Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry: a step-by-step summary


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The impeachment of President Donald Trump came as a shock to everyone. After Trump’s three politically tumultuous years in office and numerous rumblings of impeachment from his opponents, the country was understandably shocked when the Trump-Ukraine inquiry gathered enough traction to pin two articles of impeachment on him.

But for those of you who could not watch every single hearing during the inquiry, read every single document, or–for our primarily college audience–you were simply going through final exams and now feel too awkward to ask about it, here is an entire rundown of the impeachment inquiry. From the background that fueled the fire to the officials who testified in front of the House, here is your guide to getting caught up before the Senate trial.

It started, as most things do, very simply. A whistleblower complaint was filed on August 12 against the Trump administration for the President’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, where the whistleblower alleged Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to launch two politically-edged investigations in return for military aid.

The first investigation Trump desired would be to prove that corrupt Ukrainian officials tried to sway American voters in 2016 in favor of Hilary Clinton. (A bipartisan Senate and U.S. Intelligence inquiry found that while there was indeed massive support from Ukrainian officials in Clinton’s favor, Russian influence played a much larger role in swaying Americans towards Trump. Read the National Intelligence investigation on this matter here.)

The second investigation, which would become the main focal point of the impeachment inquiry, would be to look into Trump’s 2020 political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, for Hunter’s involvement on the board of Ukrainian energy for the company Burisma.

The whistleblower described their and their colleague’s feelings as “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s statements, and mentioned that there had been tremendous effort made by the White House to “lock down” all records of the phone call, including the actual transcript itself.

(To be clear: leveraging military aid for foreign involvement in an election, i.e. getting Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son in exchange for military aid, is without a doubt illegal. The question posed by this inquiry is ‘Is that what really happened?’)

Following days of reports of Trump pressuring Zelenskiy and an inability to gain access to the full whistleblower complaint, Pelosi formally announced the beginning of the impeachment inquiry on September 24 for “abuse of power.”

Both the transcript and the full whistleblower complaint were later released on September 25 and 26, respectively, after continued pressure from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff,  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congress, and multiple efforts from the White House to withhold the documents. (Read a summary of the call here—the verbatim transcript was never made public. Read the whistleblower complaint here.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that the Trump administration’s attempt at blocking of the complaint from being sent to Congress was in “violation of the law,” and Trump calling on a foreign leader to investigate a U.S. presidential candidate was “a breach of his constitutional responsibilities.”

“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “Therefore, today I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.”

Moments after Pelosi’s announcement, Trump tweeted that “They never even saw the transcript of the call.”

He expressed that the transcript would show that it was “a totally appropriate call.”

Trump did later confirm that he ordered aid to Ukraine be frozen ahead of the phone call in question. While speaking at the United Nations to reporters who were questioning him regarding the call, Trump said he told Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold nearly $400 million dollars a week prior to the call.

“I said hold it up,” Trump stated. “Let’s get others to pay.”

He added that he “made that loud and clear” and “told it to a lot of people.”

(The Washington Post was the first to break this story. Read their research here.)

The following Monday, Trump denied that he tied releasing the aid to Ukraine’s investigation into the Biden’s. (The money was sent without explanation on September 11.)

“No, no, I didn’t,” Trump said to reporters during a meeting with the Polish president. “I put no pressure on them, whatsoever. I could have, I think it would have probably possibly have been okay if I did, but I didn’t I didn’t put any pressure on them whatsoever, you know why because they want to do the right thing and they know about corruption, and they probably know that Joe Biden and his son are corrupt, they probably know that Joe Biden and his son are corrupt. Joe Biden and his son are corrupt.”

Pelosi then met with all six chairman of committees investigating Trump, and held a caucus to discuss impeachment. In a following meeting with all 230 House Democrats, Pelosi announced that the six committees would continue to look into alleged wrongdoing directed by the administration.

“I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of an impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi said.

“If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” said seven Democrats, including Representative Gil Cisneros, Jason Crow, Chrissy Houlahan, Mikie Sherrill, Elissa Slotkin, Abigail Spanberger, and Elaine Luria in an op-ed to the Washington Post. “We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted to the impeachment inquiry announcement with disdain.

