charges including bank fraud and filing false tax returns is scheduled for trial on July 25.

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Michael Cohen all but screamed from the rooftops this week that he plans to flip against President Trump and cooperate with federal prosecutors. In an ABC News interview, Cohen explicitly said his first loyalty was not to Trump but to his family and country. The onetime stalwart Trump footsoldier also hinted he may have information on what the President knew about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting and hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

Former federal prosecutors say it’s deeply unusual for Cohen to be publicly telegraphing his intention to cooperate, and that he could just be angling for a pardon from Trump. But Cohen has apparently told friends he is not “counting” on receiving one, given his messy falling out with the President.

Cohen also announced that he intends to end his joint-defense agreement with Trump, which allowed their legal teams to share information and documents under cover of attorney-client privilege. In another conspicuous move, he scrubbed all references to Trump from his public social media profiles.

On Thursday, former Clinton special counsel-turned-PR rep for dictators Lanny Davis announced he was joining Cohen’s defense team. Davis will serve as the public face of Cohen’s legal squad, a job he took, he says, after being moved by Cohen’s “sincerity” in his ABC interview.

Top GOP donor Elliott Broidy will stop making hush money payments to his former Playboy Playmate mistress in an arrangement brokered by Cohen.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is adding new prosecutors to his team to handle a mess of court challenges to the charges they’ve brought, and to ease the process of eventually handing off parts of his investigation.

The most aggressive pushback has come from Concord Management, a firm run by a Russian oligarch allied with Putin and charged with funding Russia’s social media trolling operation during the 2016 election. On Mueller’s request, a federal judge restricted access to discovery materials in that case for national security reasons.

Mueller is again seeking to delay sentencing for Michael Flynn, in a sign that the ex-national security adviser is still providing valuable information to the investigation. Requesting more information on this third delay in Flynn’s sentencing, a federal judge has ordered both parties to appear for a hearing next Tuesday.

Also called in for a hearing: ex-FBI official Peter Strzok. The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees subpoenaed Strzok to submit to a public grilling about anti-Trump texts he sent while working on the Hillary Clinton email and Russia probes. Strzok’s attorney hinted he may not appear because Republicans on the committee just want to “preen and posture” rather than get at “the truth.”

Trump is slated to meet with Vladimir Putin ahead of an upcoming NATO summit in Helsinki, and reportedly intends to do so one-on-one, without any aides present.

And Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti floated the prospect of a presidential run against Trump, because 2018.

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Arthur Jones is a former leader of the American Nazi Party who describes the Holocaust as “an international extortion racket.”

He’s also a Republican congressional nominee.

Thanks to some procedural maneuvering by Jones and the Illinois GOP’s botched opportunities to block his campaign, this avowed white nationalist will appear on the November ballot on the Republican Party ticket in the safely blue 3rd Congressional District. Jones doesn’t pose a real threat to Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski, but his campaign has forced both the state and national GOP to answer, yet again, for the openly racist candidates running in the party’s name.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) entered the fray late last week, urging Illinois voters to either “write in another candidate, or vote for the Democrat.”

“This bigoted fool should receive ZERO votes,” Cruz declared.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday declined to follow in Cruz’s footsteps by boosting Lipinski, but urged Jones to drop out of the race because “there is no room in our politics for a person like that.”

Jones, a retired insurance agent, is a perennial candidate, having run for the 3rd District seven previous times, in addition to seeking other local offices. But this year, with no other Republicans in the running, Jones successfully collected the 832 signatures he needed for his nominating petition. He caught the GOP by surprise by submitting the petition on the last possible day.

The Illinois GOP attempted to derail his campaign, scouring his petition signatures for irregularities that could merit a legal challenge and attempting to recruit candidates to challenge Jones both in the primary and on a third-party ticket. They failed on all counts.

In the March primaries, while Lipinski was fending off a credible challenger on the Democratic side, Jones received over 20,000 votes on the Republican side —presumably including some cast by voters unfamiliar with his views.

Local Republicans say the failure to stop Jones has to do with the demographics of the district, which is heavily Democratic. A Republican candidate would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get on the ballot, and would almost certainly lose to Lipinski, who is backed by Chicago’s Democratic machine.

But out of concern for appearing to enable a Nazi’s campaign, the Illinois GOP has launched an anti-Jones messaging campaign, conducting robocalls, sending out mailers, and condemning his views in statement after statement.

“The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider told TPM via email on Thursday.

The Republican Party has had to confront the question of what to do about candidates like Jones with increasing frequency of late. In Wisconsin, open anti-Semite Paul Nehlen campaigned to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan, while John Fitzgerald is running for Congress in California with the primary goal of “exposing” the Holocaust as fake.

