The May 18, 2017 Meeting with Trump, Jay Sekulow, and Michael Cohen

One of the things that happened in yesterday’s Michael Cohen testimony is that Gerald Connolly seems to have dated a meeting between the President, Cohen, and Jay Sekulow: May 18, 2017. That’s based off a May 16 email that refers to a Thursday meeting.

Gerry Connolly: There was an email from a special assistant to the President to a Deputy White House Counsel, and the email is dated May 16, 2017 and it says, and I quote, POTUS, meaning the President, requested a meeting on Thursday with Michael Cohen and Jay Sekulow. Any idea what this might be about, end-quote? Do you recall being asked to come to the White House on or around that time, with Mr. Sekulow, May of 2017?

Michael Cohen: Off the top of my head sir, I don’t. I recall being in the White House with Jay Sekulow and it was in regard to the document production as well as my appearance before the House Select Intel.

Thursday that week would have been May 18.

As Cohen lays out in the rest of the clip, at the meeting Trump told him to cooperate but then repeated the lines (Cohen says he knew) Trump wanted him to use: There is no Russia, there is no collusion, there is no deal. This stuff has to end.

If that is, indeed, when Cohen and Sekulow started working on Cohen’s perjurious testimony, it is remarkable timing. This post has a timeline of Cohen’s evolving lies. Of note, the timing in May looks like this:

May 9: Trump fires Jim Comey

May 16: Trump asks for a meeting with Sekulow and Cohen

May 17: Rod Rosenstein appoints Mueller

May 18: Cohen, Sekulow, and Trump meet during which Trump lays out the party line

May 30: Cohen says he won’t cooperate with HPSCI

May 31: HPSCI subpoenas Cohen and his law firm

Among other things, this means that Trump was laying out a party line even before Mueller got appointed. It also means that They recognized the risk of this testimony before the HPSCI request moved to a subpoena.

Remember, according to his testimony yesterday, Cohen claimed Sekulow edited his testimony, including by foreshortening the time during which the Trump Tower deal remained active during the election (though Sekulow denies it).

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

79 replies
  1. PieIsDamnGood says:

    The importance of this is knowledge of wrongdoing?

    I’m been jonesing for more emptywheel analysis all day! Thanks :)

  2. BobCon says:

    I’ve lost track. Is there any hint of close Trump-Putin collaboration on the May 2017 party line story, like there is for the Air Force One story in July?

    • Maestro says:

      There’s no direct known collaboration of that kind. But it is true that when the story of Trump Tower Moscow broke in the media, Peskov backed the cover story by stating there was no follow up past January and that no one at his office communicated with Cohen or Trump Org.

  3. GG says:

    I would surmise that Rosenstein or one of Trump’s spies told Trump that Mueller was going to be named as the head of the Investigation ahead of time.

    Trump began covering his tracks. Be interesting to see who else Trump talked to between May 15th to the 31st.

  4. cinnawhee says:

    I keep fixating on the wording that Cohen said Sekulow “edited his testimony.” That sounds very specific to me, like Cohen had a written statement he was going to give to congress. And maybe they went over a printed copy and red penned it, or they edited a digital doc and passed it via email. But if that meeting date is correct, Cohen hadn’t even been asked to testify so why would he have prepared testimony?

    I get that the purpose of the May 18 meeting seems to be to set the party line in general, but Cohen’s claim that they “edited his testimony” seems like a different, more specific activity. What date did he first testify to congress, when he lied about Tower Moscow deal?

    • chicago_bunny says:

      Here is the charging document:

      SSCI announced it would be investiging on Jan. 13, 2017. HPSCI announced on Jan. 25, 2017.

      Cohen sent a letter to the committees on Aug. 28, 2017. Cohen also had prepared remarks he apparently intended to give SSCI on Aug. 29, 2017, though it seems he did not actually testify on that date. The Special Counsel’s office cites lies in each of these.

      Cohen testified to SSCI on Oct. 25, 2017, and made false statements in that testimony, which the Special Counsel cites.

