Pardon Me?

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S1: The following podcast contains explicit language and.

S2: It’s Thursday, January 21st, twenty twenty one from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike Pesca and it’s one of my favorite January 21st. Traditions still hung over by a new president. The nation rubs its eyes and says, wait, the last guy pardoned, too. So the answer in the case of the last guy, Donald Trump, is one hundred forty three people pardoned or had their sentences commuted.

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S3: A couple of Republican congressmen, few actually convicted of bribery or lying to investigators. And the former Democratic mayor of Detroit convicted of racketeering. And a whole lot more will get into some of them in the spiel. Trump pardon the guy named James Johnson, who in 2008 killed some ducks in an unsporting manner. I can’t figure out what it’s all about. I mean, I understand the crime. He had Sead put down the ducks, went to eat the seed boom, hires a couple of guys to blast them. Can’t do that. Like I said, unsporting, illegal. He was fined and served three years probation and now he’s getting a pardon. All right. Let’s look into that one. But the one I was looking into is pretty large name. Pardon? Well, large name, but also a little name, because Lil Wayne, Dwayne Carter, the rapper known as Lil Wayne, a month ago pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a gold plated pistol aboard a private jet in Miami. He did face several years in prison. So his lawyer, Bradford Cohen, appealed to Trump. And Cohen explained that President Trump, quote, got a style that similar in terms of the way that he carries himself. And a lot of rappers and people in the industry relate to that. The official citation of why Lil Wayne was pardoned listed esteemed members of the community who supported his pardon. Among them, Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens QB threw a bad pick six against the bills in the AFC divisional games last week. Seems like a silly disqualification, but what are his actual qualifications? I guess it’s better than another person who in the official pardon attested to Lil Wayne’s character, Bernie Kerik, who, when we last saw him, was standing behind Rudy Giuliani at Four Seasons Landscaping. Before that, we saw him in federal prison for four years. Before that, he was the New York City police commissioner. Don’t worry, Kerik was pardoned by Trump himself last year, also listed as a character witness attesting to Lil Wayne’s probity, Gucci Mane on behalf of Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane. Mr. Mane, haven’t you been arrested half a dozen times?

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S1: Actually, probably more. Got your drugs charges, your battery charges and your gun charges for Gucci Mane. But none of these guys are interesting. I mean, they’re insane, but are they interesting? What’s interesting is who isn’t listed as a Lil Wayne character witness. According to a quote in The New York Times, lawyer Bradford Cohen said, Our root about getting a pardon was less conventional. We had supporters like Gucci Mane and Lil Yadi and Vanilla Ice. Lil Yadi was listed along with the other guys I talked about on the official pardon. But Vanilla Ice was not Tarik felon. Yes. Gucci Mane felon. Yes. Vanilla Ice. No, it’s too embarrassing. Vanilla ICE’s endorsement does not help, not even good enough to appear in a citation for pardoning next to a fellow who served four years on eight felony charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials, and was also inches away from Rudy Giuliani, slowly melting at a press conference outside of Mulching Co.. Vanilla Ice, if you recall, did try to get arrested on conspiracy charges. He told Confederate’s to stop, collaborate and listen. And that was caught on tape because single actually still not good enough to get the presidential shout out. And this was all after ICE. Real name Robert Van Winkle played the Mar a Lago New Year’s party three weeks ago. Nary a shout out today. Will the indignities never stop? Yo, I don’t know. I just know that I was given the cold shoulder out the door by Donald Trump. Word to your mother on the show today, more crazy pardons. But first, while Vanilla and Lil didn’t turn against the president, you know who did? Jeff and Tim and Jamie. Who? Oh, the CEOs of America’s biggest companies. Maybe for a time they coddled the president or straddled the line and condemning him. But by the end, the businessman president had been rejected by big business. So what’s the consequence of Trump’s poor standing with the business community? And how much credit should this group of elite corporate heads actually be given? Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld talks to these CEOs and now talks to us about where they stand and what that might mean for corporations and political parties in the future.

