Did Rod Rosenstein Pressure Mueller to Enter the Plea Deal with Paul Manafort?

Bill Barr’s admission the other day that he and Rod Rosenstein started talking about how to deny that Trump obstructed justice on March 5, long before even getting the Mueller Report, has raised real questions about whether the two men pushed Mueller to finish his investigation (even though the Mystery Appellant and Andrew Miller subpoenas were still pending).

But I’ve started wondering whether Rosenstein — the guy who promised Trump he’d “land the plane” while he was trying to keep his job — hasn’t been pressuring Mueller to finish up even longer than that.

At the beginning of Manafort’s breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann described how this plea deal was different from most normal plea deals.

There were two points that I wanted to make to the Court. There are a number of subparts to them.

But, the first point has to do with sort of the context in which we operated at the time that we entered into the agreement. As the Court will recall, the agreement was entered into just shortly before the trial was to commence before this Court, and it was after three proffer sessions. And then, of course, there were many debriefings after that. And a couple things about that timing that are relevant.

One, at the end of the third proffer session, before entering into the agreement, we had made clear to the defense that we were willing to go forward. But, that given the limited opportunity, and yet the need to make a decision because of the eminent [sic] trial, we wanted to make clear to the defense that, of course, we were going in with good faith.

But we could not say at that point that we either could say the defendant was being truthful or that the defendant was going to be able to meet the substantial assistance prong. In other words, two parts of the agreement.

Of course, I think everyone was hopeful that all of that would be met. But we wanted to make it clear to the defense that they weren’t being misled in any way as to what we were thinking.

And the second component of that is, I think, something unusual — there were two factors that were unusual in this case compared to, I think, the cases that all of us at this table have had in the past. One was, there’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation. And that would account for the Government agreeing to have Mr. Manafort cooperate, even though it was after a trial. Because that’s certainly an — not — not — it’s not that that never happens, but it’s more atypical.

By the same token, there was an unusual factor — the second unusual factor, which was [redacted] the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement.

To sum up, it was unusual because:

  • They didn’t do all the vetting they would normally do before entering into a plea deal,
  • There was a big push to avoid the September 2018 trial
  • They entered a plea deal when they weren’t sure about Manafort’s reliability in part to get intelligence, not prosecutorial information
  • Another factor, which is redacted, which by context is likely to be Trump’s floating of a pardon

In other words, there was great pressure to enter into this plea deal that led them not to do the vetting they would normally have.

We already know from the breach determination that Manafort said some things during his proffers that led prosecutors to give him the plea deal, but about which he promptly changed his story. Those subjects include, at a minimum, the degree to which his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik had formally entered into a conspiracy with him, how his kickback system worked, and the criminality of some Trump associate who tried something in August 2016 to save Trump’s campaign.

But the breach determination also revealed that Manafort was always lying about his ongoing discussions with Kilimnik about a “peace” deal. Over the course of his “cooperation,” he came to admit some parts of it after being shown evidence, but he never offered up those details.

That means that when Mueller entered into that plea deal, they knew Manafort was lying to them, at least about the Ukrainian “peace” deals and his coordination with Kilimnik.

But the Mueller Report also reveals were also two details Manafort told them during his proffers that the prosecutors didn’t believe. Manafort told prosecutors that he could not recall “anyone informing candidate Trump of the [June 9] meeting, including Trump Jr;” prosecutors already had other testimony suggesting this was false, and the day after Manafort told them this on September 11, 2018 (and before they actually finalized the deal), Michael Cohen described Don Jr discussing a meeting secretly with Trump in this time period.  That same day, Manafort also told prosecutors, “that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian ‘spy,'” even though several other Kilimnik colleagues, including Rick Gates, had told Mueller’s team he was.

So Mueller knew Manafort was lying, and yet still gave him a plea deal, which had the effect of averting a trial that would have been a key focus of press attention during the midterm elections. I laid out how Manafort’s failed plea ended up providing cover during the election season in this post.

Rudy Giuliani, remember, repeatedly said that Mueller would have to wrap up the entire investigation before DOJ’s 90 day election season.