      • cinnawhee says:

        Thank you! Was trying to remember where to find that link. At what point did HPSCI or SSCI tell Cohen they wanted him to testify? Since he didn’t actually send any statement until August, do you think it’s likely he had a prepared statement as early as May?

        Makes sense Trump & Sekulow could be meeting to get the main elements of the story straight, in case Cohen was asked. But that still seems different to me than “editing his testimony”

        Or am I reading too much into that?

          • cinnawhee says:

            Thanks bunny! Ok I’m getting better at doing the google to get at the relevant news reports from 2 yrs ago. So if NYT, ABC, PBS and others reported May 30 that Cohen was refusing to cooperate with *document and testimony requests* from HSPCI and SSCI then May 18 meeting to go over actual testimony does sound reasonable. Which is what EW says here, I was just missing the info that congress had already requested docs/testimony from Cohen at that point.
            HOWEVER, I’m still interested in Cohen’s claim that Sekulow “edited his testimony” as that may indicate other evidence like doc revisions. If all they did was go over talking points, the only evidence is testimony of those present. If they “edited” something there may be corroborating documentary evidence.

  5. Barry says:

    Thanks to Michael Cohen, I’ve been reminded of this Trump quote from January 2016: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

    I am not a lawyer, but I vastly prefer the rules of the courtroom to the rules of politics. In the courtroom facts and logic matter, or at least they are supposed to. In politics they matter almost not at all. Trump’s political genius is to recognize this and to take it to the absolute maximal limit which is to speak in a manner that is fully independent from facts, consistency, or logic. He can accomplish this even within the bounds of a single sentence, which is something I’ve never heard anyone even try. And astoundingly, this works for a shockingly large number of voters who seem to relish his fact-free and oh-so-bold gibberish, especially if it is followed up with a rousing chorus of “LOCK HER UP!”

    I know this is big part of why I enjoy this site so much. It’s not just interesting and important. It’s actually soothing to my soul to read a partial transcript of, for example, Judge Amy Berman Jackson explaining to Roger Stone and his attorney why what they have said is complete bs because of facts 1, 2, 3 & 4. It’s wonderful, if just for a few moments in the day, to rest in a warm pool of factual and logical sanity.

    • cinnawhee says:

      Perfectly articulated — “a warm pool of factual and logical sanity”

      I think the most unsettling scary dangerous aspect of the past 2-3yrs is the realization that facts/science/evidence don’t *automatically* matter. Apparently there still needs to be a fight about it. And usually the folks who are best at facts/science/evidence (like the folks who frequent this site) aren’t typically the best at the kind of fighting that currently determines electoral/policy/legal outcomes.

      Sites like this and the patrons they attract are indeed soothing to my soul.

    • Vinnie Gambone says:

      The real quote should be,

      ” I could rape a 13 year old in the Middle of 5th Avenue and I wouldn’t lose votes. “

    • errant aesthete says:


      “Trump’s political genius is to recognize this and to take it to the absolute maximal limit which is to speak in a manner that is fully independent from facts, consistency, or logic. He can accomplish this even within the bounds of a single sentence, which is something I’ve never heard anyone even try.”

      There is no question that manipulation, stylized speaking and overall communication skills without regard to facts are part of Trump’s genius as evidenced in his rallies and his twitter account.

      According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, one of the country’s preeminent communication’s expert, another side of Trump’s genius: “President Trump is better at commanding the agenda than he is at any other single thing that he as a communicator does. The press has been an accomplice in the process of ceding agenda control to him by virtue of his tweeting — and having the press respond immediately as if every tweet is presumed to be newsworthy. Donald Trump has the capacity to get whatever he wants the public to focus on by directing the cable news agenda.

    • ThomasPaine says:

      “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson

  6. Philippe Richards says:

    I think maybe what’s happening here is NOT that Trump is coaching Cohen in this meeting. Cohen said it himself. “At the end of the day” he knew what Trump wanted. He didn’t need to be told what to do. This meeting is happening because Trump needs Cohen to back up his lies to his new counsel. The timeline in Cohen’s testimony was not changed because the story was established before he was even subpoenad(and Cohen doesn’t actually say that they timeline in the drafts, he says that they made changes in how the message was handled). There’d be no need for Sekulow to change it. And the implication here is that Sekulow is knowingly suborning false testimony which really needs more evidence before you abandon another interpretation, which is that he is being lied to, which is entirely consistent with Cohen’s refusal to say he was being coached or directed and the SCO’s refusal to accept the characterization. As to why the SCO went out of its way to smack down Buzzfeed’s report my only guess is that leaving it out there makes things too hot if they’re still investigating whether Trump was suborning perjury.

