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House Intel Committee Questions Witnesses Bill Taylor and George Kent During Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:00]

KENT: -- U.S. Policy that would have undermined the rule of law and our long standing policy goals in Ukraine, as in other countries in the post Soviet space.

HECK: Those policies which were indeed championed by Ambassador Yovanovitch who also testified on October 15th in the deposition about fundamental reforms necessary for Ukraine to fight corruption and to transform the country. And you cited the importance of reforming certain institutions -- notably the security service in the prosecutor general's office.

Was investigating President Trump's political opponents a part of those necessary reforms -- was it on that list of yours sir, indeed was it on any list?

KENT: No, they weren't.

HECK: In fact, historically, is it not true that a major problem in the Ukraine has been its misuse of prosecutors -- precisely to conduct investigation on [ph] political opponents. That's a legacy I dare suggest from the Soviet era -- where [ph] as you stated in your testimony, prosecutors like the KGB were, and I quote you now 'instruments of oppression.' Is that correct, sir?

KENT: I said that and I believe it's true.

HECK: So finally, Mr. Kent. For as long as I can remember, U.S. foreign policy has been predicated on advancing principled entrance in democratic values, notably freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, free fair and open elections, and the rule of law. Mr. Kent, would [ph] American leaders ask foreign governments to investigate their potential rivals, doesn't that make it harder for us to advocate on behalf of those democratic values?

KENT: I believe it makes it more difficult for our diplomatic representatives overseas to carry out those policy goals, yes.

HECK: How is that, sir?

KENT: Well, there's an issue of credibility, they hear diplomats on the ground saying one thing, and they hear other U.S. leaders saying something else. HECK: Ambassador Taylor, would you agree with that, sir?

TAYLOR: I would.

HECK: Is there anything you'd like to add about how it might make it more difficult for you to do your job, sir?

TAYLOR: Our credibility is based on respect for the United States and if we damage that respect then it hurts our credibility, and it makes more difficult for us to do our jobs.

HECK: Anyone looking at the facts can see what happened was an abuse of power. Anyone looking at the facts can see that what happened was unethical. Anyone looking at the facts can see -- anyone looking at the facts can see that what went on was just plain wrong. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.

SCHIFF: Mr. Jordan.

JORDAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 55 days -- 55 days between July 18th and September 11th that there was a delay on sending hard earned tax dollar of the American people to Ukraine. Not talking any country, we're talking Ukraine. Earnest and Young [ph] said one of the three most corrupt countries on the planet. Our witness on Friday, she testified in her deposition, corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine, it's the system. So our President said time out. Time out. Let's check this new guy. Let's see if Zelensky's the real deal. This new guy who got elected in April, who's party took power in July, let's see if he's legitimate.

Now keep in mind, this has already been discussed in 2018, President Trump had already done more for Ukraine than Obama did. That's right. President Trump, who doesn't like foreign aid, and wanted European countries to do more, who knew how corrupt Ukraine was, did more than Obama because he gave them Javelins, tank-busting Javelins to fight the Russians. Our witnesses have said this. Others have said this. Obama gave them blankets; Trump gave them missiles.

But when it came time to check out this new guy, President Trump said, "Let's just see. Let's just see if he's legit." So for 55 days we checked him out. President Zelensky had five interactions with senior U.S. officials in that timeframe. One was, of course, the phone call, the July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, and there were four other face-to-face meetings with other senior U.S. officials. And guess what? Not one of those interactions, not one were security assistance dollars linked to investigating Burisma or Biden.

But guess what did happen in those 55 days? U.S. senators, Ambassador Bolton, Vice President Pence all became convinced that Zelensky was, in fact, worth the risk. He was, in fact, legit, and the real deal, and a real change. And guess what? They told the president, "He's a reformer. Release the money." And that's exactly what President Trump did.