I know there are a lot of DOJ beat reporters trying to chase down whether Barr told Mueller he had to finish up as soon as he got cleared to oversee the investigation in March. But I wonder whether Rosenstein wasn’t already pressuring Mueller to finish, going back to August. If he was, that would change the import of Trump’s tactic to avoid testifying — first stalling through the election, and then refusing any real cooperation — significantly.

It would also change the import of the fact that prosecutors still claim that the investigation into Manafort is ongoing.

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. 

73 replies
  1. Troutwaxer says:

    I think this is a matter of “known unknowns.” At the point where they interviewed Manafort, the prosecution had some of the picture; NSA intercepts, phone records, whatever bugging they may have done after the discovery of Russian hacking in 2016, etc., and they can count on these to be accurate. What they needed, in interviewing Manafort was both parallel construction and human intelligence; what happened during that walk in the woods where everyone left their cell phones at the cabin, what motivated people, why Person 3 did this instead of that…

    So they discover that Manafort routinely lies about things he should (the guy’s not naive) expect them to know. This is a problem for two reasons: First, they can’t trust anything Manafort says about the things they don’t have intelligence about, and second, they have to ask themselves whether he’s protecting someone else or whether he’s one of those sociopaths who lies the way he breathes, (which wouldn’t be anything like a surprise) in which case he’s useless for both counter-intelligence and prosecuting someone else.

    You might be right about the political motivations, or Rosenstein might have said, with the best of intentions, “This guys a blind alley and he’s over seventy. You’ve already got enough on him to make sure he dies in jail. Why don’t you make an example of the guy and put your efforts into interviewing someone else?”

    And let’s not forget that there are some important “good answers quickly” issues involved with the question of whether the President is a Russian asset, so there’s something to be said for exiting a blind alley. They can always come back to the guy if they need to.

    I suspect that a couple days after Rosenstein retires we’ll know whether he’s a scum or an adept bureaucrat who’s on our side.

    • viget says:

      With regards to your last sentence I agree wholeheartedly. I really hope it’s the latter.

  2. harpie says:

    Thanks Marcy…here are two sentences that may need a bit of editing:
    1] “But the Mueller Report also reveals were also two details Manafort told them during his proffers that the prosecutors didn’t believe.”
    2] “That same day, Manafort also told prosecutors, “that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian ‘spy,’” even though several other Kilimnik colleagues, including Rick Gates, had told Mueller’s team they was.”

  3. Willis Warren says:

    All those Dilanian leaks about Mueller wrapping up are really starting to look like it was Rosenstein all along. I never thought Rod was going hard enough on this whole thing, but once he welcomed BDTS as head of DOJ, it was obvious something was wrong.

    • fpo says:

      Yep, agree. His decision to stay on, and the cordial acceptance of BDTS’ appointment, struck me as almost out of character, given the ‘reverence for the DOJ’ type sentiments he’d publicly expressed, just prior to. As I recall, some were even anticipating a possible ‘heroic’ resignation from RR at the time. Instead, nada.

  4. harpie says:

    I’m looking back at my notes from then, just to remind myself what things were like. :-/
    On August 1, 2018 Trump went on a signature twitter rampage: 7 tweets, beginning with:
    6:03 AM – 1 Aug 2018

    “FBI Agent Peter Strzok (on the Mueller team) should have recused himself on day one. He was out to STOP THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP. He needed an insurance policy. Those are illegal, improper goals, trying to influence the Election. He should never, ever been allowed to……..

    6:15 AM, […] [quoting Dershowitz] Mueller has an interest in creating the illusion of objectivity around his investigation […]
    6:24 AM, […] Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now […] Bob Mueller is totally conflicted […]
    6:34 AM, […] Why didn’t government tell me that [PM] was under investigation. […]
    7:01 AM, […] The Democrats paid for the phony and discredited Dossier which was […] used to begin the Witch Hunt. […]
    8:35 AM, [comparing PM’s treatment with that of Al Capone]
    and ending with: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1024685313778741250
    8:56 AM – 1 Aug 2018

    “We already have a smoking gun about a campaign getting dirt on their opponent, it was Hillary Clinton. How is it OK for Hillary Clinton to proactively seek dirt from the Russians but the Trump campaign met at the Russians request and that is bad?” Marc Thiessen, Washington Post

  5. Jonathan Barker says:

    Along the same lines, have another look at Barr’s March 22nd letter to Congress announcing the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5778835-March-22-Barr-letter.html

    As was widely reported at the time, Barr says there were no instances in which either the Attorney General or the Acting Attorney General deemed that some action proposed by the Special Counsel was so inappropriate that it should not be pursued.

