June 21st, 2012
09:03 PM ET

Fast and Furious investigation started with agent's death

[Updated on September 19, 2012] Wednesday's Justice Department inspector general report criticizing 14 ATF and Justice Department employees relates to a months-long investigation into a controversial gun sting that allowed hundreds of weapons to reach violent Mexican drug cartels.

The controversial Operation Fast and Furious, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began in 2009, came to the public's attention after guns linked to the program were found at the site where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.

Brian A. Terry was fatally shot in the Arizona desert, just north of the Mexico border, on December 14, 2010, after he confronted a group of bandits believed to be preying on illegal immigrants. Nearly three months later, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, announced that two weapons found near the scene were traced to an ATF gun-running operation, later identified as Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious was intended to build cases against Mexican drug cartels and the smuggling networks supplying them by allowing illegally purchased firearms to go from the United States into Mexico. In the operation, "straw buyers" - people who buy the weapons for others who might not legally be allowed to buy them - were allowed to purchase in Arizona illegally large numbers of weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of cartels in Mexico.

The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced to the straw purchasers, the smuggling network could be brought down. But the ATF lost track of more than 1,000 firearms, and some guns weren't recovered until they turned up at crime scenes, both in Mexico and, as the Terry case illustrated, the United States.

Once the operation was in the public spotlight, Mexican officials and critics in the United States called the operation a failure, saying it exacerbated the longstanding problem of U.S. weapons getting into the hands of Mexican cartels.

Criticism was heaped on the ATF and its parent agency, the Department of Justice. Congressional committees began investigating last year, and Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over who knew what about the operation, and when.

The House Oversight Committee has sought documents that would show why the Justice Department decided to withdraw as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about Fast and Furious.

The Justice Department has turned over thousands of documents during the investigation. However, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to turn over materials containing internal deliberations. In June, the Republican-led House voted to hold the attorney general in contempt.

Here is a timeline of some of the events in the Fast and Furious investigation:

December 14, 2010: Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry is killed in the Arizona desert. Two guns found at the site are later linked to the ATF Fast and Furious program.

January 2011: Congress begins asking questions about the ATF program.

February 4, 2011: Responding to an inquiry from Sen. Charles Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich writes that top officials had only recently learned about the ATF gun-running program, but that nothing improper was done in the operation. Weich also asserts that any allegation that the ATF knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them into Mexico is false. "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico," Weich wrote.

March 3, 2011: An ATF whistleblower tells  "CBS Evening News" that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to go into Mexico. Just minutes before the broadcast, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson issues a statement saying the agency is forming a panel to "review the bureau's current firearms trafficking strategies employed by field division managers and special agents."

March 4, 2011: CNN reports that Grassley wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder complaining that the ATF was "stonewalling" his investigation into the matter. CNN also reports that, according to Grassley, ATF agents told his staff "the agency allowed the sale of assault rifles to known and suspected straw purchasers for an illegal trafficking ring near the southwest border."

May 2011: Holder tells the House Judiciary Committee that he "probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."

June 15, 2011: Rep. Darrell Issa alleges Weich's claim that the ATF never knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw purchasers, who then transported them into Mexico, is deceiving. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and other congressmen allege that although it is technically true that straw purchasers didn't cross any weapons into Mexico, they did transfer them to third parties who did.

Also, ATF whistle-blowers testify before Issa's committee. Peter Forcelli, a supervisor at the ATF Phoenix field office, says Fast and Furious was "a colossal failure of leadership." An agent, Lee Casa, tells the committee that ATF supervisors brushed off several agents' concerns over letting guns go. Another agent, John Dodson, tells lawmakers: "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest."

August 30, 2011: Melson, the ATF's acting director, is reassigned to a position in the Justice Department. Also, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, resigns. Burke's office had given legal guidance to the ATF relating to Fast and Furious.

September 7, 2011: Holder says in a news conference that Fast and Furious "was clearly a flawed enforcement effort," and adds that investigations will find involvement did not reach "the upper levels" of the Justice Department.

October 12, 2011: Congressional investigators issue a subpoena for communications from several top Justice Department officials, including Holder, relating to Fast and Furious. Meanwhile, Republicans say that previously released documents show that Holder knew about Fast and Furious much earlier than he indicated to the House Judiciary Committee in May. Holder and his aides deny the allegation.