[15:05:00] Now, over the next few weeks we're going to have more witnesses like we've had today that the Democrats will parade in here, and they're all going to say this: "So-and-so said such-and-such to so-and-so, and therefore, we've got to impeach the president." Actually, we can get more specific. We covered this a little bit ago. They'll say something like, "Ambassador Sondland said in his deposition, where he said Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1st, 2019 in connection with Vice President Pence's visit to Warsaw and the meeting with President Zelensky." And if you can follow that, that's the Democrats' plan and why they want to impeach the president. That's what we're going to hear over the next couple weeks. That's what we're going to hear.

But no matter what they do, no matter how many witnesses they bring in here, four facts will not change, have not changed, will never change: The call shows no linkage between dollars and the investigation into Burisma or the Bidens. President Trump and President Zelensky have both said, "On the call there was no linkage. There was no pressure. There was no pushing." Ukrainians didn't even know the aid was withheld at the time of the phone call, and most importantly, as has been pointed out, the Ukrainians didn't take any specific action relative to investigations to get the money released.

Now, there is one witness, one witness that they won't bring in front of us; they won't bring in front of the American people, and that's the guy who started it all: the whistleblower. Nope. Four hundred and thirty five members of Congress; only one gets to know who that person is. Only one member of Congress has a staff that gets to talk to that person. The rest of us don't. Only Chairman Schiff knows who the whistleblower is. We don't. We will never get the chance, we will never get the chance to see the whistleblower raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth and nothing but the -- we'll never get that chance. More importantly, the American people won't get that chance. This anonymous so-called whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge, who's biased against the president, who worked with Joe Biden, who was the reason we're all sitting here today, we'll never get a chance to question that individual.

Democrats are trying to impeach the president based on all that -- all that? Eleven and a half months before an election? We'll not get to check out his credibility, his motivations, his bias.

I said this last week, well, this is -- this is a sad day. This is a sad day for this country. You think about what the Democrats have put our nation through for the last three years; started July of 2016, when they spied on two American citizens associated with the presidential campaign, and all that unfolded with the Mueller investigation after that, and when that didn't work, here we are, based on this, based on...

This is a -- the American people see through all this. They understand the facts support the president. They understand this process is unfair, and they see through the whole darn sham.

With that, I yield back. SCHIFF: Mr. Welch?

WELCH: Thank you. I say to my colleague, I'd be glad to have the -- the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, the question here is not a dispute about the enormous power that a president has. The question is whether, in this case, there was an abuse of that power. A president can fire an ambassador for any reason whatsoever. A president can change his policy, as he did when he opened the door for Turkey to go in and invade Kurdistan, despite opposition from many of his senior advisors. A president could change his position and our position on Ukraine.

But is there a limit? There is, because our Constitution says no one is above the law. In that limit is that one cannot, even as president, use the public trust of high office for personal gain. The law prohibits any one of us here on the dais from seeking foreign assistance in our campaigns. The question for us is whether the use of power by the president was for the benefit of advancing his political interest in the 2020 campaign.

And by the way, to my colleagues, if the president wants to attack Joe Biden and his son, he's free to do it, all fair and square in campaigns. He's just not free to change our foreign policy unless he gets his way to assist him in that campaign. That's a line he can't cross.

[15:10:00]

Now, you all have been very clear about what our continuous foreign policy was, and Ambassador Taylor, just very quickly describe why us withholding aid interfered with achieving our national security goals.

TAYLOR: Mr. Welch, one of our national security goals is to resolve conflicts in Europe. There is one major conflict in Europe. It's a fighting war. Our national security goals in support of Ukraine, in support of a broader strategic approach to Europe, is to facilitate that negotiation, is to try to support...

WELCH: Right.

TAYLOR: ... Ukraine when it negotiates with the Russians.

WELCH: Right, and I want to go back because in the historical context, Mr. Kent, that you and -- and -- and Ambassador Taylor provided, we had 70 years of peace after the war in which we lost over 400,000 American lives, and that took care. And that was in jeopardy, as you described it, Ambassador Taylor, and that threatened each and every one of us up here and the constituents we represent. Is that a fair statement?

