Impeachment now?

July 24, 2019 • 12:45 pm

I’ve been listening to some of the Mueller hearings, but with half an ear as I’m working. What I hear is the Democrats trying to build a case for impeachment, and the Republicans trying to completely exculpate Trump. To my mind, both are wrong, though this political show was expected. My view is that Trump did indeed commit impeachable offenses, so those who defend him are on the wrong side of history and morality, but that given the current constitution of the Congress and the electorate, as well as the impending Presidential election in which it’s vitally important for us to elect a Democratic President and Senate, these investigations are a waste of time, energy, and money. Republicans who side with Trump may be solidifying their base, but they’re defending the indefensible.

Further, the American electorate—and that includes Democrats—don’t want impeachment proceedings, at least according to the NBC News poll at the screenshot below:

The facts:

  • In June, 27% of registered voters thought “there was enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings”. That has dropped to 21% now. That means that only one registered voter out of five is behind Democratic efforts to push impeachment.
  • 50% of voters want to see Congress drop an impeachment inquiry (it was 48% last month)
  • There is of course a huge difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue; but look at the Independents in the data below:

Even a sizable majority of Democrats don’t favor either impeachment hearings or impeachment (remember, impeachment is the formal beginning of charges and a trial; it is not the removal of the President).  If you look at supporters of various candidates, though, you get the expected results:

Biden, of course, is the most centrist of these four.

In my view, impeachment is a dead issue, and for the Democrats in Congress to belabor it is a dangerous tactic, for although the House brings the charges, the trial itself would take place in a Republican Senate, which would never convict Trump. A House impeachment, then, is just a show of what the Democrats think of Trump. But we already know what they think of Trump, and their efforts to bring him down this way will fail.

The way to bring down Trump is at the ballot box in the fall of next year. The Democrats need to start proposing sensible platforms and policies—even if they don’t become law—and that has to include policies about immigration, medical care, global warming, and so on. Here are the results of a Gallup poll last October on what voters care about:

Note where the Russia issue lay last fall, and I suspect it’s a lot lower now. Healthcare, the economy, and immigration all polled above 75%, with guns, taxes, and the treatment of women falling close behind.  I doubt that today’s hearings will change the relative rankings.

79 thoughts on “Impeachment now?

  1. I am guessing that you nor anyone else gets up each day and looks at the polls before determining what they will do for the day. If you did you would likely join a religion and spend a lot of time in Facebook and Twitter. Spending less time on the internet platforms would probably be good for most of us.

    Polls are not an argument for the conclusions I might come to. I would tend to disregard them especially in the matter of impeaching a president. Even the fact that all the republicans in the Senate are bought and paid for Trump lackies would not deter me from making a decision on impeachment. I would, as a member of congress who takes an oath to defend the constitution, make that decision on the evidence and the moral thing to do.

    1. Sorry, but in many cases public sentiment does change politics and the law. Think about the civil rights movement, gay rights, and women’s rights. In all cases the laws and court decisions changed because public sentiment change. And public sentiment is a form of polling. It may not change what YOU feel, but it may change what laws you make and how you proceed politically.

      1. As you know, in the legal business each case must be considered based on the merits of that case. So making opinions or new law based on public matters such as civil rights, woman’s rights or gay rights can certainly be affected by public opinion. I think the governor of Puerto Rico is finding out about that right now. But on legal matters of guilt or innocents these issues should not be decided by public opinion. Any jurist who comes to a decision of guilt or innocents by taking a poll of other jurists is in the wrong business.

      2. The vox populi always matters.

        The people need to be led, but it’s almost always a recipe for defeat or discord for legislatures or courts to get out too far in front of the opinion of the people.

        1. Do you look to the people’s poll before deciding guilt or innocence in a crime?

          Do you look there also to decide on impeachment?

          1. Not on issues like guilt or innocence, of course; that is decided by a jury of one’s peers.

            But the Supreme Court is careful to avoid getting too far out in front of the people, especially on social issues. It did not, for example, strike down laws prohibiting abortion or legalize same-sex marriage until there was a growing consensus favoring those things among the American public. The Court understands that to do otherwise would call into question its own legitimacy. After all, enforcement of the Court’s decisions ultimately depends upon the consent of the people.