November 1, 2011: Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, tells a Senate judiciary subcommittee that he first learned of the tactic of allowing illegally purchased guns to leave shops in April 2010. That tactic, he said, was executed during a 2006-2007 ATF program, called Operation Wide Receiver, which happened during the George W. Bush administration.

Breuer says he should have warned Holder and other Justice officials about the 2006-2007 tactics, but failed to do so. He said he also failed to recognize that the same tactics used in 2006-2007 were being used again in Fast and Furious.

November 8, 2011: Holder tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the tactic allowing illegal guns to be smuggled into Mexico "should never have happened, and it must never happen again."

December 2, 2011: The Justice Department withdraws its February 4 letter to Grassley, saying the letter contains inaccuracies.

Also, ahead of a December 8 House Judiciary Committee hearing at which Holder is to testify, 1,400 pages demanded by investigators are released. The documents show, among other things, that Justice officials struggled for days over how to write the February letter to Grassley.

December 7, 2011: Grassley calls on Breuer to resign, saying he misled Congress by saying he didn't know in February that the assertions in the February 4 letter were wrong. Grassley says documents show that Breuer should have been aware that the letter contained false assertions, due to his knowledge of the 2006-2007 Operation Wide Receiver.

December 8, 2011: Holder tells the House Judiciary Committee that he won't resign over the Fast and Furious controversy, and that he doesn't think any of his top aides should step down. He says the operation relied on "unacceptable tactics" and was "inexcusable," but he says that Justice Department officials have cooperated with investigators, and that any previous misleading information was not part of an intentional deception.

January 31, 2012: Democrats on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee issue a report saying the panel has found no evidence showing that top Justice officials "conceived or directed" Fast and Furious. The report from the Democrats, who are a minority on the Republican-led panel, places blame for the program on federal agents and prosecutors in Arizona.

February 1, 2012: Terry's parents, Josephine and Kent Terry Sr., file a $25 million wrongful death claim in an Arizona court against the federal government.

February 2, 2012: Holder tells the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that firings of Justice officials who oversaw Fast and Furious are likely to come in the next six months.

Meanwhile, Issa threatens to begin a contempt proceeding against Holder unless he releases more documents.

May 18, 2012: Issa and other House GOP lawmakers send Holder demanding that he release the full amount of materials that Issa's committee asked for previously.  Although the letter acknowledges that there's been some cooperation on the investigation, it emphasizes that House Republicans still want answers in two key areas - who in top positions knew about the operation before the murder of a federal border agent exposed its existence, and did anyone on Holder's team misinform Congress when they responded in part to the Oversight committee's subpoena.

June 19, 2012: A showdown meeting between Holder and Issa fails to resolve their dispute over documents. Issa says that unless at least some of the documents are handed over before the committee meets June 20, it would vote on a measure that would send a contempt vote to the full House.

June 20, 2012: President Barack Obama asserts executive privilege over some of the documents sought by Issa's panel. The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold some of the documents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee votes 23-17 (with all of the panel's Republicans voting yes, and all of the panel's Democrats voting no) to recommend that the full House vote on whether to cite Holder for contempt of Congress. The vote by the full House could happen on the week of June 25.

June 28, 2012: The House votes to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, but he does not face criminal prosecution. House Republicans are joined by 17 Democrats in citing Holder, while dozens of Democrats walk out in protest.

The House also cites Holder for civil contempt to give it the option of filing a lawsuit compelling Holder to turn over documents sought by Oversight Committee investigators.  Issa concedes that investigators lack any evidence that Holder knew of the failed weapons-tracking tactics of Fast and Furious.

July 9, 2012: Federal authorities unseal an indictment charging five men in Terry's death.

The indictment charges Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged solely with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.

Up to $1 million is offered for information leading to the arrest of four men still at large.

September 19, 2012: The U.S. Justice Department's inspector general issues a report finding 14 ATF and DoJ employees responsible for management failures in the Fast and Furious operation. The report refers the 14 for possible disciplinary action, but did not recommend criminal sanctions.

The report also finds that Holder was not informed of the operation until 2011, after Terry's December 2010 death.

Also, Holder announces that Melson, the acting ATF director, has retired, and that former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein has resigned.