“This rush to judgment comes just a few hours after President Trump offered to release the details of his phone conversation with President Zelenskiy… It comes despite the fact that committee-level proceedings are already underway to address the whistleblower allegation through a fair, bipartisan, and regular process.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated his belief that the entire inquiry was simply a way to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

“Our job here is a serious job — our job is to focus on the American public…Our job is to legislate, not to continue to investigate something in the back when you cannot find any reason to impeach this president…This election is over. I realize 2016 did not turn out how Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen, but she cannot change the laws of this Congress. She cannot unilaterally decide on an impeachment inquiry.”

There were numerous closed-door and open, public hearings throughout October and November regarding the phone call, covering issues such as Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s intense involvement in lobbying Ukrainian government officials through unofficial channels, the role of Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and why U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was recalled from the field.

These testimonies include:

Oct. 3 (closed testimony) and Nov.19 (open testimony): Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine

Who is he? Volker’s career began as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1980s. After several other positions within the federal government, he was hired as the Ukraine envoy under then-Secretary Rex Tillerson. His resignation was reported less than a week before he was set to testify.

Why is he important? Part of his testimony revealed text messages between him and other high-ranking U.S. diplomats regarding the Ukraine phone call.

One text, sent by top U.S. diplomat Bill Taylor, said “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland answered, saying “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” (Sondland later admitted that there was in fact a quid pro quo.)

In his open testimony, Volker defended Biden, discrediting what he labeled “conspiracy theories” that former Vice President Joe Biden was corrupt. He also testified that the conspiracy against the Biden’s was not something “that we should be pursing as part of our national security strategy.”

He also expressed his regret that he did not pick up sooner on the fact that the investigation into Burisma meant investigating these allegations into Biden. “In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” he said.

Read his testimony here.


Oct. 4 (closed testimony): Michael Atkinson, intelligence inspector general

Who is he? Atkinson spent 15 years at the Department of Justice before being appointed the intelligence community inspector general. He has a long history with handling corruption and fraud cases.

Why is he important? Atkinson testified about his efforts to corroborate the information in the whistleblower complaint. He is quoted on September 30 as saying the complaint “appeared credible” and posed an “urgent concern.”

Read the account here.


Oct. 11 (closed testimony) and Nov. 15 (open testimony): Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

Who is she? Yovanovitch joined the Foreign Services in 1986, and served as the longtime ambassador to Ukraine before her ousting in 2019.

Why is she important? Yovanovitch testified that Trump directly pressured the State Department to fire her, despite no notification of any wrongdoing on her or her staff’s part. She also stated that she felt threatened when she was told Trump said in a phone call with Zelenskiy that she was “going to go through some things.”

She added that Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan met with her before her ousting. She said that “(Sullivan) said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018.”

She added, “He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”

In her open testimony, Yovanovitch stirred doubt about the veracity regarding conspiracy theories of coordinated Ukrainian efforts to sway the 2016 election. She described any criticism of Trump by Ukrainian officials as “isolated incidents” and stated that this theory was likely a misdirection by Russian President Vladimir Putin to obscure the Kremlin’s own actions during the 2016 election.

She agreed that Hunter Biden’s Burisma ties could pose a conflict of interest, but that it did not warrant a corruption probe.

Read the transcript here.

Read her opening statement here


Oct. 14 (closed testimony) and Nov. 21 (open testimony): Fiona Hill, former Russia expert for the National Security Council

Who is she? Hill served as a national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia under both President George W. Bush and Barak Obama, and was director of the Brookings Institute’s Center on the United States and Europe until she was appointed to work in the White House.

Why is she important? She testified about a July 10 meeting in the White House with Ukrainian officials, during which Gordon Sondland pressured Ukraine for a political investigation. Sondland also stated that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had already agreed to the plan. But after the meeting, Hill stated that John Bolton, the president’s national security advisor, told her to tell the administration’s legal adviser that he was “not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

In her open testimony, Hill stated that the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election was a “fictional narrative that has been perpetuated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”  She later said that Sondland’s actions in Ukraine were more of a “domestic political errand” that was allowed by the administration—but “diverged” from official U.S. policy.