TAYLOR: That's a fair statement. WELCH: I want to do three dates, too. I only have a little time, but July 24, July 25 and July 26. On July 24th, Director Mueller testified about his investigation, and he -- he established beyond doubt that it was the Russians who interfered in our election. He expressed a fear that would -- that would be the new normal. On July 25th, according to the readout of the president's campaign, he asked the Ukrainians to investigate Ukrainian interference in our election that had been repudiated. And then in July 26, as I understand it, this person who reported to you heard the president saying he wanted investigations again in Ukraine. So this the question. The new normal that Director Mueller feared -- is there a new normal that you fear that a president, any president, can use congressionally-approved foreign aid as a lever to get personal advantage in something that is in his interest but not the public interest?

TAYLOR: That -- that should not be the case, Mr. Welch.

WELCH: I yield back.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record the transcript from the July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky. You yourself, Mr. Chairman, have mischaracterized the call. In fact, in the first open hearing --

SCHIFF: The gentlewoman will suspend.

(UNKNOWN): -- you had a parody --

SCHIFF: The gentlewoman will suspend. By unanimous consent, be happy to enter the call record into the record. Mr. Maloney --

(UNKNOWN): Thank you.

SCHIFF: -- you're recognized for five minutes.

MALONEY: Thank you gentlemen, thank you for being here today. Ambassador Taylor, what year did you graduate from West Point?

TAYLOR: 1969, sir.

MALONEY: Was the height of the Vietnam War, wasn't that, sir?

TAYLOR: The height was about that time.

MALONEY: What was your class rank at West Point, sir?

TAYLOR: I was number five.

MALONEY: How many people in your class?

TAYLOR: 800.

MALONEY: 800 cadets, you were number five.

TAYLOR: Yes, sir. MALONEY: So when you're top one percent of your class at West Point, you probably get your pick of assignments, but you picked the infantry, didn't you (ph)?

TAYLOR: I did, sir. Yes, sir.

MALONEY: You were a rifle company commander?

TAYLOR: Sir?

MALONEY: Where'd you serve?

TAYLOR: Vietnam.

MALONEY: Did you see combat in Vietnam, sir?

TAYLOR: I did.

MALONEY: Did you earn any commendations for that service?

TAYLOR: I was awarded the combat infantryman's badge, which is my highest -- I'm proudest of. There was a bronze star, there was an air medal with V (ph) --

MALONEY: That's for valor, isn't it, sir?

TAYLOR: It is.

MALONEY: Let's talk about July 26, a lot of years later. You go to the front, you go to Donbass with Ambassador Volker, I believe. And you're on the bridge and you're looking over on the frontline at the Russian soldiers. Is that -- is that what you recall?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

MALONEY: And you said the commander there, the Ukrainian commander thanked you for the American military assistance that you knew was being withheld at that moment.

TAYLOR: That's correct.

MALONEY: How'd that make you feel, sir?

[15:15:00] TAYLOR: Because it was clear that that commander counted on us. It was clear that that commander had confidence in us. It was clear that that commander had -- was appreciative of the capabilities that he was given by that assistance, but also the reassurance that we were supporting him.

MALONEY: You don't strike me as a quitter, ambassador, but you threatened to resign, or you mentioned it in your statement. Before I ask you about that, let's just talk about a couple days later on July -- excuse me, one month later on August 28. You find yourself in Ukraine with the national security advisor, Mr. Bolton, right?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir. MALONEY: And you convey to him your concerns. You've testified to this previously, about the withholding of military assistance. What does he say to you?

TAYLOR: He says that he shares my concern and he advises me to express that in a -- in a very special way to the secretary of state.

MALONEY: Now he's national security advisor, works directly with the president, but he tells you that you should bring it up with the secretary of state.