    Note that Barr goes out of his way to add, in the middle of a quote from the regs, that the *Acting* AG never declined a proposed action. But he says nothing about the Deputy AG, i.e. Rosenstein. Rosenstein wasn’t the Acting AG, right? Like, Sessions just recused himself from this particular investigation. There wasn’t an Acting AG till Whitaker came along, right? Might be an innocent omission on Barr’s part but, idk, I doubt it.

    • harpie says:

      Good catch!
      And the words “innocent ” and “Barr” really clash so close together.

    • viget says:

      Well, not entirely. For purposes of the Mueller investigation, Rosenstein *WAS* the Acting AG (see his appt. letter), until BDTS came along.

      • J Barker says:

        Ah, I see. I assumed that someone couldn’t have the Acting AG status relative to some investigations but not others. Thanks for the correction!

      • BobCon says:

        Probably being revealed because they’re worried about two possibilities. One is that the Russians will reveal it. Two is that people on the US side who are listening to the Russians and will reveal it.

        • OmAli says:

          I’m sure if Trump was speaking to May or Macron or any other foreign leader, whether or not McGahn would testify would be an expected topic of conversation. /s

          Why the hell should they be discussing that? Would love to be a fly on the wire….

          • P J Evans says:

            I’m sure some of the intelligence agencies were. Whether they’re willing to let people know who need to know, is another question.

          • rst says:

            Blake has since deleted this tweet, which was based on faulty information about Sanders’ statement.

        • dwfreeman says:

          Can we get over whether Trump talking to Putin in the context of this case is in anyway appropriate. And, the Democrats should attack the White House on that score. For fucks sake, the Republicans are condemning the very nature of the original sin leading to this case and Trump acts like Putin is his fucking case officer and Graham and his lackeys want to be taken seriously questioning FBI ethics? Can we just make that argument of collusion in plain sight is beyond the pale. Even the House Minority Leader thought in June 2016 Putin was paying Trump. So, the idea that this completely fucking partisan political enterprise is anything but a Republican scandal just makes me sick. The Democrats act like they need to step around mines in this case or they will blow themselves up. No, they need to blow the lid off this case.

          They act like Trump is some mastermind politician. He won on a fluke behind the support of two campaigns, one totally illegal, and the Democrats pretend this result won’t happen again under Trump. Which explains why he talks to Putin in tweets like they are on the same political page. This is a big fucking problem. And the Democrats need to start recognizing that by calling out the Republicans for what they are, enablers of a traitor.

  6. Leila512 says:

    Over an hour??? Trump can’t speak that long, unless he’s at a rally listening to his great self, which means he must have been getting his next instructions :))

    • Badger Robert says:

      Trump now gives the appearance of speaking with an ear piece and copying lines relayed to him. His voice is now high in his throat and he breathes through his mouth during pauses in his sentences. He is performing, and keeping his coaches happy. But I doubt that he understands how little his stories resonate beyond his selected audiences.

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      Later that same day….

      Individual-1 repeats Putin talking points that Russia is not involved in Venezuela, much to the surprise of Secretary of State Pompano who has been saying the opposite.

    • klynn says:

      An important link in the NYTs story is to a 2010 story worth reading again.

      This quote about “how” the sleeper agents communicated is worth contemplating:
      “They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet, and they communicated by having two agents with laptops containing special software pass casually as messages flashed between them.”

  7. klynn says:

    Sort of OT:
    DT tweet EW just posted…FYI Kremlin does not use “Russiagate” They have relabeled it “Russia Hoax.” The suffix “gate” harkens back to Watergate and the GOP. This is a propaganda effort to turn the “lie” branding onto the Dems.
    DT is using Kremlin propaganda methods.

