Areeba Shah

Steve Bannon and MAGA allies promoted fake 'stolen election' claims ahead of Brazil riots

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who played a central role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, praised supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, who stormed the National Congress and other government buildings in Brasilia on Sunday to protest his election loss.

Similar to his claims casting doubt on the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Bannon began spreading baseless rumors and promoting unproven claims about election fraud leading up to the run-off between the far-right Bolsonaro and former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In different episodes of his "War Room" podcast, Trump's former adviser and his guests repeated false allegations of a "stolen election" and made claims about shadowy forces.

He even promoted the hashtag "#BrazilianSpring" to encourage Bolsonaro supporters to oppose the results. The hashtag trended on Brazilian Twitter several times, The Washington Post reported.

Demonstrators were also photographed holding signs "#BrazilianSpring" and "#BrazilWasStolen" in English, underscoring the close ties between right-wing movements in the U.S. and Brazil, according to the Post.

When rioters broke through a blockade set up by security forces and invaded government buildings on Sunday, Bannon described them as "Brazilian Freedom Fighters" on the conservative social media app Gettr.

"The Criminal Atheistic Marxist Lula stole the Election and the Brazilians know this... now see Lula crackdown like all Communist dictators," Bannon wrote.

One of the leaders of the "Stop the Steal" movement Ali Alexander also echoed similar sentiments, writing, "Do whatever is necessary!" and claimed to have contacts inside the country.

Bannon, who helped former President Donald Trump organize his Jan. 6 mob, told the Post he also advised Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president's son, about the power of pro-Bolsonaro protests and potential challenges to the Brazilian election results.

Eduardo Bolsonaro also met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago after the Oct. 30 vote and discussed online censorship and free speech with former Trump campaign spokesman and Gettr CEO Jason Miller, the Post reported.

Election deniers in Brazil have cast suspicion on electronic vote tabulation machines.

Jair Bolsonaro, who has refused to concede his loss and called for his supporters to continue protesting outside of military bases, has made claims about the system not being "100 percent ironclad," according to the New York Times.

"There's always the possibility of something abnormal happening in a fully computerized system," Bolsonaro said after voting.

In November, Eduardo Bolsonaro posted a video of Bannon speaking on his podcast, suggesting that Brazilians should be angry about the use of electronic voting machines in their elections. The clip resurfaced on social media in the wake of the attack in Brasilia.

"Once they start taking and digitizing the elections, once they start going to machines where you can't get paper ballots—you don't have proof of ID, they're taken away from the precincts, they start to centralize it in collection centers—that's all done for one reason," Bannon said. "That's to consistently steal elections because they know they don't have the backing of the people."

A banner displayed by the rioters on Sunday declared "We want the source code" - which reflected the rumors that electronic voting machines were programmed or hacked to steal Bolsonaro's victory, The BBC reported.

Several prominent Brazilian Twitter accounts that pushed out election denial conspiracy theories were also reinstated on Twitter after the election and following the ownership of Elon Musk, according to BBC analysis.

'Groomers,' Paul Pelosi and so much more: The most unhinged GOP conspiracy theories of 2022

Conspiracy theories have been a fixture of American politics for generations, but in the age of Donald Trump and the internet, they have become more dangerous and unhinged than ever. In the past year — quite likely a golden age of conspiracy theory — Republicans have endorsed all kinds of dubious, far-fetched or provably false theories, most based either in denying the validity of election results or embracing the all-encompassing online cult movement QAnon, which is now pretty much the conservative mainstream.

This is not to say that liberals or progressives are incapable of embracing ludicrous theories. Both sides do it! But let's be honest: Republicans have a particular gift for this stuff, which has reached new heights of late with baseless claims that the "deep state" used ballot drop boxes to rig the 2020 election or that electronic voting machines were somehow programmed — by the Chinese government? the Italian military? an incomprehensible cabal linked to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez? — to defeat Republicans.

These theories have either been debunked entirely or fall into the unfalsifiable category of speculative fiction. But to honor conservatives' unique achievements in this field, Salon created a roundup of the most unhinged Republican conspiracy theories of 2022:

Voting as late as possible on Election Day will "stop the steal"

In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, a close ally of Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano sought to convince voters to cast their ballots "as late in the day as possible" on Election Day in order to "overwhelm the system" and "stop the steal of 2022".

Conspiracy theorist and QAnon supporter Toni Shuppe claimed this strategy would prevent hackers from altering voting-machine totals and avoid voter fraud.

This brilliant plan wasn't just confined to Pennsylvania. The local Republican Party and allied groups in El Paso County, Colorado, proposed similar plans, with the GOP county clerk saying that people were discussing voting as late in the day as possible to "overwhelm the system" and "expose the algorithm."

Apparently, the idea here is that lots of Republican votes late in Election Day would derail Democrats' plans to commit fraud, since they wouldn't be sure how many ballots they would need to win elections.

An aide to Michael Peroutka, the Republican candidate for Maryland state attorney general, made the same suggestion, encouraging voters at a rally to arrive at the polls in the last two hours before they close. "Vote on Nov. 8 as late in the day as possible," Peroutka's campaign coordinator said. "If everyone could stand in long, long lines at 6 o'clock, that would actually help us."

The messaging was further amplified and widely circulated on right-wing social networks like Gab and Truth Social. "VOTE IN PERSON on NOVEMBER 8th! VOTE AS LATE IN THE DAY AS YOU CAN! This helps make it harder for the DEMOCRATS to cheat and create fake ballots," a user with almost 6 million followers wrote on Oct. 22.

Republicans also recycled their claims from 2020 that mail-in voting was somehow manipulated to create widespread fraud. ballots. It's worth noting that Mastriano and Peroutka, like most other Republicans who spread election falsehoods, lost their races, leading at least some Republicans to conclude that this entire strategy may have been flawed.

