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Michael Cohen Faces Sentencing Today As Michael Flynn Argues Against Prison Time; President Trump Threatens Government Shutdown;

December 12, 2018

xfdls EARLY-START-04


<Date: December 12, 2018>

<Time: 05:00>

<Tran: 121204CN.V34>

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<Head: Michael Cohen Faces Sentencing Today As Michael Flynn Argues

Against Prison Time; President Trump Threatens Government Shutdown;

Prime Minister Theresa May Vows To Fight For Her Job Amid Brexit

Chaos; Ex-Baylor Fraternity President Avoids Prison. Aired 5:30-6a

ET - Part 1>

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<Time: 05:30>

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[05:30:43] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen set to be sentenced in just hours. How much jail time the president’s former right-hand man could face.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: What led former National Security adviser Michael Flynn to lie to FBI agents and why his legal team believes Flynn should not serve prison time.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.


BRIGGS: Trump tantrum. The president’s taking all the blame for a potential shutdown ahead of next week’s deadline. More from this extraordinary and heated Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders.


THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I will contest that vote with everything I’ve got.


ROMANS: Breaking news out of Brexit. Conservative members of Parliament triggering a vote of no confidence in Theresa May and now, she is vowing to fight back. The messy divorce simply gets messier.

Welcome back to EARLY START.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: I’m Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I’m Dave Briggs.

We’ll get to the “Fight House” in just a minute. I think the “New York Post” has that one right. What a mess it was at the Oval. Thirty-one minutes after the hour.

We start, though, with this. In a matter of hours, Michael Cohen will find out the price he must pay for years of blind loyalty to Donald Trump. At 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, the president’s former lawyer and fixer will be sentenced in New York’s Southern District.

He is requesting no prison time in exchange for his cooperation after pleading guilty to campaign finance and business crimes and lying to Congress.

ROMANS: But in a sentencing recommendation last week, a Southern District prosecutor said, “Cohen’s description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others. For these reasons, the office respectfully requests that this court impose a substantial term of imprisonment.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team will appear in court today. They’re expected to tell the judge Cohen has helped their investigation after meeting with them seven times.

The president’s former lawyer facing up to four years in prison.

BRIGGS: President Trump’s former National Security adviser Michael Flynn also asking the judge to spare him from serving prison time because of his cooperation with the special counsel.

In a memo released last night, Flynn’s legal team described his meeting in January of 2017 with FBI investigators. They say Peter Strzok and one other agent visited Flynn in the West Wing after he first made false statements about his contacts with Russians.

Flynn did not have a lawyer with him and according to his attorneys, he should have been warned he could be prosecuted for making false statements.

ROMANS: They go on to claim the Bureau “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted him to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

Special counsel Mueller has told the court Flynn provided substantial assistance to the investigation and should be spared from going to prison. The judge overseeing his sentencing makes that final call on Tuesday.

BRIGGS: All right.

Let’s bring in Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst, former assistant U.S. attorney with the Southern District of New York, and former director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: You’re the right man to have here.

HONIG: How are you?

BRIGGS: What will we learn today and how long do you expect Michael Cohen to be sentenced for?

HONIG: So, Michael Cohen is going to go to jail, I think for multiple years. I know he’s requested no jail time but when you take the number and seriousness of crimes that he’s committed, plus the kind of lukewarm, at best, sentencing letters that he got from the Southern District, in particular -- Mueller’s is a little better -- I don’t think this judge -- and I know this judge -- I’ve been in front of him many times -- he’s tough -- is going to go down to no jail time on Cohen.

ROMANS: Will we learn anything from Mueller’s team when they go to the sentencing today? Any more about how he may have helped the Mueller investigation?

HONIG: It’s possible they may flesh out some of -- some of the things that are in the memo. And the memo is fairly broad, right? It says he provided information about coordination --

ROMANS: Right.

HONIG: -- between the campaign and Russia. They could get into that a little more.

A lot of it -- the tone is going to be set by Cohen’s team. How much are they going to contest whether his cooperation was useful or not? How much are we going to get into the specifics of the cooperation?

Typically at a sentencing, you wouldn’t get too deep into the specifics of cooperation. But if they contest it -- if they say no, no, no, my guy was forthcoming -- he did give you everything you want -- that could open up a can of worms.

BRIGGS: If, in fact, Cohen does four-plus years in jail, which some believe he will, and Michael Flynn does no prison time --

HONIG: Right.