  7. vicks says:

    Basic software can track edits on a digital document I would assume there is even more magic available to lawmakers?
    Cohen is in a world of trouble if he is lying about this.

  8. Rapier says:

    “Collusion” is a McGuffin. It’s a misdirection as well. The simple story is far more common and seedy. Like a hand job in a strip mall massage parlor. Trump was motivated to make a buck, well several hundred million bucks for himself, by influence peddling. The influence in this case the policies of the United States of America. Not based upon any principal that has ever been stated by Trump or anyone near him. There were no principals involved. Just seedy money grubbing. A sort of ultimate betrayal of Democracy.

    There is nothing fancy or meta about the whole affair. It was all a figurative hand job for a fruitcake and a pig. Donald Trump.

    • Badger Robert says:

      More like this. Trump was a long time Russian person of interest. He agreed to run. They agreed to support him. If he won he would weaken or revoke sanctions. Various payment arrangements were set up and the final payments are concealed. Most of the co-operation was in the open as was the payment to the Russian oligarchs. The details of how exactly the Russians were helping were left to operators, who were expendable.

    • Vern says:

      Principle (values/rules) vice principal (e.g., high school). Sorry, it’s a pet peeve. I have others …

      The hand job reference is perfect.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Maybe it was just a warm apple pie sitting alone on the counter in an almost empty kitchen.

      As for keeping principal and principle straight, principal, main and major have an “a”. The last vowel in rules and principles is an “e”. Then again, I still use, “Thirty days hath September….” to keep straight how many days are in a month.

        • Jockobadger says:

          Our HS Principal, Mr. Stickney, caught us smoking pot out behind the gym in 1977 in Spokane, Washington. Boy were we in trouble. No cops though. Mr. Stickney’s daughter was one of my best friends so he let us off with a Very Stern Warning about the dangers of marijuana. It’s legal now of course. Good man, Mr. Stickney.

  9. AMG says:

    Stuck on a phone so can’t deep dive right now but want to point out another significant event that also happened in this time frame:
    May 12, 2017: trump appoints Richard Beckler as general counsel for the GSA as an attempt to safeguard the transition materials – Trump team learned of requests for certain transition materials approx 2 months after Jan 20 inauguration – so approx March 20.

    Remember, mueller got the goods end of August after Beckler was out sick – ALL materials (cell phones, laptops, etc) for 13 members including 4 senior members.

  10. harpie says:

    Here’s more news:
    Susan Glaser:
    “Big deal alert: The President of the US ordered the government to give a security clearance to his son in law. And then lied about it.”
    “Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that” John Kelly “wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      If I were ordering that a nepotism appointment inside the White House – who had been given an extraordinarily broad portfolio but who had not been vetted by the Senate – be given a top secret or higher security clearance, and that I was overriding the unanimous recommendation by the bureaucracy against issuing that clearance, I’d write a stout memo to file, too. McGahn and Kelly were not about to let that buck stop at their desks.

      The daily professionals and the political appointees – McGahn and Kelly – knew by then what Trump was like. They knew that they could not argue for refusal on a close call. So they knew that the data on Kushner was damning. Trump being Trump, he said fuck it, which until this job has always worked pretty well for him.