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soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. Pablo

    This dwarfs watergate, and yet, no coverage... Nobody died when Liddy broke into democrat HQ in watergate, yet Nixon burned. Here, at least one border patrol agent lies dead, and countless Mexicans in the 50,000 plus casulaty Mexican drug war as Obama flooded machine guns into Mexico, and who is responsible? "Uhh, I didn't know what my subordinates were doing..." says Eric "Black Pantheres" Holder, the political stooge. Shameless. Where is the accountability in the most transparent governmnet ever. All Obama campaign lies.

    June 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      yep...just plastered across every news channel every special ops america is engaging...duuuuh...i think not!

      June 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Dwarfs watergate? Wow, you're pretty devoted to anti-Obama hyperbole. I guess we all need hobbies.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck in Jasper, Ga.

      It is highly unlikely nor is it possible for the President of the United States to be briefed in detail about every aspect of an ongoing investigation. Rightfully so, Law Enforcement Agencies at any level, tend to keep the "details" known to as few people as possible to lessen the chance of "leaks" and compromising an investigation. Does anyone seriously think that the President has the time to be briefed in detail by every agency about every aspect of what they are doing? No President does that. That is what they have a staff for and advisers. That is why every President Appoints staff in various positions. Hard to depend on staff when they have not even been through the process of appointment due to the refusal by Republican to even discuss the appointments on the floor, much less put them to a vote. You have to be a total idiot to think that Obama knew the details of this operation until it went south. If Obama is guilty of anything, it is believing in his subordinates capabilities. He may be guilty of having too much faith in people that have been in the "War on Drugs" for decades, thinking they knew what they were doing. But that is all he is "guilty" of. Regardless the rhetoric spewed forth like so much vomit from a drunks mouth.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      How can you call it Obama's watergate, when Nixon was actually FOUND TO HAVE COVERED UP WATERGATE, do you realize there is no proof that Obama covered anything up yet? I realize it's happened in your head, but that doesn't mean it's true. Keep in mind at one point Obama refused to issue his longform birth certificate, and the cries were, "if he has nothing to hide, why not release it?" And he did, and everyone claiming he was not an American were proved wrong. Yet here we are again, Obama isn't releasing something, that means he's 'covering it up.'

      June 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      Also, it's probably not best to note something isn't being covered in the media, in the comment section of an article of a media organization that is covering that very same thing you're claiming isn't covered. Who exactly are you reaching? People who blindly click on articles before reading anything, and jump to get Pablo's take?

      June 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dano

      Utter nonsense..

      The reason the Cartels have weapons is because the Far Right and NRA lobbys to make sure that the flow of weapons into society continues unimpeded by any common sense..

      June 22, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. Janice

    Pablo, you need to stop watching Fox News as your only source of news. As usual, they don't tell the whole story. The Bush admin. started the ATF operation in selling guns to Mexico not the Obama admin.. The Obama admin. stopped the program. Who is shameless? They need to vote for the JOBS act, Student Loans bill, Transportation bill so we can get our economy moving for the American people.

    By the way, Nixon abused his power and resigned due to his paranoia.

    June 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vicky W.

      amen to that Janice

      June 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Janice, did you not read the article? Quit blaming BUSH. This started in 2009. Bush developed a program with the Mexican government and was much different than Fast and Furious. Get your facts straight, liberals.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • CHAR

      Let me guess u watch MSNBC the edit network? or CNN lets say someone said something racist and then change our mind later network?

      June 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      Janice it says right there in the article above the operation was started in 2009. I'm pretty sure obomba came into office in 2008. On a diff note obomba has had three n a half years to get the economy going with no results. Obomba himself said "if this economy is not better in three years then vote me out.". Well good bye moron you had your chance and totally blew it. BTW, is obomba running against Romney or Bush? I'm confused. Shoot at this rate he may as well run against Nixon!

      June 21, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Janice and all Obama apologists:

      It is amazing how misinformed liberals are. The Bush era operation tracked the weapons sold AND was done in coordination and cooperation with the Mexican government. It was terminated once a small number of weapons were lost and the risk of the weapons ending in the wrong hands was deemed too high. The weapons under Bush were tracked and recovered while the weapons under Fast and Furious were simply allowed to walk with no tracking.