BRIGGS: -- what does that say about the lack of collusion or conspiracy with Russia?

[05:35:03] HONIG: Well, there’s two big differences between Cohen and Flynn that I think could -- will lead to them getting very different sentences. I do think Cohen’s going to jail. I don’t think Flynn is.

Number one, Cohen pled guilty to many more and more serious offenses. They both pled guilty to false statement offenses, right? That’s all Flynn pled guilty to.

Cohen also pled guilty --

ROMANS: Financial crimes.

HONIG: -- to campaign finance, to tax fraud, to bank fraud, and that’s what’s driving his sentence under the federal guidelines.

The second piece of it is the cooperation, right? Cohen, again, we talked about gave this sort of halfway cooperation.

BRIGGS: Right.

HONIG: The Southern District does not do halfway cooperation. I know that.

ROMANS: Right.

HONIG: Whereas, Flynn got a full endorsement from the prosecutors. They said he fully cooperated and gave us everything we needed. They allude to 62 hours of debriefing and gave us thousands of documents.

So I think those will lead to the different outcomes.

BRIGGS: But my point is --


BRIGGS: -- regardless of the cooperation, if the special counsel believes Michael Flynn was part of a conspiracy to collude with Russia --


BRIGGS: -- you believe he would give him -- or suggest no prison time?

HONIG: Yes. I’m not sure the special counsel’s drawn that conclusion.

BRIGGS: Right.

HONIG: It’s clearly -- what Cohen did do was lie to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador about the sanctions. I’m not sure -- I don’t know that Mueller has evidence linking him directly to campaign coordination.

ROMANS: Right, and that Flynn’s attorneys, overnight, released this memo talking about how when he was in the West Wing and the FBI came -- Peter Strzok and others came to talk to him about the meetings he had had with the Russians -- how the FBI had not told him that he might need an attorney present.

Doesn’t the National Security adviser know not to lie to the FBI --

HONIG: Yes. ROMANS: -- without being reminded?

HONIG: I don’t think the National Security adviser, and a decorated veteran, and a general should need it. I think the subtext of what Flynn’s lawyers were trying to say was that he was kind of set up or hard done by, but it’s hard to swallow that with an --


HONIG: -- experienced government servant.

And the question he really has never answered is why did he lie to the FBI?


HONIG: He didn’t have a good reason.

BRIGGS: Right.

HONIG: Sometimes people lie for reasons that are kind of understandable -- maybe protecting a spouse or something like that.

Here, he’s lying about crucial conversations with the ambassador about sanctions that Obama had just imposed and there’s no good explanation that I saw in the filing as to why he did that.

BRIGGS: And it’s hard to believe ignorance is a plausible defense there.

But speaking of why they lie, let’s talk about the president’s evolution of this explanation to the hush payments made --


BRIGGS: -- to these women. And in the beginning, he came back in Air Force One and said he knew nothing about any of these payments.

Well, it has dramatically evolved over time to telling Reuters just last night, “Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil. And even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?”

What does that evolution say to you if you are a prosecutor these days?

HONIG: I have about five things that I can spot wrong with that statement. Not with your statement, with the president’s statement.

ROMANS: Right.

HONIG: Evolution is very important. If you can stand in front of a jury and say first, he said this, then he completely changed his story to that. First, he said it never happened, and then he said it all happened but it was fine. It’s the same argument you would make just common-sense talking to someone in a bar or on the street. You’d say well, which is it? He’s lying then, he’s evolving his explanation. That tells you he’s not being truthful. It’s common-sense totally fair game in a criminal case.

The argument that it’s not a campaign contribution -- that would sort of be the battleground. If this were to become a trial we would see similar arguments to what we saw in the John Edwards case in 2011. But the facts are different here, right?

The question is was the payment made for the purpose of protecting the candidate in an election or was the purpose made for some other -- or was the payment made for some other purpose -- protecting a family from humiliation or embarrassment?

And here, I think there’s a lot of evidence that Trump wanted these payments made with an eye to the election and I’ll give you a couple of reasons why.


HONIG: The affairs happened about a decade before -- both of them.

BRIGGS: Right.

HONIG: They don’t make the payments until October of ’16 -- September-October of ’16.

ROMANS: Well, look at a calendar.

HONIG: So the timing, right?

ROMANS: Right.

HONIG: Number two, remember the tape that Michael Cohen made, secretly, of the president -- legally, but sort of --

BRIGGS: Discussing these payments.