The "great replacement" makes it to the mainstream

The "great replacement" theory, which claims that liberal elites are deliberately driving high levels of immigration in order to "replace" white Americans — or even to kill them off — was once confined to the far-right white nationalist fringe. But at this point it has been almost completely normalized within the Republican Party. Fox News' Tucker Carlson had mentioned replacement theories more than 400 times on the air before the deadly mass shooting that killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket last May. It later became clear that the shooter, a young white man, believed in this hateful fiction and had driven for several hours to stage a violent assault in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Different versions of the theory have been used by white supremacists to justify racial hatred and violence for decades, but only recently have major media commentators like Carlson and elected Republicans adopted it at scale.

In an interview with Fox News host Larry Kudlow, for instance, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., criticized the Biden administration's stance on immigration. "This administration wants complete open borders," Johnson said. "And you have to ask yourself why? Is it really they want to remake the demographics of America to [ensure] that they stay in power forever?"

Another apparent believer, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., falsely claimed that Democrats want to grant amnesty and a path to citizenship to "8 million illegal aliens."

"Yes, there is definitely a replacement theory that's going on right now," Boebert added. "We are killing American jobs and bringing in illegal aliens from all over the world to replace them if Americans will not comply with the tyrannical orders that are coming down from the White House."

During a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the root causes of migration from Central American countries, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. — who was also an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump's 2021 coup attempt — said that many Americans fear that "national-born American[s]" are being replaced in an effort "to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation."

Several U.S. Senate candidates in 2022 also endorsed the conspiracy theory to varying degrees, in an apparent effort to align themselves with the most zealous Republican voters. Republican J.D. Vance, who won the Ohio Senate race, released a campaign ad entitled "Are you a racist," in which he claimed the media had censored Republicans and called them racists for "wanting to build Trump's wall."

"Joe Biden's open border is killing Ohioans with more illegal drugs and more Democrat voters pouring into this country," Vance added. (In fact, newly arrived immigrants cannot vote, and there is currently no pathway to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers.)

Another Senate candidate Eric Greitens of Missouri, claimed that Biden was "wiping out the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and he's doing it on purpose."

Despite Republicans' disappointing results in the midterms, there are no indications the party intends to back away from this rhetoric.

Adults who support equal rights and access to care for LGBTQ youth are "groomers"

This ugly combination of homophobic slur, sex panic and psychological projection might have been the biggest hit of the GOP's conspiracy-theory year. Fox News host Laura Ingraham claimed on her show, for example that public schools that accept or embrace gay, lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary and trans youth have become "grooming centers" where "sexual brainwashing" takes place.

Many Republicans have espoused similar claims, suggesting that support for LGBTQ youth amounts to "grooming" them for sexual activity, and some have explicitly made charges of pedophilia.

When Florida Republicans were pushing legislation to ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms, Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary, Christina Pushaw, defended Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill by accusing opponents of preying on children.

"The bill that liberals inaccurately call 'Don't Say Gay' would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill," Pushaw wrote on Twitter. "If you're against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don't denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn't make the rules."

On the day DeSantis signed the bill into law, the Walt Disney Company, one of Florida's largest employers, released a statement saying the bill "should never have been signed into law" and that Disney's "goal as a company" was to see for the law "repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts."

Disney then became the target of "grooming" accusations, with far-right Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers tweeting that "Disney should now be known as the grooming company." Rogers continued to attack those who support LGBTQ youth as "groomers" while campaigning for Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who mounted a far-right Republican primary campaign for governor (and lost).

In an interview that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted on Twitter, she referred to Democrats as "the party of pedophiles" and blamed them for all the "horrible things" happening in the country.

"The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney," she added. "The Democrats are the party of elementary school teachers, trying to transition their elementary-school aged children and convince them they're a different gender. This is the party of their identity, and their identity is the most disgusting, evil, horrible things happening in our country."

Several Republican candidates have also promoted closely related anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories that feed on anxiety around trans youth in particular. Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo falsely suggested that sexual abuse stems from the LGBTQ community and said in a podcast episodes that the "political LQBT movement" will "indoctrine [sic] society with sexual perversion" and that as a result, "pedophilia is going to be normalized." (She lost.)

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon repeatedly claimed that "grooming" was taking place in schools and attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno actually called his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Dana Nessel, "Michigan's Groomer General," amplifying false beliefs associated with QAnon. (Dixon and DePerno lost too.)

The attack on Paul Pelosi was fake

After the brutal home-invasion attack in which Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was seriously injured, right-wing outlets began circulating groundless claims — many rooted in salacious homophobic rumors — casting doubt on what had happened.

Some Republican officials went on to suggest that the man who broke into the Pelosis' San Francisco home and attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer was in fact Pelosi's secret lover, even though the man's social media revealed that he was obsessed with right-wing conspiracy theories. The assailant was later charged with attempted murder and attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official.

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., circulated a photograph on Twitter that showed a group of young white men holding oversized hammers beside a gay Pride flag, with the comment "LOL," according to the New York Times.

These conspiracy theories spiraled out of control after a local TV news reporter tweeted that the attacker was clad only in his underwear at the time of his arrest. The reporter later deleted the tweet after police said it was untrue.

Republicans seemed especially unwilling to acknowledge that the attacker was inspired by right-wing ideology. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called the man "a hippie nudist from Berkeley," and Marjorie Taylor Greene continued to insist that the media was spreading misinformation and the intruder was a friend of Paul Pelosi.

"The same mainstream media democrat activists that sold conspiracy theories for years about President Trump and Russia are now blaming @elonmusk for 'internet misinformation' about Paul Pelosi's friend attacking him with a hammer," Greene said on Twitter.