  11. punaise says:

    from “Meet me in Prague”

    Clang, clang, clang went the Trump;
    He – Ding, ding, ding – went to hell.
    Zing, zing, zing went the purse strings
    From the moment we saw him he fell

    Chug, chug, chug went the vodka
    Bump, bump, bump on the take
    Thump, thump, thump went the GRUskies
    When they dialed I could feel the vote shake

    Putin tipped his hat, and took a seat
    He said he hoped he hadn’t stepped upon our peeps
    He asked my name, I held my breath
    I couldn’t speak because he scared me half to death

    Buzz, buzz, buzz went the buzzard
    Plop, plop, plop went the kills
    Stop, stop, stop went the hard stings
    As he started to go then I started to know how it feels
    When the universe reels

    The day was bright, the air was sweet
    The smell of money-suckers charmed you off your feet
    Cohen tried to sing, he sure did speak
    In fact you listened so you couldn’t even leak.

    • Rusharuse says:

      Everybody’s doing a brand-new dance, now
      (Come on baby, do the nocollusion)
      I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
      (Come on baby, do the nocollusion)
      My little baby sister can do it with me
      It’s easier than learning your a-b-c’s
      So come on, come on, do the nocollusion with me
      You gotta swing your lips, now

      Apols to Little Eva

      • punaise says:

        sorry Doors:

        You know that it would be untrue;
        You know that I would be a liar;
        If I was to say to you;
        Vlad, we couldn’t get more power
        Come on, now, green light my tower,
        Come on, Vlad, let’s name that tower,
        Try to set the west on fire

        The time to hesitate is through,
        No time to wallow in the muck
        Try now we can only lose,
        And our love become a “what the fuck?”
        The time to hesitate is through,
        No time to wallow, lest they scour
        If I was to say to you;
        Vlad, we couldn’t get more power

      • Tom Edelson says:

        Fee fee fi double fo fo fum,
        I smell smoke in The Donald’s cranium.

        Donald Trump, Donald Trump,
        it’s time to dump that Donald Trump!

        He’s gonna get in trouble, just you wait and see.

        [Now visualize Alec Baldwin:]

        Why is everybody always picking on ME?

  12. JKSF says:

    Careful. Cohen never explicitly says that Sekulow and Lowell “alter[ed] the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations” from his original version. He says is that they “reviewed and edited” the statement. Further he says that they made changes that pertained to how they were going to, “handle that message. Which was — the message, of course, being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.”

    Note that he explicitly does not say that they changed any duration, rather he says that they contributed edits pertaining to how they were going to handle the messaging. If, for instance, Sekulow and Lowell had contributed the phrase, “which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary,” they would be making edits pertaining to messaging without changing any duration.

    So, the statements are not necessarily in conflict. Cohen shared his 2017 testimony with the members of the Joint Defense Agreement. (It would be interesting to find out who else in the JDA reviewed it). It could be that the original statement conformed to the Trump message that the Trump Moscow Tower deal ended in January 2016. Cohen was being a good soldier. Sekulow and maybe Lowell edited the statement to emphasize that this was before the campaign really got going.

    This only establishes they had foreknowledge of Cohen’s testimony. It is interesting that this means that Sekulow and Lowell either knew that this was a lie and were suborning lying to Congress (as was anyone else in the JDA who knew the truth about the deal and reviewed the testimony), or they believed Cohen that the deal ended in January. If they believed Cohen, did Sekulow ask Trump if it was true? Did Abbe Lowell ask Jared and Ivanka?

        • bmaz says:

          This is a total load of shit, as is Rusharuse’s comment. You don’t know squat about lawyering other than mouthing off on a blog.

      • JKSF says:

        Of course, editing is changing. But what I am saying is that the change the JDA lawyers made is that they added the part about the Iowa caucuses, not an explicit change to Cohen’s original duration.

        Lanny Davis just pretty much confirmed this on Rachael Maddow. He said that Cohen had introduced “game changing” information to the intelligence committee pertaining to lying, obstruction and suborning perjury and as a result he was going back next Wednesday.