      The worst thing of this scandal is that the mainstream media is just now starting to report on it mainly out of necessity and the cover up by the administration shows a level of irresponsibility and lack of accountability that is simply astounding. Not a single high level official has been fired or punished for the DEATH of a federal officer.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Janice,you're right operation Gunrunner,Bush and AG Gonzales thought that one up,giving tracible guns to the cartel,then busting them,saying the guns were stolen.But as usual its Bush again,can ya say botched,its routine with Bush.Valerie Plame Wilson ,known wife of ambassador Joseph Wilson was put in the spotlight,almost costing the CIA agent her life because of her husbands story in the NY TIMES on Iraqs illegal uranium processing,something that Bush and the CIA refused to reveal,but to themselves,Wilson made that public in the newspaper.And Mrs.Wilsons cover being blown in retaliation for just that story,nice ha,nobody ever brought that up ,did they,where was Issa on that one,probibly playing possum I bet!!!Now Holder being held accountable for Bushs debacles again,this one not being known until the border patrol officer Terry was killed.It's nice to see congressional witch hunts so bipartisan,if it were republicans they'd have walked out like in Bushs attorneys deal,9 being fired and AG Gonzales resigning over that deal too.Too much dirt this late,sorry I'm just sadistic liking republicans squirm in their seats,when its their parties screwups I gladly show them,take care ,happy reading!!

      June 21, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMTX

      Janice, you're the one not telling the whole story. The Bush administration did have similar operations through ATF, however no weapons were lost, no agents were killed and the administration didn't orchestrate a massive cover up. Holder is culpable and Obama is vulnerable, so neither wants the unfortunate details to be revealed. As a devout liberal, you should want the truth to come out even if it is damaging to Obama's administration. Right?

      June 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • 20NavyYears

      Janice, maybe you should start watching Fox. Or at least read the articles you are commenting on or in. Even CNN states this began in 2009. For clarification that is after the current administration took office. If you want to link this to previous operations, you should first read up on them (try independent and multiple sourcing) so you understand what they do, and do not, have in common.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      WRONG. If you read the above article and other news sources you will find that the operation Bush tried was not the ATF operation. AND Bush's operation was with the co-operation of the Mexican Government. After a few weapons were not able to be tracked the Bush administration cancelled the program.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Janice,why don't we let republicans show us they're patriotic and tell Pres.Obama to hand over Bush,Cheney ,Rumsfield and the crew for human rights violations to the Hague in the Netherlands for trial.Only 147 other countries have indictments ,there's not many countries left,say 49,check it if ya think I'm wrong and Pres.Obamas been protecting him ever since be left office.Or Cheneys closed door political gathering with gas industry CEOs,after which natural gas exploration began,but Cheney made fracking exempt to EPA for all their chemicals and testing ,he did that for his Halliburton and other gas companies because he knew if activist got wind on these chemicals these fracking sites nationwide would be shutdown,check out the movie "GAS LAND",it'll definitly wake ya up!!OK republicans have fun with this,no hard feelings!!!

      June 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crazy Pug

      Janice, you need to stop getting your news from MSLSD and the mainstream idiots. At least Fox and the alternative media have been following this scandal since it broke. The MSM, with the exception of CBS and a smaller degree CNN, have ignored it and know have to do timelines and "Fast and Furious for Dummies" crib sheets for their readers and news consumers. Agent Terry only died 18 months ago; perhaps your preferred news sources didn't have enough time to learn all the facts.

      Try as hard as you want, but it is impossible to pin this on the previous administration. Blame Bush for Iraq, Valerie Plame and whatever else and I might agree with you on more than one issue. But this solely belongs to Obama's DOJ, and now, since his use of EP, Obama himself.

      A little primer for you, Janice: Under the Bush era Wide Reciever, about 400 guns were put into play. Many were equipped with GPS tracking devices and surveillance was maintained on the weapons from purchase to entry into Mexico. Most importantly, the Mexican authorities and the ATF Attache in Mexico were advised and participated in the investigation. WR ended in 2007.

      Under F&F, which began in 2009, about 2,500 firearms, including .50 calibur rifles, were purchased in Tucscon. The ATF let them simply disappear and never notified their Mexican counterparts. Not only is that strategy ridiculously stupid, it is highly illegal. F&F ended in early 2011 after Terry was killed.

      Those are the facts, and the facts are non-partisan.