            And the two political branches of government are directly (if imperfectly) responsive to the will of the people.

          2. I do not think you answered my second question and most of what you state I already said above in my response to the professor.

            Even for the legislative branches, the question of impeachment should be based on guilt or innocents of the person and based on the oath of office. Not on polling data.

            you all want to twist this thing around the polling data but for these issues it is wrong and does not fly.

          3. @ Schenck/Pelmon: In 1998, I would not have voted to impeach Clinton; but I was wrong. Clinton committed impeachable crimes, and the US [and the world] would probably be better off today if he had been removed from office.

          4. I was in favor of Bill Clinton being censured by the United States senate; I don’t think what he did merited removal from office.

            I was never a Clinton fan. He was, as Hunter Thompson once described him, a guy with “the loyalty of a lizard with its tail broken off and the midnight tastes of a man who’d double date with the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.”

            But it galled me no end today to see Kenneth Starr — the Inspector Javert of the blow job — on Fox News defending Donald Trump’s egregious obstruction of justice on the basis that it was, after all, just an outgrowth of poor Donald’s frustration at having been falsely accused of conspiring with the Russians.

            The “Whitewater” investigation led by Starr, let us not forget, was a five-year investigation into a 15-year-old failed Arkansas condominium deal.

          5. @ Pelmon – Could not have said it better: “Gore ’98.” Almost certainly leading to Gore 2000, and the fight against climate change before it became an almost impossible task. Our only hope now is that the “elites” at JPL, CalTech, etc., can geo-engineer us out of total disaster.

          6. No, but the reason would not be based on a poll of the public. Do you get it, yet?

          7. Is that answer directed at me? I assume so, since it is rude. But then it makes no sense at all, as I have not once even alluded to polls. If you decide on evidence and guilt alone,then you should agree Clinton should have been removed. Kukec’s demurrer is at least on point: guilty yes but of a piffle insufficient to warrant removal.

    2. The important thing is to get Trump out of office. Impeachment won’t do that because the Senate won’t convict. However, impeachment proceedings will have an effect in the 2020 election. If Trump gets exonerated by the Senate, I think it will be very damaging for the chances of the Democrat opponent.

      Anyway, in trying to divine what effect impeachment will have on the election poll, it is important to know what the people who will be voting think.

      Of course our personal opinions aren’t formed by opinion polls but this isn’t about forming a personal opinion, it is about making sure people vote against Trump.

    1. That’s set out in exacting detail in Volume II of the Special Counsel’s report.

      Every citizen should read it — or at the very least read the executive summary at pages 3 through 8 of that link.

      Over a thousand federal former prosecutors — Democrats and Republicans, appointed by every US president going back to Dwight Eisenhower, the people that made exactly such decisions over the course of decades — who have done so agree that Donald Trump committed indictable offenses of obstruction of justice.

          1. Would you mind explaining how Ken’s response didn’t answer your question? Quite thoroughly I might add? Except, it wasn’t really a question was it? You were really making a claim.

            But then Ken called you on it, right? He told you precisely where to find precisely the information you asked for. Further, he conveniently added a link to make it easier for you to find. Finally he briefly summarized very compelling supporting evidence that the information does indeed constitute multiple indictable offenses and, conveniently again, provided a link to that supporting evidence.

            Your response is very obviously not true.

  2. The testimony is a disaster for Mueller, and a disaster to those clinging to the myth of Russian collusion.

    Trump should be easy to beat, but he won’t be beat by the “Squad” yelling about Mueller. That increasingly is how the Democrats seem. They need to change course, and soon.

    1. AFAIK nobody is trying to get him on collusion. The crimes Mueller found were of obstruction of justice.

      And yes, obstructing the judicial process can be a crime even when it turns out you were innocent of the original act. The same way that lying to a judge is still illegal perjury, even if it turns out you didn’t do the thing you were originally in court for being accused of doing.

      1. A better example is the way Sovereign Citizen nutters react to traffic stops by refusing to cooperate with officers simply asking for ID. They will shout to the heavens that they haven’t broken any laws and thus the officers can’t cite them for obstruction, and they always lose that fight.