HONIG: Yes, discussing this. And the president says there’s some discussion on the tape that we just need to hold them over for a couple of more weeks -- until after Election Day.

So I think there’s a very strong case there that why he made these payments was primarily to protect himself for the campaign.

ROMANS: All right, Elie Honig. So nice to see you and have your expertise as we guide through a very busy day --


ROMANS: -- legally for people --

BRIGGS: Buckle up.

ROMANS: -- who used to be very close to this president.

BRIGGS: Yes, you’ll have a long week.

ROMANS: Thank you, Elie.

HONIG: Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. A government shutdown is looming just in time for Christmas. President Trump making the threat over funding for his border wall during an extraordinary televised reality clash with the top House and Senate Democrats.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: One thing I think we can agree on is we shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute, and you want to shut it down. You keep talking about it.

TRUMP: I - no, no, no, no, no. The last time, Chuck, you shut it down.

SCHUMER: No, no, no.

TRUMP: You know what I’ll say? Yes, if we don’t get what we want one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through our military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government, absolutely.

SCHUMER: OK, half fair enough. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I am proud -- and I’ll tell you what.

[05:40:00] SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck because the people of this country don’t want criminals, and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country.

So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.


BRIGGS: That was something. If you watched Tuesday’s spectacle in the Oval Office you got a preview of what to expect in 2019 when Democrats take over the House.

Listen to the president exchanging taunts and threats with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


TRUMP: I also know that, you know, Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now and I understand that -- and I fully understand that. We’re going to have a good discussion and we’re going to see what happens. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President --

TRUMP: But have to have border security.

PELOSI: Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.


ROMANS: Schumer is urging the president to accept the Senate’s bipartisan agreement to spend $1.6 billion on border security. As he left the White House, the Senate minority leader told reporters if the president sticks to his position of a $5 billion wall, he will get no wall and he will get a shutdown.

BRIGGS: After that tense public exchange with President Trump in the Oval, Nancy Pelosi met privately with House Democrats and mocked the president’s desire for border wall funding, saying quote, “It’s like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Pelosi also revealing in their private session, the president returned to a familiar campaign promise that Mexico is going to pay for the wall. And the House Democratic leader suggested they gained the political upper hand with the president taking personal responsibility for that potential government shutdown.

ROMANS: All right.

The first lady will be spending this morning visiting troops. Shortly after 8:00 a.m. Eastern, Melania Trump heads to Joint Base Anacostia- Boling in Washington to wish service members a happy holiday.

Then she flies in a V-22 Osprey -- a military aircraft to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia. It will be the first time a first lady has ever flown in a V-22.

Her last stop, a flight to the USS George H.W. Bush. On board, she will spend time with the crew and tour part of the carrier.

That sounds like an actually really great morning.

BRIGGS: Outstanding -- let’s get some video.

OK, ahead, things just got a lot worse for British Prime Minister Theresa May. Parliament triggering a no-confidence vote this morning. We’ll go live to London.


[05:46:45] BRIGGS: Breaking news overnight. The Brexit process in the U.K. plunging into chaos. Conservative Parliament members triggering a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. The British prime minister vowing to fight to keep her job.


MAY: The agenda I set out in my first speech outside this front door, delivering the Brexit people voted for, building a country that works for everyone. I have devoted myself unsparingly to these tasks ever since I became prime minister and I stand ready to finish the job.


BRIGGS: All right, let’s go live to London and welcome in Nic Robertson. Nic, where are we headed?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: To a vote in about eight hours’ time. Prime Minister Theresa May just getting ready to leave 10 Downing Street before that vote.

Of course, there is prime minister’s question time -- that time -- that moment in the week where politicians get to ask Theresa May questions. And no doubt, it will be just as cut-throat as it has been in the recent -- in recent weeks. She will, it seems, be going there a little early for this question time session, perhaps because she knows she still has a few MPs to convince.

What must she achieve tonight in that vote? She needs a simple majority of all the conservative MPs. The magic number is 158. If she gets that, there cannot be another challenge to her leadership contest for a year.

The Brexiteers -- the hardline Brexiteers who want Britain, potentially, to get out of the European Union without a deal, seem to be trying to bring down her leadership. But what she has warned today -- if they manage to do that and bring about a leadership contest, that will delay and delay the negotiations with the European Union and potentially put Britain in the position of leaving the European Union without a deal and significantly hurting the British economy.