      Someone came up with this idea, which differs from WR in so many ways any comparison is ridiculous. It is Congress' obligation to find out and hold them accountable, something Holder has steadfastly refused to do.

      Trust me this is a major scandal, and it not going away. Any other rationale is simply denial.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rascal Rabble

    oh pleeze...seems like a smear campaign ...us customs, atf, dea, fbi are high risk jobs and they die on the job all the time...catching the bad guys...it's what they do...

    June 21, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crazy Pug

      Out of curiousity, what do you do for a living, tough guy. Trust me, they are tough jobs. There is no reason to make them tougher by giving the "bad guys", as you say, automatic rifles.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Eric

    Liberals, Bush was still President in 2009 wasn't he?!

    June 21, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rgnl

      Until Jan 20. Not a liberal, but hate f'n "gotcha guys". I think on Jan 21, Obama might've been figuring out how to arrange his desk and learning the names of his secretaries while diving into stuff like economic collapse resolution and worldwide terrorism a few moments before micromanaging AFT gun walking.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CHAR

    ush stopped the gun walking program and The Obama admin reinstated it

    June 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CHAR

    Wide Reciever is not Fast and furious. Dispite what Libs want u to believe. CBS has emails of the DOJ working with ATF to try to get tough gun laws by putting guns in the hands of drug cartels and they lost track of them. if CNN didn't wait to cover this story they wouldn't be playing catch up right now

    June 21, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Derek

    Rascal Rabble, how often do members of law enforcement get killed by the same weapons that their bosses gave the people guilty of the killing?

    June 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rgnl

    Congress (maybe just D. Issa) is showing sensitivity to "cultural differences"....in the US, "guns don't kill people, people kill people". In Mexico, "Cartels don't kill people, guns kill people"

    June 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hope

    For everything, there is a reason.

    All His ways are Just and True,
    Hope

    June 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Patrick

    Fine CNN, you can prevent my post because I offend your liberal sensitivities but as they say the truth hurts.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Wrong!

      The Truth sets you FREE...

      Congrats, Matt, you nailed him!

      June 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hope

    Let's hear it for ' Heroes '

    June 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HIDE BEHIND

    Like how CNN sticks a few apologetic comments in here and there; no one outside the Obama admin knows just what the programs agenda is but tjis smacks even deeper into Executive criminality than any "Guns for Hostages and Iran Contra affair" Of Regans terms that should of had him more than impeached but to many macho military and too many congressmen and American Corporates had their fingers in it.
    Regan began the Limited Intensity Conflict and in his own words; Wr must use all means possible including media and didingotmation to convince thr public by media disinformation and advertizing thst our omly intentions in Latin America is to stop drugs.
    The military never passing up a chance snd with Bush I's CIA. comnections, the War on Drugs was on. And Nancy. judt like she told Ronnie" Just Say No, and the money began to flow and the frug trades grew
    tens of thousands of Latinos died, but they don't get counted.
    It may interest dome but in
    chile and nations border img they are beginning to scream about numbers of innocents killed by drones.
    Oh well. it is all unimportant. just ss long as our kids can borrow money grom taxpayers to go to school and keep the Military/Industrial/ Scientific Community employed.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Wasn't that the trend... fighting immigration?

      The GOP were going to do it anyway, ie Arizona??? They can hardly stand their own people, much less Hispanics while we weep for people halfway across the world. And, now they want to complain? Which side are you on anyway?

      June 21, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Go Romney go! - Hoorah!"

    They should construct the firing mechanism from inferior grade materials that corrode and rot after 6 months of having them. Also incorporate GPS micro burst transmitters that tell the authorities where it is the guns are headed. There. Problem solved.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JimRiceyy

    Since Democrats say that this operation was started under the Bush administratiopn, why are they afraid to show who knew what was going on and when did they knew it. If it really is a Bush problem, then show the facts. If it's an Obama problem, then show the facts. They want to blame everything on Bush, but when it comes time to investigate to see what REALLY went on, they don't want to look into the matter. I wonder why!

    June 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kay

      The program Bush tried was not the ATF operation. AND Bush's operation was with the co-operation of the Mexican Government. After a few weapons were not able to be tracked the Bush administration cancelled the program.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 20NavyYears

    Janice.....crickets.............more crickets..............

    June 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
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