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S4: The events of January 6th and thereafter were shocking to all Americans, almost all Americans, and among them were some of the most powerful American CEOs of top companies.

S3: And they got together at least a fairly representative group of the most powerful and almost to a person said the president should be impeached. In fact, a Yale survey showed that ninety six percent of the chief executives said, yes, he should be impeached. And they also in answer to a few questions. Eighty five percent of them said it was right for social network tech firms to block President Trump. Now, the man doing the surveys and talking to these executives and from what I could glean, maybe being something of a CEO whisperer is Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. He’s the senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management. Welcome to the gist, Professor Sonnenfeld.

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S5: Thank you, Mike. It’s an honor to join you.

S3: Absolutely. So I want to ask you your role in a couple of ways. One is your sounding board for the CEOs. And when you assemble them, virtually what was on the agenda? What did you want to get out of them other than just their opinion on the events of the day?

S5: Terrific question. Looks like a large classroom and business meeting combined in. But it’s not a trade show or God knows, not a tedious academic forum. It’s not a world economic forum. In fact, we started this before the World Economic Forum, Forbes Fortune, BusinessWeek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or anybody was into this space as the first school for CEOs. But the spontaneity of what you were talking about is something different. We did three of them. The first one was, as you recall, Election Day. Then on Thursday, November 5th, is when the president preempted the news shows. This is President Trump to announce false results that he had won and then presumptuously declared powers he didn’t have that. Many political scientists and historians classified that as a coup attempt, as a coup d’etat. So all the networks, with the exception oddly, of CNN and Fox, cut him midsentence as he was doing this. And spontaneously they didn’t coordinated between they didn’t know what’s going to happen. But that triggered quite a sort of a tidal wave of CEOs either e-mailing me, texting me, or a few calling it Muzo enough. So annoyed my family to say, can’t we talk? So I tried to loop them together technologically to try to lash them together across media was going to be hard. And I realized, why don’t we just set up a time? So we wound up calling a bunch of CEOs. We invited 50 and 40 came. Can you imagine not even 12 hours notice. This was seven p.m. Thursday night, the fifth by Friday morning, the 6th at seven a.m., including very prominent West Coast CEOs, media people and things.

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S3: And we’re talking we’re talking Fortune 500 Fortune. One hundred companies. How big?

S5: Fortune 50 and Fortune? One hundred. And they’re there not because anybody declared them the, you know, a fourth, fourth pillar of government, but because they’re pillars of American trust. So they’re not elected to anything but the Edelman Trust Barometer, which you’ve probably seen, which is tens of thousands of people surveyed for this or or every single day as morning consult reviews or by the political scientist Kyle Jope or or Mark Penn’s Harris Reports. Keep showing us that the business leaders are the number one most trusted source of authority and influence the country today, more than, sadly, academics, sorry, more than people in the media and journalists more than public officials, of course, even at the state level, but certainly at the national level and even more than the clergy, Reverend Andrew Young said at one of our recent summits that has gotten to this point in his life where he looks to positive impact coming from social change through leaders in the business community more than from public officials and even the clergy these days, as a lifelong civil rights and pioneer and clergy theologian, U.N. ambassador, congressman and mayor and things. So they rose to the occasion and one political scientist then opened up our meeting, a guy named Tim Snyder, and said, well, this was a coup d’état attempt last night. And a bunch of the CEOs recoiled thinking that was overblown. But he said, what happens here is that we drift towards tyranny, is democracies are set up to be flexible. Democracies don’t nail everything down for every possible situation that can happen by the written law. It’s by trust in the system is flexible and responds to it. And if some are, you get an unusual situation. You don’t declare that it’s an emergency and declare emergency powers to suspend the laws, he said. That’s when it becomes tyranny. That’s when you slip towards autocracy and things. CEOs heard that and they said, well, what do we do? They said, you have to respond immediately. You can’t look and see how others respond. You need a voice of authority, the political science. Justin Snider said that and the other historians, Rick Pildes, a constitutional law expert there, and others. So the CEO said, great, they put together what they needed to do right then. And there is to contact legislators, largely Republican legislators. This is, again, November 6th. And then to be ready with a statement as soon as the Pennsylvania results were to be certified. And the best trade association statements we’ll ever see in our lives were incredibly well written and crisp. No platitudes, no corporate speak. It was five simple statements that the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and especially the Business Roundtable this time came out with a very clear statement coming off of the exact phrasing we had the prior day, which is number one, that Biden and Harris were congratulated as the winners in a free and fair election. And frankly, these business leaders were very proud. They had a large role in making sure that these elections were especially secure because they had millions of employees out there on paid time off to work as volunteers. Second, that they said that these elections were, in fact, secure and fair and the largest in American history. And third, that the president had any president, Trump had any grievances. He should take them to the proper legal appeals channel and the courts and forth that if he did so, he should only go there if he has evidence of systematic fraud. And we see none of these businesses actually said and fifth and last, there should be a speedy transfer of power and transparent. Well, that was incredible, because as that statement came out, even before Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi could congratulate the winners on the next day, Saturday, the 7th. This statement came out as soon as the networks declared it, which is and then these trade associations, they all followed from that. And but then so did President Bush 43. So did the Saudis, the Israelis, all these heads of state wound up using basically the same storyboard, some of the same phrases, very influential. I wanted to ask about that.