        Lanny Davis this evening on RMS: “There will be an additional amount of information comparing the first draft that MIchael wrote and the reiterations called red-lines that a collective group of lawyers called members of a Joint Defense Agreement, and then the final iteration contained an absolutely knowingly false statement–not only by Michael–that he did no Russian Moscow Tower activity after the Iowa caucuses, and let me just tell you one example. So Donald Trump would have a rally after the Iowa caucuses the campaign begins as we all know, and he’d be at a rally telling everyone: “No Russia, No Discussions, No Collusion, No Russia.” and his rally crowd would cheer and believe him but then within a few minutes he’d be walking out of that rally and he would turn to Michael and he’d say, “So what’s going on in Russia. What’s going on in Moscow?” It was that blatant, and that much is in the public record and there will be more developing next Wednesday at the intelligence committee… [Trump] gives people the signal in codes what he wants and then it is carried along, and by the time it reached the final draft, the absolute lie that everybody knew was a lie, including Mr. Trump, is that he did nothing after the Iowa caucuses because that’s when the campaign began, and that’s for sure everybody knew that was a lie.”

        So it seems Cohen had the part about January in the original. The part that’s added, “that everyone knew was a lie,” is about the Iowa caucuses. Here the ‘everyone’ is Sekulow, Lowell, Trump and probably others in the JDA. This JDA looks like a Trump RICO tar pit.

        So Sekulow was not explicitly lying when he says they did not change the duration, but the truth may be much much worse, because at least according to Davis they may all be complicit in suborning lying to Congress.

  13. Reader 21 says:

    Of course that’s right—editing it is absolutely changing it—but I think the poster, perhaps unintentionally, obscures the most salient point: Trump, and his lawyers, had foreknowledge of, and participated in, the scheme to get Cohen’s story straight. Ie., suborn perjury. Agreement + overt act, in furtherance thereoff—boy that sure smells like conspiracy to me. Conspiracy to suborn perjury—that’s not a good look for a president.

    • Herringbone says:

      That’s something I keep wondering about: do you put yourself in any legal danger when you knowingly allow someone to give false testimony under oath or before Congress?

  14. HcCarey says:

    Does anyone know the source of the claim that trump told Gaetz to attack Cohen? A reporter at the Atlantic claims Gaetz “was overheard” accepting congratulati9ns from trump and saying he was “glad to do it.” If this is true—and it surely seems plausible—it’s pretty big news, no? Horrible news for Gaetz, but also Trump, in that it would seem to be both witness tampering and obstruction?

    • harpie says:

      This is the tweet from IsaacDovere at the Atlantic: 6:45 AM – 28 Feb 2019
      [quote] President Trump called @mattgaetz last night from Hanoi to talk the Cohen testimony and the threats (since rescinded) Gaetz made about Cohen. //”I was happy to do it for you. You just keep killing it,” Gaetz was heard telling him. // (Gaetz told me he doesn’t discuss calls w/POTUS) [end quote]
      And then later, answering a question from Vox’s Alex Ward: 7:46 AM – 28 Feb 2019
      [quote] Gaetz’s initial response to me this morning, by text, when I told him I wanted to talk to him about his conversation with Trump last night: “I don’t do read outs on my convos w POTUS.” [end quote]

  15. harpie says:

    Should we add Trump’s friend the Ratfucker to this timeline?
    1/19/17 NYT: “Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties”
    5/6/17 When asked when he last spoke with Trump, Stone replied, “In a little while now I would say I don’t want to characterize it, but less than a week ago.”
    5/10/17 CNN reports that “Stone had urged Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.”
    5/10/17 Trump tweets: The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false – Fake News. Have not spoken to Roger in a long time – had nothing to do with my decision.
    5/11/17 Stone: refused to deny that he had “recommended to the president that he fire Comey.” Stone suggested that he had written memos on the matter to Trump and said that he had spoken with him “fairly recently, but not yesterday,” adding that it was “incorrect” that the two had not spoken in months.
    5/12/17 Trump appoints Richard Beckler as general counsel for the GSA as an attempt to safeguard the transition materials [h/t AMG]

    • North Jersey John says:

      Thank @harpie for the timeline reminder. Events starting accelerating at the end of April 2017, and it seems possible that Trump was scrambling to align all the stories. Dates courtesy of PBS News Hour giant timeline of everything Russia, Trump, and Investigations

      April 6th – Nunes steps down as HPSCI chair, ethics probe begins
      April 11th — Trump again calls Comey to “get it out” Trump not under investigation.
      April 28th — Sessions indicates he will recuse.
      May 2nd – Trump begins tweet trashing Comey
      May 3rd – Comey testifies at Sen Judiciary.