    • Rayne says:

      Partly, but the rebranding was necessary to avoid continued comparisons with nearly-impeached Nixon.

      Not gonna’ work.

      • klynn says:

        P uses it as a jab to US CI because if you translate the word hoax into Russian it’s meaning becomes a bold poke in the eye. T just put the Five Eyes on notice.

        • Jockobadger says:

          klynn – don’t you think the 5 Eyes were tuned in already anyway? Sweet Baby Jesus I hope so – that would be too beautiful.

          • klynn says:

            It’s not so much that 5E knows or has known…it is that T’s tweet let’s them know T is not on their side. That is a problem.

            • Jockobadger says:

              Agreed it’s a big problem. Otoh, I imagine they had already arrived at that conclusion anyway, but this does pretty well put paid to it, doesn’t it. God damn the man. He’s not just corrupt, he’s a traitor, but he’s such a tool that he likely doesn’t realize it. And now he’s got the AG of the entire country ready to go to the mattresses for him.

              I’m hoping that the 5 (or is it 4 now) Eyes can capture something juicy to combine with some really dramatic testimony from principals of the MR. We need to demonstrate a critical mass of corruption/conspiracy to take into 2020. A nice timely stroke would work just as well, though. I hope someone’s not slipping warfarin into his diet coke to keep the party rolling. JHC

    • Eureka says:

      I posted a comment in March after having searched Trump’s tweets for “hoax” (in a different context), here:

      He’s gone through phases of ~”witch hunt hoax.” More pointedly to the phrase you cite, he’s also tweeted repeatedly about a book that came out August 1, 2018 (hmm, see harpie’s comments above re EW’s post), titled, “The Russia Hoax…”. For example (trumptwitterarchive.com):

      • May 30, 2018 10:06:28 PM The soon to be released book, “The Russia Hoax, The Illicit Scheme To Clear Hillary Clinton And Frame Donald Trump,” written by Gregg Jarrett, looks like a real deal big hit. The Phony Witch Hunt will be opened up for the world to see! Out in 5 weeks. [Twitter for iPhone]

      Where the author got that title, or Trump the affinity for ‘hoax’ in this context, who knows… maybe your comment below (in the thread) speaks to origins.

      I just went and checked Trump tweets for “Russiagate:” he has only tweeted that word *twice*, and recently, and then only via re-tweets (same source):

      May 1, 2019 07:57:48 PM RT @TomFitton: .@JudicialWatch FOIA disclosures help lead to criminal referral on Russiagate targeting of @realDonaldTrump.* [Twitter for iPhone]

      Mar 17, 2019 04:55:11 PM RT @williamcraddick: Russiagate was designed in part to help the UK counter Russian influence by baiting the United States into taking a ha… [Twitter for iPhone]

      *twitter short-url to article removed; links to original tweets at source

      • Eureka says:

        *twice out of 37,931 tweets in the archive sample re the “Russiagate” retweets

        While I’m here:

        The phrases (not case sensitive):
        “Russia hoax” = 16
        “Russian hoax” = 7

        Earliest instances for each, respectively:

        Sep 22, 2017 05:44:47 AM The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary? [Twitter for iPhone]

        Jul 15, 2017 11:30:23 AM Stock Market hit another all-time high yesterday – despite the Russian hoax story! Also, jobs numbers are starting to look very good! [Twitter for iPhone]

        • Eureka says:

          Plain “hoax” was N=88 at time of this ^ search (including earlier uses like ca 2013 re climate change, IIRC).

  8. Frank Probst says:

    This has probably been discussed at length elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it, so I’ll go ahead and look stupid by asking it again:

    Is there ANY merit whatsoever to Emmet Flood’s letter to Barr? He’s complaining that the Mueller Report didn’t follow either the law or DOJ policy, or both. First of all, I doubt that any of that is true (but I honestly don’t know). And second, I don’t see how it has any merit in the larger scheme of things. As Barr himself said under oath, once Mueller submitted his report, it was Barr’s “baby”. It was released by Barr (or least at Barr’s direction), not Mueller. So if the report was flawed, as Emmet Flood claims, that’s Barr’s problem, not Mueller’s. If Barr wanted parts of the report changed, he could have kicked it back to Mueller for revisions (which would be terrible optics, but the optics were already awful), or he could have declined to release the parts of the report (or even declined to release all of it). Right? Or did I miss something?