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S4: The influence. It didn’t stop Trump. It didn’t stop his true believers, many of the lawyers who were losing case after case. So what was the actual effect? Or maybe we should look at it without these CEOs coming together, what might have been that’s so annoying.

S5: You have to bring up the reality, because here it was that we wouldn’t have had this wonderful morality play where these CEOs made the difference and it would have been a tremendous kind of Jimmy Stewart. It’s a Wonderful Life type thing or something. But instead of it being a simple Frank Capra film that it took sixty two court decisions later and the certification of all these Democrat and Republican election officials and governors and still that the results are being refuted. So I didn’t think we’d regroup. Two months later, I had to send out, almost apologetically a letter back to the CEOs, and this was again on about 10, 12 hours notice that to my amazement, there’s a gathering storm of anxiety that we need to meet again. So we reconvened and again, 40 of them showed up. We met again seven in the morning on the January 5th. And there was gross condemnation of the president’s intervention and the efforts in the Georgia election. With a phone call having been recorded of his effort to tamper with the elections, he was condemned by one hundred percent of them. We asked about impeachment, though, Mike, and this was the tricky thing. That week on the 5th, they said, no, don’t impeach him. It’s not worth it. I was amazed after the riot, the seditious assault on the Capitol, it was one hundred percent. They laid it at his feet, one hundred percent and said one hundred percent that he should be impeached. That was on the fifteenth, which is a week ago, which is a week after the assault on the Capitol. But the day before the assault, they said, no, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get them out of there. Let’s move on. I’ve been doing these for thirty two years all around the world, thousands of CEOs, we never get one hundred percent vote on anything. We never get unanimity, ever. We had to respect the data and make sure it’s accurate. Is they. One hundred percent said we should defund these seditious supporting congressional leaders and you can see what’s followed. These corporations have cut off funding, some of them with this little bit less courageous. Both sides ism saying we’re not going to give money to anybody. But an awful lot of them said we’re actually going to identify the seditious players and the fantastic firms that from Marriott and Wal-Mart and American Express and, you know, all of these pillars of American establishments that we are specifically not going to fund these people that are eroding the fabric of American society.

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S4: So it is true that corporate America in general, on a number of issues lately, such as gay rights, has been quite progressive compared to maybe America as a whole. And historically, in terms of immigration, corporate America has been more in favor of looser or more liberal. Immigration policies then much of America, but it does also seem to me that there are two intertwined phenomena going on here, and one is Donald Trump doing all these unconscionable things. Right. But the second is the fact that Donald Trump has no legitimate path to enact tax cuts or confirm judges. And my question is, would the rebuke over condition number one, Donald Trump’s unconscionable actions have happened without the reality of condition number two, they’re not going to get or no one’s going to get any business favorable policies from Donald Trump anymore.