Donald Trump Jr. mocked the attack on his social media, sharing a "Halloween costume" intended to represent the hammer-wielding intruder.

Alongside a photo of a distressed-looking Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., falsely asserted that the attack was a prostitute. "That moment you realize the nudist hippie male prostitute LSD guy was the reason your husband didn't make it to your fundraiser," said his later-deleted tweet.

Whether or not Republican candidates and officeholders personally believe in all these conspiracy theories, they have clearly adopted or adapted them in an effort to draw in supporters from the most extreme fringes of American politics, many of whom share an ideology that supports or condones political violence. Once upon a time, that would have been seen as off limits: In the 1960s, Republicans tried to force overt white supremacists and anti-Communist conspiracy theorists out of the party. In 2022, the boundary between "mainstream" Republican politics and dangerous rhetoric on fringe internet message boards has almost completely evaporated.

'An endorsement of violence': Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jan. 6 'joke' could land her before a 'grand jury'

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who previously defended Jan. 6 Capitol rioters, said Saturday that they would have "won" the attack on Congress had she been the ringleader.

Greene spoke Saturday at a dinner hosted by the New York Young Republican Club and claimed that she and former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon would have done a better job leading the mob that stormed the Capitol, according to CBS News.

"And I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won," she said. "Not to mention, it would've been armed."

While Greene's past comments about overturning the results of the election received criticism, her latest threats of an armed uprising against the government have alarmed many.

CNN's John Avlon noted that the Georgia Republican's comments should send up red flags for investigators looking into the attack on the Capitol.

"What this congresswoman is saying is they were insufficiently armed, she was playing to the crowd but what she is saying is without accountability, failed insurrections are just practice," Avlon said.

"They would have succeeded and would have come armed -- that's a statement with real weight if you're a member of Congress. That's an endorsement of violence," he added.

CNN analyst Errol Louis suggested that Greene may have opened herself up to be subpoenaed.

"It would have been illegal to bring weapons into the district, as she no doubt knows," Louis said. "It's the kind of thing where, in the name of being cute in front of the donors or whatever group she's addressing, she could talk herself into a grand jury."

"This is not stuff to take lightly," he added. "This is a country on the edge in a lot of ways and if she really means this, she should repeat it under oath. I'd love to hear it."

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski also condemned the right-wing congresswoman's remarks.

"She brought up a number of topics, some of them very disgusting and pornographic, and then the topic of Jan. 6, and past accusations that she gave Capitol tours to Donald Trump's supporters in the days leading up to the insurrection," Brzezinski said.

Scarborough added that Greene would be working closely with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

"She is now one of Kevin McCarthy's most important allies in becoming speaker, and this is a woman who had said, you know, if she had been in charge of the Jan. 6 riots, they would have won, and they would have been armed," Scarborough said. "That's Kevin McCarthy's Republican Party."

White House spokesman Andrew Bates condemned Greene's comments.

"[It] goes against our fundamental values as a country for a Member of Congress to wish that the carnage of January 6th had been even worse, and to boast that she would have succeeded in an armed insurrection against the United States government," Bates told CBS. "This violent rhetoric is a slap in the face to the Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police, the National Guard, and the families who lost loved ones as a result of the attack on the Capitol. All leaders have a responsibility to condemn these dangerous, abhorrent remarks and stand up for our Constitution and the rule of law."

In the past, Greene has sympathized with the Jan. 6 rioters saying: "I am one of those people. That's exactly who I am."

Her involvement in the insurrection has received backlash. Voters filed a lawsuit arguing she should have been "constitutionally disqualified from congressional office" because of her role in the Jan. 6 riot. But a judge ruled she qualified for reelection and Greene defeated her opponent in Georgia's 14th Congressional District in November.

Greene's Twitter has also been reinstated by Elon Musk after being banned for more than 10 months for "repeated violations" of the platform's COVID misinformation policies.

Dark money groups pump nearly $90 million into "independent state legislature" case

A report released this week by the nonpartisan watchdog group Accountable.US revealed a network of dark money groups that have donated nearly $90 million to organizations actively supporting the plaintiffs in Moore v. Harper — a bombshell case now before the Supreme Court that could alter the way federal elections are conducted across the country.

The landmark case hinges on the "independent state legislature" theory brought by North Carolina legislators, who want to eliminate the system of checks and balances governing federal elections and appropriate full power themselves. This could mean, for example, that state legislatures are free to appoint a slate of presidential electors as they see fit, regardless of which candidate a state's voters favored.

The theory asserts that under the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures have full authority to set the rules when it comes to making state laws that apply to federal elections, and that state constitutions and state courts have no power or authority over them. If the Supreme Court affirms the theory in deciding the Moore case, state legislatures will effectively be freed to gerrymander electoral maps and pass restrictive voting laws with little to no supervision by state courts or other entities.

Some legal experts have even suggested that the independent state legislature theory could create a pathway for election subversion. Legislators could throw out election results they don't agree with, as mentioned above, and appoint their own presidential electors.

But others are concerned about where the money is coming from in backing the theory.

"It's obviously a fringe, extremist legal theory that's being funded by these wealthy conservative donors, and these are people who know their extreme agenda isn't popular," said Kayla Hancock, director of power and influence at Accountable.US. "So they're spending millions of dollars to stack the Supreme Court and chip away at our democratic rights and freedoms by influencing these institutions."

The independent state legislature theory has previously been rejected by a majority of Supreme Court justices and is widely viewed as well outside the mainstream of legal thought, even for high-profile judicial conservatives, as Mother Jones has reported.

But over the last two years, that changed with the founding of a nonprofit called the Honest Elections Project, which has promoted the theory extensively. The group is closely linked to Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo, seen as immensely influential in building the current Supreme Court's conservative supermajority.