Read the transcript here.


Oct. 15 (closed testimony) and Nov. 13 (open testimony): George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state

Who is he? Before his current position, Kent served as the deputy chief of mission in Kyiv, Ukraine, and as the senior anti-corruption coordinator for Europe. Before that, he was a foreign service officer since his joining of the department in 1992.

Why is he important? Kent testified that he had previously raised concerns about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s conflict of interest with Burisma in 2015, but was rebuffed. He did “fully” agree with Yovanovitch’s “incredulity” over her removal from office,“based, as best she could tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives at an especially challenging time in bilateral relations with a newly elected Ukrainian President.”

Kent also testified that Rudy Giuliani carried out a “campaign of lies” against Yovanovitch to aid Giuliani in pushing Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden on Trump’s behalf.

In his open testimony, Democratic Representative Jim Himes asked Kent if he had ever witnessed Trump pushing policies that helped counter corruption in Ukraine. Kent replied “I do not.”

Read his opening statement here.

Read the closed testimony transcript here.


Oct. 16 (Open testimony): Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Who is he? McKinley is a long-time diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru and Brazil after joining the State Department in 1982.

Why is he important? In other transcripts released by the House Investigators, McKinley testified that he was disturbed by pressure to use U.S. diplomatic relations to “procure negative political information for domestic purposes,” and a “failure” at the State Department to support the American diplomatic corps.

He also stated that he asked Mike Pompeo numerous times to publicly support Yovanovitch, but never received a response. (This contradicts what Pompeo told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” in October: “Not once, George, did Ambassador McKinley say something to me during that entire time period.”)

McKinley resigned barely a week before his deposition, which he said was mostly attributed to the fact that Pompeo didn’t do anything to protect Yovanovitch.

Read the transcript here.


Oct. 17 (Closed testimony) and Nov. 20 (Open testimony): Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union

Who is he? Prior to his current position, Sondland wrote checks to the Trump inaugural committee totaling $1 million.

Why is he important? In his revised testimony, Sondland stated that it was he who personally gave the message to a top Ukrainian official on Sept. 1 which said that military aid to Ukraine was contingent upon enacting an investigation Trump desired.

“…Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong,” he said, in his original opening statement. “Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings.”

He also stated that he—along with Volker and Rick Perry—disagreed with working with Giuliani, but did not feel like they could ignore an order from the President.

Sondland confirmed the ever-elusive “quid pro quo” in his hearing, stating that “I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” He said “everyone was in the loop” regarding the fact that the $400 million in U.S. aid was contingent on the investigation.

Read the transcript here.

Read his public opening statement here.


Oct. 22 (Closed testimony) and Nov. 13 (Open testimony): Bill Taylor, U.S. charge d’affaires for Ukraine

Who is he? Taylor was the ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. He most recently served as the executive vice president of the U.S. Institute of Peace before attaining his current position.

Why is he important? Taylor testified that is was “becoming clear” to him that Trump and Zelenskiy  meeting “was contingent upon the investigation of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections.”

He testified that the phone call transcript “was the first time I had seen the details of President Trump’s July 25 call with President Zelenskiy, in which he mentioned Vice President Biden,” but that he had come to understand well before then that “‘investigations’ was a term that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland used to mean matters related to the 2016 elections, and to investigations of Burisma and the Bidens.”

In his public testimony, Taylor detailed an alleged phone call made on July 26 between Trump and Sondland. He stated that one of his staffers—David Holmes—was in a restaurant in Kyiv with Sondland after a meeting with Zelenskiy when he overheard Trump ask Sondland about the status of “the investigations.”

“Ambassador Sondland told Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor stated. Taylor also said that he believed the “irregular” actions taken by the diplomatic channel were used to benefit Trump.

Read his public opening statement here.

Read the closed testimony transcript here.


U.S. Army photo by Monica King

Oct. 23 (Closed testimony) and Nov. 20 (Open testimony): Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia

Who is she? Cooper worked at the State Department dealing with counterterrorism before joining the Department of Defense 2001.