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

MALONEY: Have you ever sent a cable like that? How many times in your career, 40, 50 years, have you sent a cable directly to the secretary of state?

TAYLOR: Once.

MALONEY: This time?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

MALONEY: In 50 years.

TAYLOR: (Inaudible) don't send cables, but yes, sir.

MALONEY: So the national security advisor, who could tell it to the president himself, and he shares your concern, says you, the ambassador serving Ukraine, should cable the secretary of state directly. And you do so, don't you?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

MALONEY: What did the cable say, sir?

TAYLOR: It's a classified cable.

MALONEY: Without going into classified information.

TAYLOR: Without going into classified -- it says security assistance -- it's the -- what we've been talking about today. Security assistance to Ukraine at this particular time, as in previously (ph), is very important. Ukraine -- I also make the point that we've also talked about here today, Ukraine is important for our national security and we should support it.

MALONEY: So --

TAYLOR: Not -- not -- not to provide that would be folly.

MALONEY: Did you get an answer to your cable?

TAYLOR: Not directly. No, sir.

MALONEY: Do you know what happened to it? TAYLOR: I'm -- Secretary Kent.

MALONEY: Secretary Kent, do you know what happened to it?

TAYLOR: -- tells me that --

KENT: Yes, I was on -- I was on vacation when his cable came in, but my understanding is it made it to its recipient -- intended recipient, Secretary Pompeo.

MALONEY: And we know Secretary Pompeo was on the call a month early on July 25. It's not like he's in the dark about any of this. What'd he do with it?

KENT: I honestly can't say for sure what happened with the cable once the message was brought in at the highest level.

MALONEY: One other question, gentlemen. On September 1, you recall a meeting between the vice president and president of Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky, in which right off the -- off the bat, the president of Ukraine raises security assistance. And the vice president, according to your telling, says I'll talk to the president tonight about that, I'll make a call. Do you know whether the vice president made that call?

TAYLOR: I don't know, sir.

MALONEY: Do you know what, if anything, the vice president had to do with any of this? Can you -- what more can you tell us about the vice president's role in this? Do you know if he ever raised this issue with anyone in the administration, whether he ever pushed for the release of that security assistance?

TAYLOR: I can't, sir.

KENT: I believe I -- to the best of my understanding, the vice president was an advocate for the release of the assistance.

MALONEY: Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chair.

UNKNOWN: Mister Chairman.

SCHIFF: Ms. Demings, you're recognized --

UNKNOWN: Mr. Chairman, I have a unanimous consent request.

SCHIFF: Gentleman will state his request.

(UNKNOWN): I ask unanimous consent to submit for the record the Politico article on Ukraine boosting the Clinton campaign, authored by Ken Vogel --

SCHIFF: Without objection --

(UNKNOWN): -- now with the New York Times.

SCHIFF: -- that will be entered in the record.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you.

SCHIFF: Representative Demings.

DEMINGS: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to both of you for being with us today. Mr. Kent, you said that a president has the right to remove an ambassador because the ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, is that correct?

KENT: That is correct, ma'am.

DEMINGS: Does that removal usually come with a smear campaign of that ambassador by the president?

KENT: I think the right of ambassador -- the president to make a decision about the president's personal representative as confirmed by the Senate is separate from whatever happens outside the confines of U.S. government processes.

DEMINGS: Do you have any idea why it was important to discredit Ambassador Yovanovitch, what she was not willing to do or to do, why that was important?

KENT: Well I guess it probably depends on the motivation of other people, and I am not one of them.

DEMINGS: The committee's investigation has uncovered a web of shadow diplomacy engaged in and executed by several State Department officials and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and ultimately directed by President Trump. We have heard several ways of describing this shady shadow operation, shadow diplomacy, rogue backchannel.

[15:20:00]

Ambassador Taylor, you have described what you encountered as the top diplomat on the ground in Ukraine as a -- and I quote, highly irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy making.