Leo has a history of operating a network of interlocking nonprofits that support right-wing advocacy and lobbying. He helped conservative nonprofits raise $250 million from mostly undisclosed donors to promote conservative judges and causes. He advised Donald Trump during the nominations of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, according to Accountable.US.

"It's interesting to see that this man, who has all this power in influencing the court and the structure of the court, is also funding groups that are filing amicus briefs to try and influence that same court," Hancock said."A lot of these groups that Leo is funding are also engaging in advocacy work to place restrictions on ballot access and gerrymandering. So I think it's broader than just this legal theory. It's an all-out assault on our elections."

The Honest Elections Project stoked fears about voter fraud prior to the 2020 election and even wrote letters to election officials in Colorado, Florida and Michigan that relied on misleading data to accuse jurisdictions of having bloated voter rolls and threaten legal action, the Guardian reported. The group also spent $250,000 on ads against mail-in voting, calling it a "brazen attempt to manipulate the election system for partisan advantage." In fact, there have been almost no verified cases of fraud in voting by mail anywhere in the country, and many Republicans have blamed their party's relatively poor showing in the 2022 midterms on a reluctance to encourage mail-in voting

Since its founding, HEP has advocated against laws designed to expand voting access. It also sued the state of Michigan, forcing the state to clean up its list of registered voters, and blocked a settlement in Minnesota that eased absentee voting rules.

In 2020, the group submitted a legal brief in support of Pennsylvania's Republican Party, which asked the Supreme Court to overturn a state court decision that allowed mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrived up to three days later. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ordered the three-day deadline extension to "prevent the disenfranchisement of voters" due to postal delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Referencing the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause and Electors Cause, the Honest Elections Project argued that state legislatures are "vested with plenary authority that cannot be divested by state constitution to determine the times, places, and manner of presidential and congressional elections."

Along with the Honest Elections Project, four other right-wing groups have filed amicus briefs in Moore v. Harper Amicus Briefs supporting the independent state legislature theory, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (known as the conservative "bill mill"), the Public Interest Legal Foundation, America's Future Inc. and the Claremont Institute, where election conspiracy theorist John Eastman wrote the now-infamous memos urging Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electoral votes from certain states.

DonorsTrust, which has been described as the "dark money ATM" of the conservative movement, has funded a majority of the donations, giving almost $70.5 million to these groups, according to the Accountable.US report.

The group funnels anonymous donations to hundreds of organizations, including several right-wing legal and policy groups favored by the Koch network as well as other mega-donors, according to Sludge.

"These groups that operate behind the scenes, they know that their agendas are unpopular and so they're using broad networks of right-wing organizations to try to influence the courts," Hancock said. "In this specific instance, these people are going in front of the courts in order to advance their fringe agenda from the shadows, because they know they're not going to be able to enact these unpopular policies otherwise."

Three Supreme Court justices have signaled apparent support for the independent state legislature theory, but North Carolina legislators would need at least two more votes to prevail. Voting rights advocates have warned that the theory could fundamentally reshape the mechanisms of American politics and bring immense chaos to the electoral process. The court is expected to issue a ruling next summer.

Legal experts: Trump attorneys may throw him under the bus after DOJ moves to hold them in contempt

The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to hold former President Donald Trump's legal team in contempt of court for failing to comply with a subpoena issued this summer ordering him to return all classified documents in his possession, sources told The Washington Post.

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell has not yet held a hearing or ruled on the DOJ's request, which came months after Trump's lawyers assured the department that a search had been conducted for classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence, before the FBI later executed a court-authorized search that led to the discovery of more than 100 documents marked as classified. Trump's team recently reportedly found two additional items marked classified at a Florida storage locker after Howell ordered them to keep looking.

Trump's legal team has refused to designate a custodian of records to sign a document attesting that all classified materials have been returned to the federal government. This has remained a key area of disagreement in the matter after Trump attorney Christina Bobb signed a declaration affirming that all documents had been returned over the summer — before the DOJ discovered additional documents.

The former president's team has taken the position that such a request is unreasonable.

"President Trump and his counsel continue to cooperate and be transparent, despite the unprecedented, illegal, and unwarranted attacks by the weaponized Department of Justice," Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to the Post.

Trump is under investigation for three potential crimes, including mishandling classified documents, obstruction and destruction of government records.

"What the DOJ is trying to do is simply get an answer... from some person to say yes, you have all of [the classified documents]... and I can't begin to imagine how long this has taken to finally percolate to the stage where DOJ is asking for this," former FBI official Peter Strzok told MSNBC.

After the raid, Howell ordered Trump's legal team to conduct a search for more records, which reportedly uncovered two more classified documents around Thanksgiving in a storage unit in West Palm Beach, Fla, according to the Post.

Searches at other Trump properties, including his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey and at Trump Tower in Manhattan, did not yield any records, according to the report.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman predicted that attorneys like Bobb and fellow Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran "will point the fingers at others and ultimately Trump in seeking to excuse their noncompliance."

"Part of the dynamic with the Trump Team contempt motion is that the lawyers are afraid to sign certifications of compliance, given that their client can't be trusted," Litman wrote on Twitter. "There's a poetic justice to the fact that Team Trump can't even comply with a subpoena, a simple act which defendants, and anyone else, do every day, because of fault lines leading in all directions to Trump's dishonesty," he added.

"If you represented Trump, you wouldn't want to certify under oath that he returned all the classified materials either," quipped former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman agreed that Trump's attorneys had good reason to be nervous given that their earlier declaration was proven to be false.

"This just reached a whole new level of seriousness," he tweeted, noting that the DOJ motion "adds significantly to the likelihood of indictments."

Elon Musk’s overhyped 'Twitter Files' show Biden campaign asked company to comply with its own policies

The "Twitter Files" released by Elon Musk failed to reveal any groundbreaking information about "free speech suppression" taking place on the social media platform as Musk had teased.