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S5: I can tell you this, that in our CEO programs, they probably they don’t just lean Republican, probably around 70 percent Republican. And yet in 2016, overwhelmingly, either with enthusiasm or reluctance, they supported Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump. And similarly, in 20, 20, overwhelmingly, either through enthusiasm or with reluctant support of Joe Biden, again, 70 percent plus Republican, but they did not support Trump. I did bring Trump to one of our summits years ago and at the Waldorf in New York. And many of these current CEOs who were then CEOs said because they didn’t see him as part of their of their role in American life at all, they thought it’s a mid-sized family business.

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S4: Right. I mean, most of these are most or all of these are probably publicly traded companies with responsibility to someone outside, you know, not sharing the last name of the CEO.

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S5: Well, you just now that you’re exactly right, that’s the difference, is that that’s a family business, not accountable to anybody but himself. So they didn’t see him as a peer and he resented that he was always excluded from the club. Well, when he walked in, that top tier largely walked out. I reminded Trump of this in twenty seventeen when I was meeting with him in Trump Tower and just just before the inauguration. He was still back at the door and he said, well, they’re all coming by here now. I wonder why that is. Well, they did finally in January of twenty seventeen, give it a try. But then he, he did his, his one off says his divide and conquer, you know, that he used against Rubio versus Cruz and China versus Russia or Mexico versus Canada or whatever he always does is divide and conquer. She’s doing Boeing versus Lockheed and trying Pfizer versus Merck and General Motors versus Ford. They started to see through that and didn’t want to be used that way. He was attacking it, saying telling people not to buy Goodyear Tire because they don’t wear campaign paraphernalia at work. So they couldn’t wear Magga hats. And so, you know, it was just incredible. They realized he’s not a champion of there. So these business leaders have long been suspicious and skeptical and not supportive of the Trump agenda. In fact, after they left in Charlottesville, Mike, they never really went back as a big group, although he tried. This is the first time in American history the commander in chief had a call to action from the American business community and they didn’t respond. Even JFK, that had a a difficult relationship with business for understandable reasons. He called them a bunch of BS. He had a better relationship with big business. The Business Roundtable, in fact, was founded by very progressive minded CEOs that broke away from the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers about 50 years ago. Irving Shapiro of Dupont, Reginald Jones of GE and others, Tom Watson of IBM, because they wanted to reset relationship with society that they thought doing good is not antithetical to doing well and they could be patriotic, that nobody wants a divisive society. They don’t want angry workers. They don’t want finger pointing communities. And harmony in society was a good thing for business and a good thing for the country.

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S4: Were they too quiet when there was a chance to act, for instance, during the election? If you said, where do labor groups line up, I would say, you know, with the Democrats behind Biden, not just me, I think most people would say that. Where do immigrant groups line up? Where do and if you go down the list. But then if someone were to say, and where do the CEOs line up?

S5: I don’t think most people would say with Joe Biden, you can’t name more than three major CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, Fortune 500 companies who supported Donald Trump.

S4: But were they vocal enough about it? Was it because I think most voters went into it saying, well, Trump’s good on the economy. He’s a businessman. He has business on his side. If these people are the embodiment of business, were they doing enough to get the message across? Business is not on your side now.

S5: They are now they’re in favor of impeachment, but then were they they try not to be partisan as they are stewards of other people’s resources. So unless there’s something that really hits their company hard, they don’t want to be out there on a campaign trail for either candidate on either side.

S4: I understand that I’m a member of the media. I mean, that’s an ideal for us, too.

S5: But sometimes there’s a time to choose, right, when it comes to Democrat versus Republican or fifteen dollars an hour wage or this or that, they’ll they’ll debate the issue on an issue by issue basis. But when it comes to treason versus. They don’t see that as a partisan issue and they’re willing to engage.