  3. …given the current constitution of the Congress and the electorate, as well as the impending Presidential election in which it’s vitally important for us to elect a Democratic President and Senate, these investigations are a waste of time, energy, and money…

    FiveThirtyEight tells me that Congressional investigations in general have a small but noticeable (negative) effect on Presidential popularity. See here. So they aren’t useless. I’ll leave it to others to decide for themselves whether they think that makes this investigation worth doing.

    Personally, I think the Dems were far, far more successful when they were trying to pass popular legislation and the GOP and President was stopping it. So for my money, I’d rather they try and legislate good laws and heavily publicize when McConnell blocks it or the President vetoes it.

    It also doesn’t bother me much that the President isn’t paying for his crime of collusion…as I expect that, should Trump lose (or even, should he win, when he leaves office in 2024), the SDNY will have plenty of things to say to him.

  4. I find it depressing that climate change is next to last on the list. But I don’t understand how that was counted. Could pollees reply yes to every question, making 100% possible on all of them?

    1. That’s the first thing I looked for, and found it depressing too. Similarly, on word-searching the comments for Climate, finding that it only showed up twice.

      1. That may not be quite as bad as it looks. I think a lot of folks do think Climate change is very important, but they have a sense that there’s time to deal with it later, so they rank it lower in urgency. It seems like a long term problem to be solved as political winds shift. That’s the glass half full interpretation.

  5. Impeachment would be useless, point out what he did, move on, and do your jobs. Work on legislation that be useful and popular to centrists, but Republicans will most likely vote against. Examples, protection of elections from outside interference and much needed infrastructure repair. Also, eliminate the power of the president, instituted after 9/11, to get us into wars without directly involving congress. Show that Republican aren’t interested in making “America Great” or helping ordinary people.

  6. Unfortunately, the framers of the U. S. Constitution were not ever able to imagine the situation this country is in today. An insane occupant in the White House with political prostitutes as guardians. A situation too bizarre to have been considered by honorable men at the time. GROG

    1. I think some of them sort of did; IIRC Washington and a few others were very strongly opposed to political parties, considering them an evil that divided peoples’ loyalties. Sounds about right. But they were unable to stop them from forming.
      The hope was that legislators would be jealous of their power and not cede any of it to the executive (i.e. the President), who they knew would always be grabbing for more power. Boy were they wrong about that.

  7. My view is that Trump did indeed commit impeachable offenses, so those who defend him are on the wrong side of history and morality, but that given the current constitution of the Congress and the electorate, as well as the impending Presidential election in which it’s vitally important for us to elect a Democratic President and Senate, these investigations are a waste of time, energy, and money.

    Since the first clause of the above sentence is true, I think the House of Representatives has a constitutional duty to return articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. It would be an act of political cowardice for House Democrats to do otherwise. And it would set a horrible historical precedent. Why would any future president ever be deterred from obstructing any investigation into his or her unlawful conduct if Donald Trump is permitted to get away with the blatant obstructive acts set forth in the Special Counsel’s report without so much as ever having to face even an official impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives?

    I also think it would be in Democrats’ political interest to proceed with impeachment. Will Donald Trump claim exoneration after his acquittal by senate Republicans? Of course he will, just as he’s falsely been claiming “exoneration” since even before the Special Counsel for appointed.

    Let Donald Trump be brought to a trial before the US senate, presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States, in which the evidence against him is set out through the testimony of witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the underlying events. Let the American people watch this play out day after day on their televisions screens. And let them see Republican senators — almost all of whom know in their hearts that Trump is guilty as sin and unfit to be president — slavishly follow Trump over an electoral cliff as they pusillanimously vote to acquit.

    1. I disagree. PCC is completely correct on this matter. The Dems need to have a candidate that’s going to flip many Trump supporters who voted for him as a lesser evil. I think there are many who would switch sides with the right strategy. As for Trump’s hard right core, their view is as Guilliani said “The Truth Is Not The Truth”. Impeachment is going to be a big distraction and will end turning off a big portion of the electorate.

      1. It’s not a sure bet that impeachment will turn off a big portion of the electorate. I have heard (I can’t vouch that it is true) that prior to the Watergate hearings most people did not support Nixon’s impeachment. The hearings changed things. That could happen in the case of Trump. I do not accept the assumption of so many that impeachment hearings will help Trump and hurt Democrats. The predicted political result of such hearings is fodder for pundits and nothing more.