Instead, Substack writer Matt Taibbi published a Twitter thread detailing the platform's decision to limit access to a New York Post article about the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop – some of which violated Twitter's revenge porn policy.

Taibbi's thread showed internal communications from Twitter officials indicating they had received requests from Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign to review tweets posted to the platform.

Taibbi shared a screenshot of five deleted tweets, four of which had archives available online that depicted nude photos and videos of the president's son. The contents of Hunter Biden's laptop had been leaked after he allegedly left his device at a Delaware repair shop.

The posts show ongoing debates inside Twitter over whether the decision to block the Post story was the right call.

In one message, Trenton Kennedy, a member of Twitter's communications team asked questions about why the story was being restricted.

"I'm struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe, and I think the best explainability argument for this externally would be that we're waiting to understand if this story is the result of hacked materials," Kennedy wrote, according to a screenshot shared by Taibbi. "We'll face hard questions on this if we don't have some kind of solid reasoning for marking the link unsafe."

Initially, Twitter blocked links to the Post's reporting, even preventing users from sharing them in private messages, citing its policy on hacked and stolen materials. The company went as far as locking the newspaper's account for sharing the story and even suspended then-White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, The Washington Post reported.

But days later, the policy was reversed. Then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he regretted the platform's decision to censor the story at a November 2020 congressional hearing, adding that they changed their policy on hacked materials after considering feedback, The Washington Post reported.

"We made a quick interpretation, using no other evidence, that the materials in the article were obtained through hacking, and according to our policy, we blocked them from being spread," he said. "Upon further consideration, we admitted this action was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours."

The platform's restrictions on the New York Post story received criticism from conservatives saying Twitter was censoring the news and favoring Democratic politicians.

Musk also described the company's actions as violating the First Amendment even though the tweets contained no political content, but instead included pictures and videos of Hunter Biden that had been circulated without his consent.

In response to one of the screenshots, which included a Twitter employee saying they "handled" a review of tweets flagged from the Biden team, Musk posted "If this isn't a violation of the Constitution's First Amendment, what is?"

In the same thread, he added: "Twitter acting by itself to suppress free speech is not a 1st amendment violation, but acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is".

But at the time that Twitter restricted the New York Post story from being shared on the platform, Donald Trump was still president.

The social media platform's non-consensual nudity policy itself specifically prohibits sharing "images or videos that are taken in an intimate setting and not intended for public distribution."

Hunter Biden's leaked computer files as well as Twitter's handling of it have been the subject of ongoing controversy for the past two years. Musk, who hinted at smoking-gun evidence regarding Twitter's content moderation policy, offered nothing new.

'Another criminal voting operation': Donald Trump demands Kari Lake be 'installed' as Arizona governor

Former President Donald Trump called for Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to be installed as governor after falsely claiming that the elections in Arizona were a "criminal voting operation."

Lake, who repeatedly refused to say she would accept the results of the governor's race in Arizona if she lost, still hasn't conceded to Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs. Still, several of her allies, including Trump, are claiming that the election was fraudulent despite no evidence of voter fraud.

"Massive numbers of 'BROKEN' voting machines in Republican Districts on Election Day. Mechanics sent in to 'FIX' them made them worse. Kari had to be taken to a Democrat area, which was working perfectly, to vote. Her opponent ran the Election. This is yet another criminal voting operation - SO OBVIOUS. Kari Lake should be installed Governor of Arizona. This is almost as bad as the 2020 Presidential Election, which the Unselect Committee refuses to touch because they know it was Fraudulent!" Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Journalist Jeremy Duda noted that virtually everything Trump claimed is "inaccurate".

"Lake didn't have to switch voting centers because there were no printer issues at PV Town Hall. Her opponent didn't run the election. Technicians didn't make the printer problems worse. No 'voting machines' were broken," Duda tweeted.

Attorney Ron Filipkowski pointed out the time stamp on the post.

"2:30 AM post: 'Kari Lake should be installed Governor of Arizona,'" Filipkowski wrote.

On Election Day, Republican Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said that 60 polling sites experienced printing problems with the ink not printing dark enough to be readable by tabulators. But the issue was resolved before polls closed and all valid votes were counted, he said.

Maricopa County officials added that the malfunctioning ballot-counting machines did not indicate any instances of "fraud" and did not deny anyone the opportunity to vote.

But Lake and her allies have claimed that Arizona's "broken election system" disenfranchised Republican voters and stole her victory.

Her team filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County elections officials last week, claiming that they broke election laws. She called the 2022 election "the shoddiest election ever, in history" on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast, CBS News reported.

"We want some information," Lake said. "We're on a timeline, a very strict timeline when it comes to fighting this botched election, and they're dragging their feet."

Lake also added that 118 polling centers appeared to have a "printer/tabulation problem," even though officials previously said there were 60 polling centers with printer issues.

Her allies have continued to back her and have promoted false theories of voter fraud.

State Senator-elect Jake Hoffman told Reuters he will lead an investigation into the state's election when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist and election conspiracy theorist, has urged Arizona officials not to certify the election and said that Hobbs "will never be considered legitimate" due to voting machine mishaps.

Bannon, who advised Trump to try to overturn the presidential election results, is also providing counsel to Lake.

The Trump-backed former news anchor denied the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Since Election Day, she has been alleging problems in Maricopa County – Arizona's largest county.

In a video Lake released last week, she said she has "assembled the best and brightest legal team" to explore "every avenue to correct the many wrongs that have been done".

Lake's Republican colleague, Abe Hamadeh, who ran for attorney general and lost by 510 votes to his Democratic opponent, Kris Mayes, also filed a lawsuit against his challenger as well as state and local officials, seeking to overturn his defeat.