You testified that the channel included Ambassador Volker, Sondland, Secretary Perry, and as you later learned, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is that correct?

TAYLOR: Yes, ma'am.

DEMINGS: Both of you have explained that you grew seriously concerned when you realized that the interest of this irregular channel diverged from official U.S. policy and interest. Was Mr. Giuliani promoting U.S. national interest or policy in Ukraine, Ambassador?

TAYLOR: I don't think so ma'am.

DEMINGS: Mr. Kent?

KENT: No, he was not. DEMINGS: What interest do you believe he as promoting, Mr. Kent?

KENT: I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle.

DEMINGS: Ambassador Taylor, what interest do you believe he was promoting?

TAYLOR: I agree with Mr. Kent.

DEMINGS: The State Department's role is to promote U.S. policies overseas, not to help the current president when reelection, is that correct Mr. Kent?

KENT: All federal government employees are subject to the Hatch Act and our actions are supposed to be promoting policy and not involved in partisan politics.

DEMINGS: Ambassador Taylor?

TAYLOR: I agree.

DEMINGS: What is the risk of running a separate channel of diplomacy, that is completely outside of normal channels and does not further U.S. policy goals, Ambassador Taylor?

TAYLOR: Ms. Demings, it's possible to do one, but not the other. That is, if it's completely against U.S. policy goals, then that's a mistake, that it's not helpful. What -- you can go -- you can get advice and even have conversations outside of the -- of the normal channels, but then they need to be part of U.S. Foreign Policy and approaching those goals.

DEMINGS: Mr. Kent?

KENT: Agree.

DEMINGS: Ambassador Taylor, you have described in your previous testimony, one instance shortly after you arrived in Ukraine, in which Ambassador Sondland asked State Department officials not to listen to a July 28th call he had planned to hold with President Zelensky. Did you find that unusual?

TAYLOR: I did.

DEMINGS: What was the impact of Ambassador Sondland making that request? And you found it unusual, what do you believe the -- the impact was?

TAYLOR: Ms. Demings, I'm not sure there was an immediate impact.

DEMINGS: Was there a record -- a recording or transcription?

TAYLOR: There was not. That was the impact, it was not recorded.

DEMINGS: Do you think that's why the request was made, so there would not be normal State Department employees from the Operation Center would have been there transcribing and taking notes?

TAYLOR: That is the norm, but it is also possible -- it is not unusual to not have it recorded.

DEMINGS: So, you know that the State Department is holding your notes and refuses to provide them to Congress, despite a duly authorized subpoena, and we know that in some instances your notes may be the only documentary record of what happened. Do you -- you are aware of that, correct?

TAYLOR: Yes, ma'am.

DEMINGS: And, Mr. Kent, you are aware that your notes have not been turned over to Congress?

KENT: I have turned over all records that I had in my possession to the State Department, because whatever we do is considered a federal record, not a personal record.

DEMINGS: Thank you so much. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

TURNER: Mr. Chairman, I have a unanimous consent request.

SCHIFF: The general (ph) state his request.

TURNER: I have a "New York Times" op-ed stating why President Obama should have done in investing in Ukraine by a trio of Ambassadors, which includes William Taylor, December 28, 2015.

SCHIFF: Without objection, that will be admitted into the record. Mr. Krishnamoorthi.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Good afternoon gentlemen. I'd like to walk you through a couple points raised by my colleagues on the other side. One is, they claim that the July 25th call summary shows no evidence of pressure on the Ukrainian government. In fact, they argue the Ukrainians did not feel any pressure, at any time, to comply with any of President Trump's requests for investigations.

In fact, Ambassador Taylor, at your deposition in October, you stated that due to the hold that President Trump placed on aide to the Ukraine, the Ukrainians became, quote, unquote, desperate? Isn't that right?

TAYLOR: In August, they did not know, as far as I'm aware, but at the end of August the article came out in September, the Administer of Defense, for example, came to me, I would use the world desperate, to figure out why the assistance was being held.