        1. I concur. It is not a guaranteed loser(although my opinion is is that it will in fact be a loser). People are extrapolating from Clinton. In that case the public did not want impeachment, after they were in possession of the facts.
          Extrapolating from Andrew Johnson gives a different conclusion I think.

        2. The Watergate hearings turned up actual physical evidence of Nixon breaking the law. I don’t think any equivalent exists at this point.

          By the way, Nixon was not impeached. The hearings that did him in occurred before the official impeachment process started.

          1. Also, Nixon was a far less successful and experienced weasel. Trump is the weasel’s weasel, the weasel to end all weasels, and an unmatched fomenter of hatred and disinformation – he is a far, far, far more dangerous opponent than Nixon ever was imo.

            The caution is warranted on the part of the Dems(although I understand the irritation at what appears on the face of it to be spinelessness).
            And I think it’s been drawn out so long by now that impeachment, if it came, would be a half-hearted affair, supported by some Dems and not by others. The party would really need to be fiercely united on this issue if they were to try and impeach him, and I don’t think they are.

            This Mueller testimony is a good example of what I can see impeachment hearings turning out to be: limp, half-hearted and underwhelming, with an uncertain Democratic party facing off against a dementedly focused GOP that is circling the wagons like never before.

          2. Thanks. That’s an excellent overview of the offences.

            The trouble is that there is not enough of a smoking gun to get the corrupt Republicans in the Senate to convict. If they acquit, it’s as propaganda victory for Trump.

          3. I’m not sure how much of a victory it would be for Trump. If there were just one or two obstruction charges and Trump otherwise looked innocent of serious intent or behavior, he’d get a wink and a nod. On the other hand, since there is a substantial pattern of criminal intent and behavior over a long period, nobody in their right mind would think refusal of the Republicans in the Senate to convict (on a party line vote) would actually exonerate him. Every Republican in the Senate knows he’s the worst president in history, though they would never admit it, and I’m sure the vast majority of Americans would agree. I think impeachment hearings and a trial would erode Trump down to size. The question is, this late in his term, does it make sense to impeach?

    2. If it is vitally important that we elect a democrat for president, I would think all of this investigation is not a complete waste of time. You agree that the Russians did do great damage and likely are the reason for Trump’s winning in 2016. Right now the same is likely to occur in 2020 unless something serious is done to stop the hacking and massive attacks to our internet platforms which the Russians are already doing. Do you know the democrats in the house have already funded considerable money for the more than 4000 counties that run our election but it is not going to happen. Why, because the Senate and McConnell has blocked it. Now why would they be doing that except they believe Russian interference will be good for them.

      1. It may well be that McConnell, et al, would not block the bill, except that he doesn’t want to upset DT, who would be furious it it passed.

      2. In a situation where Trump narrowly won three crucial states, naming any one factor as “the” reason for Trump’s win is an exercise in selective memory. On the other hand, in a race that tight, take away even a minor factor in the equation and the result could change.

    3. “Why would any future president ever be deterred from obstructing any investigation into his or her unlawful conduct …”

      You mean like the way Donald Trump was deterred by what happened to Clinton and Nixon?

      Impeachment is always political. Presidents will be deterred when the house and senate is against them, and won’t be otherwise.

  8. Mueller absolutely destroyed Repubs’ attempts to discredit him. None of their tricks worked. The facts of the report speak clearly: Trump attempted several times to derail the investigation. The law is clear: a failed attempt to obstruct is a crime. Nothing changes this: not Mueller’s political party, not whether his team are Democratic members, not whether they hate Trump, not whether Trump walks on water, not whether Hillary is a criminal.

    Sorry Trumpsters, you lost and you lost YUGE.

    P.S. Congrats on that no collusion thingy.

    1. Matt, you are exactly right here, except for the part about Trumpsters losing. In a world where everyone is intelligent and rational that might be the case. In this world Trump and his supporters emerge unscathed, and probably strengthened.

  9. As with open borders, late-term abortions, slave reparations, banning private insurance, etc., here again the Dems seem driven to adopt courses of action that overwhelming majorities of Americans oppose.