Democrats made history with state-level gains. That could be crucial for democracy

Republicans have dominated state-level politics for over a decade, holding a large majority of both governorships and legislative chambers. But with the 2022 midterms, Democrats have begun to turn the tables — flipping legislative chambers in several states where partisan battles over democracy and abortion rights have dominated Democratic messaging.

In at least three legislative chambers, Democrats have apparently made history, taking control of both chambers in the Michigan legislature and the Minnesota state Senate. Democrats in Pennsylvania also claim they have won a majority in the statehouse, although votes continue to be counted and that result is not yet official.

In Michigan, Democrats haven't controlled the state Senate since 1984, but now hold a trifecta in Lansing with control of both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer easily won a second term, largely vowing to fight "like hell" for abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion. Her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, who was backed by former President Trump, supported a near-total ban on abortion and remained a prominent election denier.

Michigan also passed a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion in the state constitution. Legislative Democrats have already started discussing their plans to codify that constitutional amendments and repeal a 1931 law that criminalizes abortion.

In Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (as state Democrats have been known since 1944) now control both the state House and Senate, along with the offices of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor, InForum reported. That combination hasn't happened since 2014.

DFL members have begun floating ideas about codifying abortion rights, passing paid family leave and approving marijuana for recreational use, according to CBS.

In one of the nation's most closely-watched gubernatorial races, Katie Hobbs became the first Democrat elected as Arizona governor since 2006, narrowly defeating former TV newscaster Kari Lake, a longtime Trump ally who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged and repeatedly refused to say she would accept the results of her race if she lost.

On the campaign trail, Hobbs promised to protect abortion rights in the Grand Canyon State, where a state judge ruled that a total abortion ban must be enforced after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Hobbs can also veto any dramatic election changes suggested by Trump allies in the Republican-dominated legislature, including getting rid of early voting and mail-in ballots.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats are inching closer to taking control of the state House for the first time in 12 years. Should they prevail, Democratic lawmakers hope to advance an agenda that will include laws enshrining abortion rights, increasing the minimum wage and allowing early counting of mail ballots, WHYY reported.

The pro-Democratic super PAC Forward Majority invested more than $20 million in state legislative races this year, with the majority of its funds going to support candidates in 25 districts across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

"We got started in 2017 when we saw how much chronic underinvestment there had been in state legislative races and the consequences," said Vicky Hausman, a co-founder of Forward Majority. Those consequences were seen in multiple areas, she continued: "Both in terms of democracy with unprecedented gerrymandering on the Republican side and voter suppression, but also how these unrepresentative majorities were increasingly affecting every issue women care about."

With the Supreme Court set to rule in December on Moore v. Harper, a case that could grant state legislatures nearly unchecked authority over federal elections, Forward Majority wanted to focus on states "where there were the greatest threats to democracy," Hausman said.

Prior to the midterm elections, Republicans held full legislative control in every major battleground state, she added. If the "independent state legislature" theory is affirmed by the Supreme Court, it could become possible for legislators to throw out election results they don't like and appoint their own presidential electors.

"We saw that there was an opportunity to win majorities in the legislatures in Michigan. Pennsylvania and Arizona," Hausman said. "That would essentially bring the number of Electoral College votes where Republicans control the full legislature down under the 270 threshold" required to elect a president. "We had an opportunity to win these legislatures and build a bulwark against the worst threats of the independent state legislature theory."

Many legal experts believe that four of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court have issued opinions indicating that they are likely endorse the independent state legislature theory. The potential consequences could be chaotic: State legislatures would presumably then have the ability to bypass the popular vote in their states and send their own slates of electors to Congress, provoking an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis.

"The insurrection at the Capitol was version 1.0 of Trump trying to steal the election," Hausman said. "What he ran up against was his inability to have legislators actually change their votes. That's the weak spot, that's where a second potential coup and insurrection might succeed. Legislators have been core to Trump's plans to overturn the next election."

Democrats have underinvested in state legislative races for decades, Hausman added, often neglecting them entirely. When it comes to protecting and reforming democracy, she said, these races sometimes matter more than the headline-grabbing contests at the top of the ballot.

"I hope this election can be a demonstration of what's possible in terms of the wins themselves, but also what follows in the months and years ahead in terms of what we can do with power," Hausman said. "I hope that this is a galvanizing and helpful moment that leads to increased and sustained investment in these battlegrounds that matter so much, both for democracy and for all these issues we care about."

'When is it enough?' Experts alarmed after Donald Trump lawyer emails inadvertently leak

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers believed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was their best bet to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to newly released emails.

Eight emails obtained by POLITICO revealed correspondence among Trump lawyers discussing legal strategies to convince Republican members of Congress to block the official certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6. The emails, which Trump legal adviser John Eastman tried to shield from Congress, were obtained after Eastman's lawyers accidentally uploaded the emails to be shared with the House Jan. 6 committee in a public Dropbox link.

In one email from Trump attorney Ken Chesebro to Eastman and others, Chesebro wrote that Thomas would "end up being key" to their plot to overturn President Joe Biden's win.

"We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt," Chesebro wrote days before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Supreme Court justices are responsible for handling emergency matters in individual states, and Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters in Georgia – putting him in position to receive any urgent appeal of Trump's lawsuit to the Supreme Court.

Eastman responded to the email agreeing with the plan. Their emails further discussed filing a lawsuit that they hoped would result in an order that "TENTATIVELY" held that Biden's electoral votes from Georgia were not valid due to election fraud, CNN reported.

Eastman, who once clerked for Thomas, attempted to withhold the emails from the Jan. 6 select committee, but a judge ordered the emails be turned over, citing evidence of likely crimes committed by Trump and Eastman.