Why is she important?  Cooper spoke on the withholding of the $400 million in aid, saying that aides were confused by the hold on the funds considering the transfer had been approved last May, when Ukraine met the required anti-corruption benchmarks.

House Republicans delayed the deposition by 5 hours after storming the secured hearing room.

At her open testimony, Cooper stated that her staff were contacted by officials from the Ukrainian embassy about the status of their aid, on the same day as Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy. This casts doubt on the GOP argument that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo because Kyiv wasn’t aware that military aid was held off. Cooper specifically stated that “the Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘what is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?'”

Read the transcript here.

Read her public opening statement here


Oct. 26 (Open testimony): Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs

Who is he? Reeker served as a foreign service officer since 1992, and later received a nomination to serve as the ambassador to Macedonia under President George Bush. He has also worked as the deputy assistant secretary for Europe.

Why is he important? Reeker confirmed that he did not believe there was any reason to attack Yovanovitch. According to an email that was turned over by the state department to its inspector general and later obtained by ABC News, Reeker forwarded emails on March to Ulrich Brechbuhl, an advisor to Pompeo, concerning the attacks against Yovanovitch. He called than a “fake narrative” that was “without merit or validation.”

Read the transcript here.


Oct. 29 (Closed testimony) and Nov. 19 (open testimony): Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs for the National Security Council

Who is he? Exactly as his title states.

Why is he important? Vindman was the first current White House official to testify. He stated that he did not think it was “proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen” and that he concerned “about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”

Vindman was listening to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy, and testified that he had “no doubt” that Trump was pressuring Zelenskiy to investigate the Biden’s. He had so little doubt that he even reported his concerns to the National Security Council.

Vindman also reported his concerns regarding Sondland’s comments to a top Ukrainian officer two weeks before Trump’s phone call, where Sondland “started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.”

Read the transcript here


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Oct. 30 (Open testimony): Christopher Anderson, former special adviser to Kurt Volker

Who is he? Anderson has been a Foreign Service officer since 2005, and served in Kyiv from 2014 to 2017 before serving as the Ukraine ambassador to Volker.

Why is he important? Hale detailed a meeting with then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, during which Bolton “cautioned that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the President on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement,” affirming Giuliani’s deeply entrenched role in the Ukraine dealings.

Read the transcript here.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Oct. 30 (Open testimony): Catherine Croft: State Department Ukraine specialist

Who is she? Croft managed Ukraine policy at the National Security Council from July 2017 to July 2018 before working to advise Volker, and has served as a Foreign Service officer for nine years.

Why is she important? She testified that during a July meeting “an (Office of Management and Budget) representative reported that the White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, had placed an informal hold on security assistance to Ukraine,” which was done at the President’s direction.

She also confirmed that she had expressed confirms of Trump’s political ambitions to a colleague, stating that “It was possible that the Trump administration would choose to change its policy to suit domestic politics.”

Read the transcript here.


Photo courtesy of AP 

Oct. 31 (Open testimony): Tim Morrison, National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia

Who is he? Morrison served for 17 years as a Republican staffer before joining the National Security Council in 2018.

Why is he important? Morrison helped confirm multiple other statements concerning the pressure being put on Ukraine.

“Ambassador Taylor and I had no reason to believe that the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation until my … conversation with Ambassador Sondland,” Morrison stated.

He also admitted that he asked the White House legal staff to restrict access to the transcript of the July 25 phone call because he was concerned about the “potential political fallout” if the details got out. He confirmed that the details in the phone call transcript “accurately and completely reflects the substance of the call,” but he was “not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”

Read the transcript here.


Nov. 6 (Closed testimony) and Nov. 20 (open testimony): David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs

Who is he? Hale has served as the ambassador to Lebanon, Pakistan and Jordan, as a well as special envoy for Middle East peace. He has been part of the State Department since 1984.

Why is he important? Hale testified that he attempted to support Yovanovitch from the “smear campaign” against her, and called on Pompeo to issue a full statement in her support. That statement never came.

“The implication was that this was a roundabout way the president was trying to get rid of the ambassador through this smear campaign,” Hale said.