[15:25:00]

He thought that, perhaps, if he went to Washington to talk to you, to talk to the -- to Secretary of Defense, to talk to the President, he would be able to find out and -- and reassure, provide whatever answer was necessary to have that assistance released. KRISHNAMOORTHI: In fact, my colleagues on the other side suggest that President Zelensky personally did not feel any pressure at any time, and yet, later on in September, he finally relented in a conversation with Gordon Sondland, according to your deposition, in which he agreed to make a statement on CNN. Isn't that right?

TAYLOR: He had planned to make a statement on CNN, yes sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: My colleagues also say the hold on U.S. security assistance was lifted on September 11, without any investigations happening on the part of the Ukrainians, and therefore everything ended up fine in the end.

However, Mr. Kent, as you know, the House Intelligence Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees began this current investigation leading to the proceedings today on September 9th.

In fact, it was only two days after this particular set of committees began their investigations, that the Trump Administration eventually released the military aide, correct?

KENT: That is the timeline, yes.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. -- Ambassador Taylor, between the time of your October deposition and now, did anyone from the Trump Administration contact you about your appearance before the Committee today?

TAYLOR: No sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: How about you Mr. Kent?

KENT: No sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Ambassador Taylor, I would like to turn to a word, that by my account you used 13 times in your opening statement, and that word is concern. You were concerned that aide was being conditioned on political investigations, isn't that right?

TAYLOR: Yes sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: You were concerned that irregular channels of diplomacy were being used in our foreign policy in the Ukraine, right?

TAYLOR: Yes sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Ambassador Taylor, can you rule out the possibility that these irregular channels of diplomacy are being used in other countries where we conduct foreign policy?

TAYLOR: I can't -- I've not heard of any other -- a separate channel that has this kind of influence. That is the Giuliani kind of guidance.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But, you can't rule it out, right?

TAYLOR: No sir. KRISHNAMOORTHI: And how about you, Mr. Kent? You can't rule it out either, right?

KENT: I have no basis to make a determination.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: You don't believe the July 25th call was perfect, did you -- do you?

KENT: I think some of the language in the call gave cause for concern.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Ambassador Taylor?

TAYLOR: I agree.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And what was the cause for concern for you?

TAYLOR: There was - part of the - the discussion of the previous ambassador was a cause for concern.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Ambassador Taylor, I want to draw on your experience finally as a West Point cadet and as an infantry commander in Vietnam. In a battlefield situation, is a commanding officer allowed to hold up action placing his troops at risk until someone provides him a personal benefit?

TAYLOR: No, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Is that because if commanding officers did that, they would be betraying their responsibility to the nation and the men and women under their commands?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And if that happened and were found out, could that person be subject to discipline?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Could that type of conduct trigger a court marshal?

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. I yield back.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman. I think the gentleman...

JORDAN: Let's have unanimous.

SCHIFF: What purpose does the gentlemen see...

JORDAN: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I have unanimous consent - I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record Mr. Mulvaney's statement where he said there's absolutely no quid pro quo from October 17, 2019.

SCHIFF: Without objection. Mr. Nunes, you're recognized for any closing...

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman?

SCHIFF: I recognize Mr. Nunes for his comments. Mr. Conaway, we will get your motion.

CONAWAY: OK.

SCHIFF: After Mr. Nunes' brief closing remarks and my brief closing remarks. My intention to excuse the witnesses. We'll have a very brief recess; members should not go far. We will resume and take up Mr. Conaway's motion. Mr. Nunes.

NUNES: Thank you Mr. Chair. I'll just be brief. I want to reiterate what I said earlier and that is that we really should stop holding these hearings until we get the answer to three important topics. The first being the full extent of the democrat's prior coordination with the whistle-blower and who did the whistle-blower coordinate with. Second, the full extent of Ukraine's election meddling against the Trump campaign, and third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden and what did he do for --

[15:30:00]