    1. Of course, none of those things you list are Democratic Party policy, as you imply. Do some Democrats advocate for some of those things? Of course. Though none favor the favorite GOP talking point, “open borders.” What Democrats do agree on is opposition to the Trump policy of, ‘let’s discourage immigration by mistreating refugees.’

      1. None will admit their policy amounts to open borders. Official party policy is beside the point (for both parties).

        1. What it “amounts” to is your opinion. The Republicans follow Trump like little sheep, shouting, “open border, Democrats bad!” Nothing to do with reality.

          1. And what it doesn’t amount to is your opinion. Or hadn’t you realized that? You had a chance to rebut my opinion, and you chose instead just to label it.

          2. Before Trump, unauthorized entry to the US was treated as a civil offense. This is what Democratic candidates support, and it is not “open borders.” Asylum seekers still had to go through hearings, and most were declined and deported. Instead of treating all as criminals, splitting up families, keeping children in horrible conditions, and clogging courts so that people are held indefinitely, families were treated with respect and laws were followed. Trump convinced his rabid followers that this was “open borders” and changed all that.

      2. IMO, not prosecuting illegal border crossers while affording them all the privileges of citizenship, is tantamount to an open border. Repealing § 1325 certainly would seal the deal.

        I said ‘The Dems’, Tom, and most of the presidential hopefuls support all that. Most Americans do not.

        I’m not interested in engaging in petty semantic games.

          1. You’re just engaging in the No True Scotsman fallacy. Regardless of what term is used for them, Americans are strongly opposed to the policies: only 33% favor healthcare for illegals, only 27% favor decriminalizing illegal border crossings.

            No Democrat candidate who advocates these positions can win the general election.

      3. It’s a total misstatement of the Democratic Party platform, but I’d run on it anyway against what Republicans are actually doing: turning women who have abortions into murders, stripping people of their their healthcare for pre-existing conditions, and wrenching children from their parents and putting them in cages at the border.

  10. Much of the debate here and elsewhere seems to be between morals and politics. Those who take the moral position argue that at certain times, such as when democracy is at stake, potential presidential crimes need to be investigated and followed by impeachment if warranted, even if conviction in the Senate has no chance of passing. They feel that the political consequences of an impeachment are unknown and, in any case, let the chips fall where they may.

    Those who take the political view argue that the American people are concerned with what they perceive as matters of greater concern to them. They point out that an impeachment proceeding is a waste of time and a distraction that prevents Congress doing its job – passing legislation. For these folks the coming election should render the verdict on Trump.

    The political view is based on an assumption: a segment of the American population, perhaps a majority, is too lazy or too stupid to try to learn what took place or governance in a democratic system simply doesn’t matter to them. Being inherently selfish, they only judge political matters on how a certain issue directly affects them. In other words, they would hardly notice living under a dictator. Such a view is not necessarily limited to Republicans. I realize this paragraph would never be endorsed by a politician of any stripe because they must ceaselessly utter the mantra of the “wisdom of the people,” whether they actually believe it or not.

    At one time, I didn’t support impeachment, but now I do. Not to do so would establish a terrible precedent for future presidents. Also, the argument that the president could be voted out of office is flawed. Until voted out, such a president could do terrible damage to the political system, such is the case now. Another point I have not seen discussed is this: what if a president goes rogue during the second term? Without fear of an election that president could go berserk without fear of consequences.

    So, I support impeachment even if there is no chance of conviction in the Senate. In fact, the so-called “trial” in the Senate might be nothing more than a 30 minute farce orchestrated by Mitch McConnell. I think “history” will be kind to those who would impeach despite the unknown political consequences. It may even turn out to be politically advantageous. Those pundits who pontificate with absolute certainty about the consequences of impeachment are doing nothing more than their jobs – bullshitting to earn a dollar.

    1. Again I am in agreement with you. I would add one more important thing that most of our public does not seem to care about, I do. The Russians interfered a great deal with the election in 2016 and are still doing it. It is very likely that Trump won due to Russian help. They will certainly do it again because the republicans have stopped congress from preventing it. I see the sickening probability that Trump will win again with Russian help. The Senate will also be won by the republicans and they are the body that is preventing the money needed to prevent interference in the election. People need to know, there are more than 4000 counties out there that handle the elections and the machinery. They do not stand a chance in the face of Russian government hackers and cyber experts.