  9. Frank Probst says:

    My suspicion about Rosenstein is that he’s the guy who tells everyone what they want to hear, even if it’s bullshit. Now he’s on his way out, and he’s likely looking for a very sweet book deal. The only way we’ll hear from him is under subpoena, and even then, I think we’ll get a narrative that he thinks puts him in the best possible light. I think he could get away with this if he’s only questioned by Congresscritters, but if Nadler has any sense, he’ll set up all future hearings the way he set up yesterday’s hearing with Barr, in that he’ll have staff lawyers do some of the questioning. I’m not sure how well Rosenstein would fare in that sort of setting.

    • Sandwichman says:

      Watching Rosenstein standing next to Barr at his news conference, I’m pretty sure he would start crying under questions by staff lawyers..

  10. Michael says:

    I’m not buying it. Manafort pleaded guilty on September 14th and Rosenstein made his “I can land the plane” remarks on September 21st.

    • Reader 21 says:

      So very close in proximity, timeline-wise—good context, thanks. We know RR was desperate to keep his job, was having repeated, private conversations with Individual-1, we know he’s neither a brave nor a strong man (McCabe, Comey), we know Trump was OCD about the Mueller probe (Kristol, WAPO, NYT), and we know Rosenstein May have tried to reel in Mueller’s mandate (Marcy)—which, contrary to current spin, was originally actually quite broad. If it looks like a duck…

  11. IsideInfo says:

    Your don’t get it, Mueller’s report was approved by Trump’s team even before Barr saw it. The entire Mueller team was in the dark (except Mueller of course). Trump instructed RR to appoint Mueller. Documentation of this will only come out if there is an impeachment – which there won’t be). The rest is theater. The end result – Trump and family are all in the clear! Sure, lots of yelling and bad press but not in jail.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, I don’t think any of that is right. Trump’s attorneys reviewed the report, but did not “approve” it per se. There is not one shred of evidence that Mueller’s team was “in the dark except Mueller”, and that is a pretty absurd thought. There is also no evidence Trump instructed Rosenstein to appoint Mueller. In fact, the evidence is that Trump was kind of blinded by it. Your first comment ever here is not a good start.

      • P J Evans says:

        Someone has the trolls riled up, when they’re coming here to try to spread their lies.

  12. klynn says:

    Putting on my tin foil hat..
    I have been bothered by the “land the plane” reference because it seems like RR does not talk that way at least in public. Just curious did Rod really say “ land the plane” or did Trump put those words in his mouth?

    The words mean “to end it. Stop going on.” I am only able to find a reference that a WH official said that RR said that.

    It’s important to find out who that official is. Spooks tend to reference movies and books. “…land the plane” is a line from a movie.

      • P J Evans says:

        It was the first time i’d run into that particular one. Which makes me wonder where they got it – was Tr*mp using it?

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t think Trump’s the progenitor or we’d have noticed it in recent rally speeches. He repeats his favorite themes often. I went back to my Plane to See post to look at Barr’s usage in front of Senate Judiciary Committee:

          COONS: Who, if anyone, outside the Justice Department has seen portions or all of the Special Counsel’s report? Has anyone in the White House seen any of the report?

          BARR: I’m not going to — I’m not going to — as I said, I’m landing the plane right now and I’ve been willing to discuss my letters and the process going forward but the reports going to be out next week and I’m just not going to get into the details of the process until the plane’s on the ground.

          So much concern about landing a plane by two guys who aren’t pilots.

          • OldTulsaDude says:

            Does anyone else wonder if RR and Jabba the Barr were speaking prior to Barr being nominated AG or is that too tin-foil hat?