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S6: So you say that the CEOs are 70 percent Republican. What about now? Do they still I mean, you probably haven’t polled them specifically on this, but do they still look at the Republican Party as their party? What if it’s a trump his party? Will they become Democrats?

S5: My guess is an awful lot of them will say they’re independent. Now, some pollsters, as you know, say that we’re around. Forty four percent independent, maybe twenty five percent identify as GOP these days. I don’t know how they’ll come out with the business leaders. I think an awful lot of them will say they’re independent.

S6: My last question is this. It’s about your role in all of this. I was listening to Scott Galloway on a podcast, and I know you know him and he pointed to you is not just the person, not just Sally Quinn, the doyenne of this group, who’s getting interesting people together, not George Gallup, who just wants to take their temperature, but nudging them along. And so I was wondering, to what extent did you do that and maybe to what extent are you like a one man collective action solution? Is it the case that many of these CEOs don’t want to be the first to jump, but that’s where their instincts are. And what they really just need is someone to bring them together, to make them realize that they’re appalled and that their heightened emotions are not unusual within this group.

S5: In pulling these CEOs together, many of them have their hearts in the right place, but there are severe reprisals for speaking out, either backlash from their customers or politicians. What happens in getting them together? They get affirmation from one another. They can take chances, they can walk out there and reinforce each other, so that’s very important and I do push them pretty hard. And if they speak, we’re going to surface what they said before. And I often will have clips of things that are inconsistent with what they just said that will throw up against them, I think, reinforce each other to take these positions. And it is through collective action that we really have a forceful impact that way. But single individuals make a difference, like Ken Frazier of Merck taking the position. He did say one of four black CEOs of a Fortune 500 firm. It was really courageous of him to speak out. Outrageous. Charlottesville, Mary Barra of General Motors, Doug McMillon of Wal-Mart. These are people that are quite powerful leaders. Bob Iger of Bob Chapala, successor of Disney, have taken really strong positions, Arnie Arnie Sorenson of Marriott. They have been courageous as individuals, but collectively they can do even more when they join forces together.

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S4: Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is senior associate dean for leadership studies at the Yale School of Management. Thanks so much, Jeffrey.

S5: Oh, it’s been a delight. You know, all this necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. And these people felt they had to speak out.

S3: Donald Trump issued a spate of pardons on his way out the door, a speech being the collective term for multiple pardons, murder of crows, parliament avowals, spate of pardons. At this rate, the speech won’t debate because more information is emerging about those pardoned. And while Steve Bannon and Lil Wayne are notorious gangsters each or at least live that lifestyle. And so talking about their misdeeds won’t need much explication. Perhaps I can offer some on some of the other figures who were pardoned or granted clemency by the outgoing president. There was the Denver son of a powerful Washington lobbyist who once ran the fantasy sports combine. He was jailed for insider trading. Drew, Bo Brounstein doesn’t need the nickname Beau. His name Drew is already a nickname. And as we said, he was the son of a lobbyist so powerful he was once nicknamed the hundred. And first Senator Trump having consigned David Perdue and Kelly Leffler to that role and perhaps he needed to make amends. Trump also was at liberty to give liberty to mean real estate developer Michael Liberty. Liberty made illegal campaign donations attempting to exceed federal limits. The Bangor News reports, quote, Over a two week period in May 2011, Liberty concealed the size of the contribution by splitting it into nine parts and making them in the names of employees, associates and family crime of the century. Let’s say it’s ones from Johnny Liberty, it’s ones from Libya Liberty. This one will be from, let’s say, Lucy, Liberty, Liberty, Maggie, Donna, Democracy, George. Justice for all. Sorry. For some reason, everyone from Maine sounds like a member of the dead end gang. Their donations actually were to Mitt Romney. So you’re saying why Trump helping someone who helped Mitt Romney? Don’t worry, Liberty. Liberty also donated to Donald Trump. And there’s this connection. He actually didn’t sound like I portrayed him a main magazine once called Liberty, quote, Donald Trump with a Maine accent.