At least one email included correspondence between Eastman and Clarence Thomas' wife Ginni Thomas inviting Eastman to speak on Dec. 8, 2020, to a group of conservative activists to provide an update about election litigation, according to the Washington Post.

Ginni Thomas also lobbied state legislators in Arizona and Wisconsin via email, urging them to help overturn Biden's victory.

Following the release of the emails, legal experts raised concerns about Thomas' role on the Supreme Court and criticized him for not recusing himself from matters related to his wife's efforts to overturn the election.

"They had a damn insider on SCOTUS who they thought would help them overthrow our democracy. He's married to a deranged MAGA cult member. He won't even recuse himself," wrote former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli.

"When is it enough?" wondered Rachel Sklar, an attorney and journalist. "His wife is an insurrectionist. He refuses to recuse. He's the Trump election-denial go-to? Come on."

The report comes as legal observers and government watchdog groups call for an investigation into Thomas' refusal to recuse himself from election-related cases.

"Hey look! It wasn't just critics of the Supreme Court who thought Clarence Thomas was corrupted - Trump's lawyers said so too in secret emails just revealed," tweeted journalist Helen Kennedy.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote that Chesebro, who saw Thomas as Trump's "only chance" to stop the 2020 election, should be held accountable for his actions as well.

"Such abhorrent abuse of an attorney's license to practice law should be strictly disciplined and perhaps criminally prosecuted," Tribe tweeted.

Reporter Jacqueline Alemany, who covered the emails for The Washington Post, told MSNBC that the discussions also raise questions about why Eastman and Chesebro were so confident that Thomas "would be so sympathetic" to their cause and his wife's communications with Eastman and others about overturning the election.

"It's a very small world here," Alemany said. "There was no indication in the correspondence that either of the Thomases were [copied] on the e-mails, but you can clearly see why John Eastman was fighting hard to prevent the release of these e-mails."

'Too soon?' Don Jr. mocks brutal hammer attack with 'Paul Pelosi Halloween costume' meme

Donald Trump Jr. mocked the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul on social media by sharing a "Halloween costume" intended to represent the hammer-wielding intruder.

Trump Jr. shared an image Sunday night showing a hammer lying on top of a pair of Hanes underwear with the comment: "Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready."

"The internet remains undefeated … Also if you switch out the hammer for a red feather boa you could be Hunter Biden in an instant," Trump Jr. wrote.

He also posted a screenshot of the image on his Instagram, racking 88,000 likes. The underwear in his post appears to reflect a debunked rumor that the intruder was in his underwear at the time of the attack.

Paul Pelosi was "violently assaulted" with a hammer in his California home on October 28, according to San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. He suffered a fractured skull and injuries to his right arm and hands and underwent surgery on Friday.

The intruder planned to keep him tied up until the speaker returned home, law enforcement sources told CBS News.

The suspect, who was identified as David Wayne DePape, had a list of people he wanted to target, according to law enforcement sources that spoke with CBS News.

DePape's social media revealed memes and conspiracy theories he posted about Holocaust denial, COVID vaccines, pedophiles in the government and claims that Democratic officials run child sex rings.

The speaker posted a statement on Twitter saying that her family is "heartbroken and traumatized" by the "life threatening attack" on her husband.

But right-wing personalities on Twitter mocked the attack on Paul Pelosi — with some even spreading falsehoods and amplifying misinformation.

Larry Elder, a conservative radio host, reacted to the assault by ridiculing Pelosi for his prior charge of driving under the influence.

"First, he's busted for DUI, and then gets attacked in his home. Hammered twice in six months," he wrote, adding, "Too soon?"

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the media a "source of misinformation" and continued to promote the falsehood that the intruder was Paul Pelosi's friend.

"The same mainstream media democrat activists that sold conspiracy theories for years about President Trump and Russia are now blaming @elonmusk for 'internet misinformation' about Paul Pelosi's friend attacking him with a hammer," Greene tweeted.

Others went as far as suggesting the attack was fake. Dinesh D'Souza, whose widely-debunked recent film "2000 Mules" pushed Trumpist election conspiracy theories, continued to spread misinformation on Twitter.

"The Left is going crazy because not only are we not BUYING the wacky, implausible Paul Pelosi story but we are even LAUGHING over how ridiculous it is. What this means is that we are no longer intimidated by their fake pieties. Their control over us has finally been broken," D'Souza wrote.

Arizona Republican lawmaker Wendy Rogers retweeted a post mocking the attack as "fake" and displaying a bloody hammer.

The skepticism regarding the incident seems to have grown after Evan Sernoffsky, a reporter at the Fox-affiliated local news outlet KTVU, tweeted that the attacker was in his underwear at the time of his arrest. Sernoffsky deleted the tweet and said that sources told him this was untrue.

Some people have even floated the baseless conspiracy theory that Paul Pelosi and DePape were lovers.

The Telegram channel for Bannon's "War Room" show shared a story from "The Republic Brief" that repeated some of "the same uncorroborated details about the encounter, including that the suspect was found in his underwear," the Washington Post reported.

D'souza also amplified the theory on his Twitter.

"Were Paul Pelosi and his attacker BOTH in their underwear? BOTH holding hammers? And the attacker didn't strike until AFTER police were on the scene? As a movie-maker, I gotta say this script must be rejected. Nothing about the public account so far makes any sense," he wrote.

Some conservatives have tried to spin the apparently politically motivated attack by tying it to crime in San Francisco. "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver on Sunday called out right-wing claims linking the attack to bail reform after Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, complained on Fox News about letting "dangerous criminals" roam free and commit violence. McCaul suggested that the intruder who attacked Paul Pelosi was out on bail.

"Now, he's wrong about a few things there. Again, the suspect was not out on bail. Also, no one gets bailed out of prison—that's where convicted people go," Oliver said.