            • klynn says:

              It is from a 2009 movie. In the scene it is used, it is meant as an insulting/snarky phrase meant to cut off a rambling conversation of an individual in order to end the encounter and conversation.

              Just too curious.

          • AndTheSlithyToves says:

            “So much concern about landing a plane by two guys who aren’t pilots.”
            But they’re both fully-capable gaslighters–Barr in particular.

          • Eureka says:

            I’ve been thinking in recent days about that post and how you were right to flag that phrase (there was no way to know then what the deeper signal was; now, here it is…). Also thinking about how the resident “Barr ‘summary’ through MR-delivery+”- era influence-op troll got so *snitty* about that post.

      • e.a.f. says:

        if neither are pilots, yes its weird.
        They may have been using some one else’s words, but I doubt if they were trump’s.

        Landing a plane: takes control and ending the project as you want it to. No one wants to crash and burn.

    • harpie says:

      nycsouthpaw begins a thread about that phrase on 4/10:
      8:34 AM – 10 Apr 2019
      Then on 4/15 adds:

      Finally remembered where I saw Barr’s landing metaphor before—the 2000 Florida recount, of course.

      He screenshots and links to:
      A ‘Queen’ Kept Clock Running https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/01/30/a-queen-kept-clock-running/56eb8133-6f2e-48a0-b6f0-65745cddb73b/
      January 30, 2001

      Then Clay Roberts, director of the division of elections, construed the recount law as narrowly as possible. Mere voter error was no justification for looking at ballots in search of dimples, stab marks or hanging chads. Only if the canvassing boards believed that their machines had malfunctioned were they to count by hand.
      It made Stipanovich proud. “Katherine [Harris] kept turning the screw to bring this election in for a landing,” he said later.

      This is how the WaPo introduces Stipanovich, who had been asked for help by a “Bush campaign official on 11/9/01″

      With his graying crew cut and close-cropped goatee, J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich, a former Marine who loves obscure books and tough fights, cuts a dashing, faintly dangerous figure on the Florida stage. As a younger man, he masterminded the 1986 election of Florida’s only Republican governor in 28 years, Bob Martinez. In between his rich and rewarding life as a lobbyist, he helped run Jeb Bush’s failed 1994 campaign and helped get Harris elected in 1998.

    • skua says:

      “Law Day recognizes that we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather according to the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will.”
      From DJT’s April 30, 2018 Law Day proclamation.

      Anyone thinking that 45 agrees with, except when convenient, or seeks to promote such an approach, except when convenient, is deluded.

      Anyone intelligent who quotes Trump on that topic seriously is seeking to delude others.
      I hope to live long enough to learn of RR’s purpose.

      • klynn says:

        Like I noted – an interesting read; especially that quote. Made me ask,”Who wrote THAT for Trump?”

        • P J Evans says:

          Someone who may actually believe it, I’d say. Tr*mp probably would have a hard time reading that statement: it’s full of Big Words and doesn’t say enough about him (he thinks – actually, it says a lot about him, but nothing complimentary).

  13. Mitch Neher says:

    I presume that information provided to, or even proffered by, Paul Manafort to the SCO would be inadmissible in a United States Court–since Manafort was declared in breach of his cooperation agreement.

    I have no idea at all whether any of that information–including even the proffer session info–might be admissible or inadmissible at a committee hearing in The House of Representatives or even in The Senate.

    But, if that information were not used to incriminate Manafort nor Donald Trump Jr., and if that information were used only to show the potential criminal conduct the investigation of which President Trump intended to obstruct, then might the information at issue be admissible for Congressional purposes?

    • bmaz says:

      No, that is not correct. Any and all information and statements Manafort supplied would be perfectly admissible for any purpose, if the government wanted to do so. The sole exception might – might – be his direct testimony to the grand jury. That is likely a small fraction of it, and even that could potentially be used under the right circumstances.

      • Mitch Neher says:

        Thanks, bmaz.

        OTOH, What else might the Mueller Report have been alluding to when it stated that the investigation could not establish Donald Trump Jr.’s “willfulness” with “admissible” evidence?

        Attorney-client privilege involving . . . McGahn?

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