Some longtime Republicans, including campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, are leaving the GOP in disgust. In the past few weeks, conservative columnists George Will and Max Boot have published Washington Post op-eds urging Republicans to “vote against the GOP” in the midterms and actively “rooting for a Democratic takeover of both houses in November,” respectively. According to Boot, the GOP has become “a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe.”

Gov. Rauner took some heat in the press for declining to make similar “country over party” comments, particularly since Lipinski is a conservative Democrat who voted against Obamacare and opposes abortion. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire Democrat running to defeat Rauner, recently invoked Jones’ candidacy as proof that the governor has “cowered to the worst elements of our politics.”

A spokesman for Rauner’s campaign declined to speak with TPM on the record, but pointed to a tweet Rauner sent on Thursday afternoon urging voters to support “anybody but Arthur Jones” and chiding “the media or anyone else” for implying he thought otherwise.

With local Republicans assailing their own nominee, Lipinski has mostly avoided the subject of Jones’ Nazi sympathies, though his campaign has fired off several fundraising emails on Jones’ “ugly” views. Asked why the campaign hasn’t spent much time discussing Jones, spokesman Jerry Hurckes said they are wary of giving him any more attention.

“If you keep giving this gentleman exposure, his ego just keeps growing and it gets very convoluted as to what is actual and what is not,” Hurckes said.

Jones’ campaign website features an entire section on the Holocaust, which he refers to as “the biggest, blackest, lie in history.” It’s formatted with the sort of random capitalization and bolded quotes you might see on a conspiracy theorist’s blog circa 2003.

In the “about section,” photos show Jones in uniform, speaking at the Aryan Nations World Congress and holding his arm out in a Nazi salute. His campaign’s logo is an elephant draped with a Confederate flag. The slogan: “It’s time to put America First.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Jones referred to Cruz as “Count Chocula,” the cereal box character, and said that an “alien-born person” like the Canadian-born Texas senator had “no business sticking his long, pointed nose into politics in Illinois.” After criticizing the state GOP’s opposition to his campaign, Jones launched into an unprompted diatribe on the “phony issue” of immigrant family separation at the border, and the “NN-22 anti-ship missile” that Iran possesses that he believes will usher in a third world war.

Asked about his long-shot prospects in November, Jones brought up the over 20,000 ballots cast in his name and said he had graver concerns, namely, nuclear war against Iran.

“So that’s my concern: we could in fact end up in a nuclear holocaust that would be the end of mankind, probably,” Jones said.

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Michael Cohen has added a big name to his legal defense team: former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis.

Davis announced Thursday that he was moved to join the case by a recent ABC News interview in which Cohen pledged his loyalty to his family and country over President Trump.

“Like most of America, I have been following the matter regarding Michael Cohen with great interest,” Davis said in a statement. “As an attorney, I have talked to Michael many times in the last two weeks. Then I read his words published on July 2, and I recognized his sincerity. Michael Cohen deserves to tell his side of the story – subject, of course, to the advice of counsel.”

In Cohen’s ABC interview, the longtime personal attorney to Trump said he would wait until his new legal team was in place before deciding whether to cooperate with government prosecutors. Cohen is under investigation for a host of financial crimes in a case referred by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

Davis’ hiring is the latest sign that Cohen is beefing up his defense team. The White House lawyer-turned-PR consultant became a national name in the late 1990s for his work as a spokesperson for the Clinton White House during the president’s impeachment trial. Davis has remained a strong defender of the Clintons in the years since, during which time he has represented an array of highly controversial clients, including Martha Stewart, the Washington Redskins and foreign dictators.

Cohen also recently retained former New York federal prosecutor Guy Petrillo.

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Michael Cohen made a rather public change in relationship status on Wednesday.

The longtime fixer for the president scrubbed his Twitter biography of a line identifying him as “personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.”

This conspicuous move comes days after Cohen suggested to ABC News that he was considering flipping on Trump and cooperating with government prosecutors. Cohen also swapped out a cover photo featuring him standing at the podium at a Trump rally for an image of a rippling American flag.

The New York attorney has for years positioned himself as Trump’s primary defender, once vowing to “take a bullet” for his boss. But this week he told ABC that his family has his “first loyalty and always will.”

“I put family and country first,” Cohen said.

Cohen told ABC he plans to wait until new attorney, Guy Petrillo, officially joins his team to decide on the prospect of a plea deal. He intends to end a joint-defense agreement with Trump as soon Petrillo is on board.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are investigating Cohen for bank fraud and campaign finance violations, among other possible crimes. The case was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen’s LinkedIn page, which is hyperlinked from his Twitter, has not yet been updated.

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