    2. It’s weird that have many of the same concerns as you, and come to the opposite conclusion. A “not guilty” finding in the Senate would be tantamount to “total exoneration.” I think Trump would benefit enormously from that.

      On the other hand, if he does get a second term, having impeachment still a possiblity would be a good thing. If you use it up now, you don’t get a second shot at it.

  11. Excellent post by Prof. Coyne. Exactly the right thinking.

    I can sympathize with the opinions that proceeding with impeachment is a moral duty for congress. Sympathize, but strongly disagree. Proceeding plays right into Trump’s hands. How moral is an endeavor that leads to a second Trump term?

    The bitterness impeachment – successful or not – would engender in the benighted Trump followers is also important to consider. It would fracture our culture like nothing seen so far.

    1. If Trump looses in 2020 and (as he undoubtedly will do, just as he was planning to do in 2016) goes off with his “benighted followers” refusing to accept the resulting and ranting with wild-eyed allegations about the election having been stolen from him, it will fracture this nation as it hasn’t been fractured since shots were fired at Fort Sumter. It will also rend the Republican Party in two.

      So, I guess, good news and bad news. 🙂

      1. I should make you a substantial bet about Trump losing. If he wins I get financial compensation. Otherwise I win even bigger.

        I made a similar ($1000) no loose bet with a friend that the S&P 500 will rise less during the Trump presidency than during Obama’s.

  12. With respect, I disagree. It is Congress’s duty to impeach the president when the evidence warrants it. It clearly does. It is irrelevant what the polls say, though I understand that only about 20% supported impeachment when hearings were started against Nixon.

    Sometimes I think Pelosi does not want to reign in presidential power, in the hopes a Democrat can us it the way Trump does. If that is true then our government is truly dead.

  13. FWIW, the following is the best explanation I have yet read on the benefits of holding impeachment investigations.

    Besides being what the Constitution *says* should be done, adding “impeachment” to the description would lend the weight of constitutional law to the investigations, and would allow Congress to develop a narrative of Trump’s corruption that many Americans just aren’t yet getting, regardless of what else does or doesn’t follow from the investigations.

    Think of the statement by the woman at Justin Amash’s town hall meeting, who watches “conservative news sources” and understood the Mueller report as fully exonerating Trump. She had never heard otherwise. And she is not alone.

    Impeachment is, of course, justified on the merits. If not for Trump’s level of criminality, then when exactly *would* Article II Section 4 be justified?

    My personal belief is that, done right, the hearings would shine the light of day on the present evil in a way that nothing else could. And, doing something for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do may just be seen as strength on the part of Democratic leadership, something they are rarely accused of. A “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” attitude. Looking at what people forgive in DJT because he looks “tough”, some consideration needs to be given to how strength in leadership appears to us hairless bipedal primates.

    1. Justin Amash — the closest any congressional Republican is likely to come to contending for a “Profile in Courage” award. A hard-right Republican and founding member of the Freedom Caucus, who actually read the Mueller report, then came out in favor of impeachment as a matter of conscience.

      The next day he drew a Trumpian primary opponent and got cut off by the big-dollar right-wing Michigan campaign donors, including the DeVos family. He’s now an Independent, driven from the ranks of the Republican Party for remaining true to his principles.

    2. You are correct. This article makes a strong case for impeaching Trump. The key sentences are this: “The decision not to impeach is not a decision to focus on other things, it is a decision to cede power, control, and legitimacy to Trump. Trump is not a master chess player, he just bluffs his opponents into forfeiting their moves—and that is exactly what he is doing to House Democrats.”

  14. “Investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election” came in last in the poll. Does that mean that doing something about Russian involvement in the 2020 U.S. election should not be a priority either? Because, as Mueller said in his testimony, they are most certainly planning to interfere again, given how gloriously successful it was last time around. I don’t really care about impeachment per se; I think Trump has committed impeachable offenses, and it would be a pleasure to see him removed from office, but that’s not going to happen. But I *do* care about preserving the integrity of our elections going forward; and it may be that impeachment proceedings are the only way to call attention to that issue in a way that will matter. It certainly doesn’t look like anybody is paying attention to that issue right now. And as a result, I expect Trump to win again in 2020 – again with lots of help from Putin.

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