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S1: So is more like you fired.

S4: You can’t get that from here except maybe with a loan from Deutsche Bank. Trump pardoned one of the fathers in the college bribery scandal. He pardoned an Israeli colonel who recruited Jonathan Pollard to spy for Israel. He pardoned the former Google engineer who stole trade secrets and went to work for Uber.

S3: In each of those cases, a Trump donor was the advocate for the pardoned individual, Tom Barrack for the USC Briber, the late Sheldon and Miriam Adelson for the Israeli spy tech billionaire Peter Thiel. In the case of the engineer convicted of industrial spying. In many cases, the pardoned overseer of clemency had a connection to the Trump family. Judge Jeanine Pirro successfully lobbied him to pardon her ex-husband.

S1: You know what? If the ex-wife, who is a judge, won’t judge the guy, who are we to judge other than citizens? Jared Kushner’s friend Ken Kurson, arrested for cyber stalking, got pardoned. Kurson, by the way, also ran the Rudy Giuliani 2008 presidential campaign. Fun fact. Kurson is the only contributor to this American life ever to get a presidential pardon because, of course, Sarah VAO was denied one by Obama.

S4: Then there was the Manhattan art dealer Hillal Namond, who ran an illegal gambling ring. He was pardoned. So what’s the connection? Is the connection to Trump, a shady high ranking Russian gangster had a role in the ring, but avoided arrest or that not. Gmod bought apartments, in fact, bought an entire floor in Trump Tower. Let me read to you some reporting from the time with his sixth purchase at seven twenty one Fifth Avenue Trump Tower. We believe Mr. Noch Mod may finally have the full set. That is the entire fifty first floor. The Trump Tower patron paid eight million for apartment one fifty one a B city records show. And while Mr. Nachman has taken his time with his purchases in the past, the most recent buy followed right on the heels of fifty one S., which sold for two point eight million in November. He spent the last decade buying up fifty one D, J, K and H, which though a few letters of the alphabet are absent, appears to be the entirety of lines available on the floor. The reporting that I just read was in the newspaper, The New York Observer, and you want to hear something weird. The editor of The New York Observer at the time of the article about Trump Partney Hillal knock made was Trump. Pardon me, Can Kurson.

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S1: It is a small and quite sordid world, a world Politico described this way headline. Trump’s Crony Pardons Flabbergasted The Political World. What tender a. Treatment of Naves are these to be flabbergasted by Trump and his cronies, flabbergasted by the pardoning of cronies? Why does one even have cronies but to engage in underhanded dealings with them? Trump engaged in underhanded dealings with charities and wounded veterans and his own mother. He’s not going to get up to some chicanery with his cronies. Come on, Politico, have you learned nothing? I’ll tell you what the real flabbergasting is. It’s that you were flabbergasted or as Trump flabbergasted you Politico more like Politico or Politico on those were terrible puns. But they were, of course, about a terrible man. And for them than him. I beg your pardon.

S7: And that’s it for today’s show. Jane Arraf produces the gist. She’s been known to rock the mic like a vandal, light up stage and wax a chump like a candle. Though candles don’t really wax their enemy, they’re more made of wax. It’s akin to their life force, the loss of which harkens their demise. Margaret Kelly, just producer. Sometimes something grabbed a hold of her tightly flow like a harpoon daily and nightly. But two harpoons really flow. Are they thrust or spear, a whale or other nautical drag flow? Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. While she is no stranger to the exhortation to dance rush the speaker that booms, she worries that the warning I’m killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom may be overstating the fatality risk posed by most fungi, at least psychologically speaking. The gist. I noticed that Donald Trump pardon the guy named Lou Hobbs. What are the chances Trump saw the name and said, sure, Lou Dobbs love the guy who he murdered? Doesn’t matter. He’s free. And so as Maria Balada foma room for a deeper adepero. And thanks for listening.