She says she’s ready to fight. She’s been prime minister for 2 1/2 years and she says she’s ready to continue to try to get this deal -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Boy, leaving the E.U. without a deal would be disaster, and just 107 days if that happens.

Nic Robertson live for us this morning -- thanks.

ROMANS: Let’s get a check on “CNN Business” this morning.

Global stock markets, so far, shrugging off news that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will face that no-confidence vote. In Asia, you had gains across the board and European markets opened slightly higher.

On Wall Street, futures are higher as well after that really bizarre two percent roundtrip for the Dow. The Dow closed down 53 points, giving up an early rally of 368 points. The S&P 500 ended with little change. The Nasdaq gained two-tenths of a percent. That early rally evaporated after this -- a contentious public meeting between the president and Democratic congressional leaders. Investors did not like that -- that squabbling over border security and keeping the government open.

All right, the president taking full credit for a strong U.S. economy and he makes this remarkable claim in an interview with Reuters. “It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country.”

Is it the greatest economy in the history of our country? Some context for the president’s hyperbole.

[05:50:00] So far this year, a very strong 2,260,000 net new jobs. There you can see that is better than last year. But look, it just matches the best years in the Obama administration and, in fact, in 2014 he had almost three million jobs created.

As for the president’s favorite poll, the stock market, we are heading for a flat year for the Standard and Poor’s 500 after a strong 22 percent return last year -- nowhere near the strongest year on record.

I would say presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. This president has squarely taken the economy as his personal poll. These numbers have suggested it is not the greatest economy in the history of our country. It is a good economy, but not the greatest.

Television icon Kathie Lee Gifford will bid farewell to NBC’s “TODAY SHOW” next April. NBC News president Noah Oppenheim called Gifford a legend for her enduring and endearing talents in morning television.

From 1985 until 2000, Gifford co-hosted “LIVE WITH REGIS & KATHIE LEE.”

In 2008, she became Hoda Kotb’s co-host of the 10:00 a.m. hour on “TODAY.” That hour known for funny conversation, celebrity guests, and nice big goblets of wine.

BRIGGS: She’ll take that day drinking to -- back to her house. Good luck and congratulations to Kathie Lee.

ROMANS: She’s got a lot of projects going on. She won’t be in her house, I’m sure.

BRIGGS: Her movie career, I think, is going to keep her busy.

ROMANS: Yes, and music -- and music.

BRIGGS: Good for her.

All right. Ahead, a judge in Texas facing backlash after a former fraternity president charged with sexually assaulting another student receives a plea bargain. Why he won’t face any jail time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:55:53] ROMANS: No prison time for a former Baylor University fraternity president indicted on four counts of sexual assault. Instead, a plea agreement will allow 24-year-old Jacob Walter Anderson to plead no contest to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint.

That means if he successfully completes three years of deferred probation and pays a $400 fine, his criminal record will be wiped clean and he will not be registered as a sex offender.

In her impact statement, the victim said Anderson repeatedly raped and choked her until she passed out. The district attorney’s office claim statements provided by the victim’s attorney don’t line up with her original statements given to police, witnesses, and a nurse.

BRIGGS: Republicans in North Carolina concede a new election may be necessary in the state’s 9th Congressional District after “The Charlotte Observer” reported early voting results in Bladen County were tallied too soon and leaked before the Election Day, in violation of state rules.


DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: That is a fundamental unfairness in this election. We are pretty certain that happened and if it is confirmed, a new election is appropriate.


ROMANS: New this morning, CNN has obtained a sworn affidavit from a North Carolina man who claims a political operative named McCrae Dowless had over 800 absentee ballots in his possession prior to Election Day. In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone to handle an absentee ballot, except for the voter or a voter’s family member.

Republican Mark Harris was the narrow winner over Democrat Dan McCready on Election Day, but allegations of fraud surrounding absentee ballots in two counties led McCready to withdraw his concession.

The decision ultimately rests with a bipartisan state board which is expected to hold a hearing in the coming days.

BRIGGS: All right. While you were sleeping, late-night comedians having a bit of fun with Vice President Mike Pence’s complete silence during that chaotic Oval Office meeting.


TRUMP: You want to know something?

SCHUMER: You’ve said it.

TRUMP: OK, you wanted to put that on my --

SCHUMER: You’ve said it. NARRATION OF VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE’S INNER THOUGHTS: Hmm, President Pence, the Pence administration, the Michael Pence Presidential Library and casino.

TRUMP: I will shut down the government.

SCHUMER: OK, half fair enough.