People have continued to spread falsehoods about the hammer attack, including new Twitter owner Elon Musk, who amplified a baseless conspiracy theory from a site suggesting that Paul Pelosi was drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute. "There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye," Musk wrote before deleting the tweet hours later.

'The weakness is off the charts': Ex-prosecutors sound alarm on team Garland assigned to Trump case

Attorney General Merrick Garland drew criticism from former federal prosecutors on Thursday over his handling of the Justice Department's investigation into classified records seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

A top Justice Department official told Trump's lawyers weeks ago that the department believes the former president may still be withholding documents he took from the White House despite the FBI raid of his Florida residence.

DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt reached out to Trump's attorneys, informing them that the department believes he "has not returned all the documents" and investigators "remain skeptical" if Trump has been fully cooperative with the effort to recover documents he was supposed to hand over to the National Archives, according to The New York Times.

After the August search of Mar-A-Lago, which recovered more than 300 classified documents with some containing sensitive information, federal investigators also found dozens of empty folders marked as containing classified information. The disclosure raised more doubts that Trump returned everything he had in his possession.

Some legal experts called out Garland for slow-walking the probe.

Former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli argued that Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco's "weakness" and "ineptitude" is off the charts.

"They are very reluctant to indict a former POTUS which literally jeopardize[s] our security & is violative of the rule of law," Signorelli wrote on Twitter.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, shared similar concerns.

"The problem with the DOJ staffing on the MAL case (at least what is visible) is the lead attorney is trained to think of DOJ's role as negotiating compliance with the law after the person is discovered to be in violation vs indicting the person to promote compliance with the law," Weissmann tweeted.

Weissman, who led the prosecution of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, added that the same group did not conduct a criminal investigation into Manafort's Foreign Agents Registration Act violations for eight months, but negotiated with his counsel for eight months to have Manafort file FARA disclosure forms after years of violating that law.

"So that's why I'm super concerned about the staffing here. Worried it's too much of a regulator's mindset. Not what is needed," Weissmann wrote.

The DOJ is also the target of intense scrutiny as federal prosecutors are likely to wait until after the midterm elections to announce any potential charges against Trump, sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

The news alarmed Democratic leaders, who worry that Trump might be running for president again by the time Garland decides whether to prosecute him and others who played a part in the January 6 insurrection.

Two dozen leading Democrats told CNN that Garland may have "missed his moment" to bring criminal charges against top Trump administration officials before getting caught up in the 2024 presidential campaign, which would begin after the midterm elections.

Garland has pushed back on criticism that the DOJ has received for not being aggressive enough in its investigation of Trump and his allies who broke the law. He vowed to charge "everybody who was criminally responsible for interfering with the peaceful transfer of power" during an interview with NBC News.

"It is inevitable in this kind of investigation that there'll be speculation about what we are doing, who we are investigating, what our theories are," Garland said. "The reason there is this speculation and uncertainty is that it's a fundamental tenet of what we do as prosecutors and investigators is to do it outside of the public eye."

A judge also warned recently that Trump is building a legal shield that could block him from being held accountable for inciting the insurrection with the DOJ's help, according to the Daily Beast.

The DOJ sided with him last year when Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll brought a defamation case against Trump. The DOJ continues to treat Trump as a federal employee, allowing him to lean into the executive power he once had as president. Trump can use the same strategy to defend himself against the civil lawsuits that try to hold him accountable for sending rioters to attack the Capitol.

Mar-a-Lago documents inadvertently published online undercut Trump’s privilege claims

The Justice Department's detailed lists of seized materials from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence were inadvertently published online on Tuesday.

A judge ordered that the logs stay under seal, but they appeared to be inadvertently posted to the public court docket, according to Bloomberg, which first reported on the documents. The filing, which is no longer publicly visible, included a combination of government, business and personal documents. Some of these records included analysis of who should get a pardon, retainer agreements for lawyers and accountants as well as legal bills.

A "Privilege Review Team" followed specific "search procedures and filter protocols while executing the warrant" to search Mar-a-Lago and divided potentially privileged material into two categories, according to the filing. The filter team found 520 pages that needed a closer look but later determined few of those documents fell under any legal privileges.

The first set of 137 documents included government records, public documents and communications with outside parties. A 39-page document, in which a "majority of pages are titled 'The President's Calls' and include the Presidential Seal" contain handwritten names, numbers and notes that appear to be messages and notes.

The other list included documents that the team identified should be returned to Trump, including a "medical letter" from a doctor, legal complaints and information about legal fees to lawyers.

The former president has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of the search of his Florida home, describing it as an "unwarranted, unjust, and illegal Raid and Break-In." On Tuesday, Trump's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the fight over records and ensure that the more than 100 documents marked as classified are part of the special master's review.

"The Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review the Special Master Order, which authorized the review of all materials seized from President Trump's residence, including documents bearing classification markings," the application said.

This would allow Trump to pursue claims that the documents with restrictive classifications like "Top Secret" should not be reviewed by Justice Department investigators since they are subject to executive privilege. Trump has also dubiously claimed that he declassified them before leaving office.

The Justice Department's Aug. 30 report identified how the privilege review team divided documents covered by attorney-client privilege into a different batch that would remain separate from Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents managing the criminal probe.

More than 300 pages were flagged to be returned to the former president, including IRS forms and other tax-related documents, a letter from Trump campaign legal advisor, an insurance benefits letter, a confidential settlement agreement between PGA and Trump Golf, a civil complaint and a nondisclosure agreement and contract agreement regarding Trump's Save America political action committee.

Federal Judge Raymond Dearie will be conducting the review of the 520 pages of documents since the Justice Department was unable to convince a judge in Florida that their filter process didn't need an outside special master to review the documents.

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