During his public hearing, Hale confirmed that an OMB representative said that they were “objecting to proceeding with the assistance, because the president had so directed through the acting chief of staff.” This refers to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who had previously led OMB.

Read the transcript here.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Nov. 7 (closed testimony) and Nov. 19 (open testimony): Jennifer Williams, special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for Europe and Russia

Who is she? Williams served as a Foreign Service officer for many years, including in Lebanon, Jamaica, the United Kingdom and Washington D.C. Before joining the State Department, she worked at the Department of Homeland Security.

Why is she important? Williams was on the July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, and said she found Trump’s reference to the investigations to be “unusual and inappropriate.”

She said “I guess for me, it shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.”

Williams also testified that she had never heard Pence mention investigations during weekly meetings with Zelenskiy.

During her testimony, Trump tweeted about Williams, calling her a “Never Trumper” who he “mostly never heard of,” prompting Democrats to accuse him of witness intimidation.

Read the hearing transcript here.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Nov. 15 (closed testimony) and Nov. 21 (open testimony): David Holmes, political counselor at U.S. Embassy in Ukraine

Who is he? Holmes has been a Foreign Service officer for years, serving in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, India and Colombia, as well as working on the National Security Council.

Why is he important? Holmes had detailed the phone conversation between Trump and Sondland about the investigations.

“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,'” and that Zelenskiy “will do ‘anything you ask him to,'” Holmes said. He explained his hearing of this to be due to Trump’s voice being so loud that Sondland held the phone away from his ear.

Holmes expressed that”I noted there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the President, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.”

Holmes also revealed that Energy Secretary Rick Perry “excluded” embassy personnel from listening to meetings with Ukrainian officials, going as far as to give Zelenskiy a list of “people he trusts.”

Read the transcript here.

Read his public opening statement here.


Photo courtesy of AP

Nov. 16 (Open testimony): Mark Sandy, deputy associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget

Who is he? Sandy, an OMB staffer, testified against White House orders. He has worked around 20 years in public service, including as a career civil servant in three presidential administrations across party lines, and served in the Navy Reserve for 21 years.

Currently, Sandy is responsible for approving appropriations “which basically set parameters on agencies’ use of appropriated funds,” according to Lawfare.

Why is he important? He confirmed that it was the President’s directive to withhold funding from Ukraine.

He first learned of a hold on military support funding for Ukraine on either July 18 or 19 (he testified that he couldn’t recall which of the two days it was). His supervisor Michael Duffey informed him of “the President’s direction to hold military support funding for Ukraine.” Sandy stated that Duffey told him that he had “communicated (Trump’s) direction” to the Department of Defense and that he wanted to “create an apportionment that would implement the hold.”

Sandy replied that such an apportionment “would raise a number of questions that we would need to address.”

Duffey forwarded Sandy an email from Robert Blair, senior adviser to acting white house chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in which Duffey asked Blair the reason behind the withholding.

Blair did not answer, but said that the hold should be put into effect and the issue could be discussed with the president later. Following this, there were multiple situations where the motives behind the withholding were questioned, but an answer was never given.

Sandy mentioned at least two OMB employees who resigned because of their concerns regarding the hold.

Read the transcript here.


 By December 2, all hearings were complete. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released their full report (read here), finding “overwhelming” evidence of wrongdoing from the President.

On December 10, two charges of impeachment were produced in the House—one for abuse of power, and another for obstruction of Congress. Then began the long debates in the House.

Trump’s defense by the Republicans centered mostly on three facts: Zelenskiy said he felt no pressure, the Ukrainians were generally unaware that the aid was held back and the fact that U.S. military aid was eventually given.

On December 18, Trump was impeached on both counts in a historic vote that makes him only the third U.S. president to be impeached.

The final report on the impeachment process can be read here.

The next step will be a Senate trial to vote on conviction and removal from office, which will occur possibly in early January.

Read more about the shocking moment of impeachment with Sidelines’ coverage of the event.

Still confused on how impeachment works? Stay tuned for a full breakdown of the impeachment process.

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

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