NARRATION OF VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE’S INNER THOUGHTS (wearing a sombrero): Nobody even noticed.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL, “THE DAILY SHOW”: And my favorite part of this awkward threesome was Mike Pence because you might not have even noticed him because he didn’t say a word the entire time. He just sat there motionless, like a guy whose edibles just kicked in. It was just like --

SETH MEYERS, HOST, NBC “LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS”: Oh boy, the oldies are fighting. At least that’s going to save you a trip home for Christmas.

Also, what is Mike Pence doing? I guess when Schumer said shutdown, Pence took him literally.


ROMANS: Can I just say I was watching this with my 12-year-old who was like mom, what are they doing? Why -- what are they doing? What are they talking about?

BRIGGS: Grandma and grandpa are arguing another grandpa. It’s a 68-, 72-, 78-year-old getting after it.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: I thought Mike Pence was all of us though for a moment, just closing his eyes.

ROMANS: He wants to go on a --

BRIGGS: That’s what we do sometimes.

ROMANS: The stock market didn’t close its eyes. It was up 300 and some points --


ROMANS: -- and watched that and went down.

All right, thanks for joining us.

BRIGGS: It should be an interesting day.

ROMANS: I’m Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I’m Dave Briggs. Here’s “NEW DAY”. ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 12th, 6:00 here in New York.

And we do have some major breaking news to tell you about. This is with one of America’s closest allies. A possible government shake-up in the U.K. where just hours from now, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a no-confidence vote, meaning that her days as prime minister could be numbered.

This has all of Europe, as well as investors here in the U.S. on edge. So we will go live to 10 Downing Street in just moments.

Also happening this morning, President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen will learn his fate. He will be sentenced for eight counts, including that campaign finance violation that ties a federal crime directly to the president.

The president is dismissing all of this in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters. He says it’s hard to impeach --

(Byline: Christine Romans, Dave Briggs, Elie Honig, Nic Robertson, Alisyn Camerota)

(High: Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is expected to be the first member of Trump’s inner circle to receive a significant prison term in connection with special counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election when he is sentenced in federal court. While Trump has tried to distance himself from Cohen -- accusing him of lying to federal agents to try to earn a lighter sentence -- prosecutors have tied the president even closer to Cohen’s crimes, disclosing that he had directed Cohen to pay hush money to the two women at the heart of the campaign-finance charges. America got a taste of what divided government might look like in the Trump era when President Trump clashed with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in front of T.V. cameras in the Oval Office. Trump wants $5 billion to fund construction of a border wall, but Pelosi and Schumer, the top House and Senate Democrats, told him the votes aren’t there to secure that level of funding. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to fight for her political life today after members of her own party triggered a vote of no-confidence in her leadership over her handling of Brexit. If she loses the vote, which will take place today, she will be out as Conservative leader and will likely outline when she will stand down as U.K. Prime Minister. There’s outrage in Texas over a plea deal that will let a former Baylor University student, Jacob Walter Anderson, who was indicted on four counts of sexual assault, avoid prison. Anderson was accused of attacking a woman during a 2016 fraternity party, where the victim said she was raped, choked and left for dead.)

(Spec: Politics; Donald Trump; Michael Cohen; Sentencing; Campaign Finance; Business; Crimes; Lying; Congress; Robert Mueller; Michael Flynn; Prison Time; Peter Strzok; False Statements; Russians; FBI; Hush Payments; Government Shutdown; Chuck Schumer; Nancy Pelosi; Funding; Border Wall; Security; Mocking; Mexico; Melania Trump; Troops; Joint Base Anacostia-Boling; Washington, D.C.; V-22 Aircraft; Joint Base Langley-Eustis; Hampton, Virginia; USS George H.W. Bush; Tour; Brexit; Parliament; Theresa May; No Confidence; Vote; United Kingdom; MPs; European Union; Global Stocks; Asia; Europe; Wall Street; Futures; Dow; S&P 500; Nasdaq; Economy; Jobs; Barack Obama; Kathie Lee Gifford; Retiring; Noah Oppenheim; Baylor University; Jacob Walter Anderson; Fraternity; President; Sexual Assault; Indictments; Unlawful Restraint; North Carolina; 9th Congressional District; New Election; Voter Fraud; Early Voting; Dallas Woodhouse; McCrae Dowless; Absentee Ballots; Mark Harris; Dan McCready; Mike Pence; Stephen Colbert; Trevor Noah; Seth Meyers)

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