      It seems like Trump’s initial efforts to contain and bury this investigation are being breached in April. Manafort’s bank records are gathered by DOJ. Comey won’t stop. He gets fired. Now it’s time to coordinate all the stories before the investigators come calling.

      • viget says:

        That is interesting. You know what else happens in April 2017? McMaster FINALLY shuts down the IP3 nuclear reactor deal for good in the NSC. Intriguingly, the OGR committee report of February 19th indicates that it is then passed off to the VP’s National Security team for a while before coming back on the WH’s radar screen in November 2017.

        I wonder what Pence knows about all of this. It should be noted that the NSC intelligence staffer that Nunes may have met with in the wee hours in Feb 2017, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was also involved in this NSC IP3 deal, has extensive ties to none other than Michael Leeden. Perhaps Leeden suggested to move it to the VP office a la some of the energy task force shenanigans with Cheney?

  16. harpie says:

    Trump Tweets Today: 5:08 AM – 1 Mar 2019
    [quote] Congress must demand the transcript of Michael Cohen’s new book, given to publishers a short time ago. Your heads will spin when you see the lies, misrepresentations and contradictions against his Thursday testimony. Like a different person! He is totally discredited! [end quote]


      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Good indicator that Donald Trump is and has always been deathly afraid of the truth about him coming out and damaging his “brand”.

  17. IANAL on UWS says:

    Perhaps OT for this group because for most of us IANAMOC (Member of Congress), but wondering about questioning during open and closed committee sessions.

    I recall Sam Dash’s performance during Watergate hearings, both in offering guidance to members and questioning witnesses. Any idea on whether committee counsel would have asked questions during the Cohen closed sessions? Imagine that would make for more methodical gleaning of information than five minutes per member.

    As always, thank you for everyone’s impressive contributions to this graduate-level lesson in civics.

    • BobCon says:

      It’s possible, and it’s also common practice for committees to submit extensive questions in writing — when did this meeting happen, show us documents on this subject, etc.

      I don’t know the specifics of how the Oversight Committee is proceding here, but I think it’s safe to assume the public hearing was only one piece.

  18. Hops says:

    I wonder how Cohen’s appearance affects his relationship with SDNY. Are the FBI agents all in a bar cheering to hear him say in public what they are all thinking?

    If you watched the hearing to very end, Cummins looked pretty pissed when he banged the gavel. Anyone with a moral compass would be…

  19. e.a.f. says:

    Watching Cohen testify was an interesting way to spend the day. For those of us in Canada, we had to do this while watching the former Minister of Justice and A.G. testify about being “pressured” by the P.M. and his “team” regarding SNC Lavalin. Then its announced Benni of Israeli is going to be charged.

    I’m certainly happy this blog keeps me informed if I miss anything.

  20. mospeck says:

    pretty depressed right now with the 46% approval (I just read the daily news).
    Is this even real?
    In a rational world, is this even possible? The number must be gamed up.
    But sorry to say from my perspective it is plausible, because it includes most of my family.
    But then it got corrected back to only 44 and minus 8 by the rock solid 538.
    I note that some folks long back described the general nature of our particular predicament:

    I’m not one to look behind, I know that times must change
    But over there in Barrytown, they do things very strange
    And though you’re not my enemy
    I like things like they used to be
    And though you’d like some company
    I’m standing by myself
    Go play with someone else

    I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown

    Don’t believe I’m taken in by stories I have heard
    I just read the Daily News and swear by every word
    And don’t think that I’m out of line
    For speaking out for what is mine
    I’d like to see you do just fine
    But look at what you wear
    And the way you cut your hair

    I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown

    In the beginning we recall that the word was hurled
    Barrytown people got to be from another world

    Leave me or I’ll be just like the others you will meet
    They won’t act as kindly if they see you on the street
    And don’t you scream or make a shout
    It’s nothing you can do about
    It was there where you came out
    It’s a special lack of grace
    I can see it in your face

    I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown

    (btw Ben Folds does a vg George Harrison style cover)

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