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Rep. Adam Schiff on Pompeo, Mattis, Pence and the Russian investigation

Gay Cambridge Analytics whistleblower testifies on Wednesday

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Rep. Adam Schiff (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Just spotting Rep. Adam Schiff makes fanboys of the crustiest of curmudgeons. But the excitement that greeted the Los Angeles area Democrat when he appeared in West Hollywood Saturday for a California Women’s Law Center event was more gratitude than hero worship. As Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Schiff has diligently worked to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections to elect Donald Trump as president. But how he comports himself, the character that shines through to millions of unsettled television viewers as he explains the perilous stakes has transformed Schiff into the anti-Trump—smart, articulate, gracious and an elected official who grasps his pledge to be a public servant.

Are you worried we’re seeing an erosion of democracy? the Los Angeles Blade asked Schiff before the CWLC event.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Schiff said. “In the way this president denigrates the press, the independence of the judiciary, the independence of the Justice Department, trampling on any number of norms of office—we have had more backward moving movement in terms of our own democracy than any point in my lifetime.”

The latest jerk backwards is the expected Senate Foreign Relations confirmation of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Trump’s new Sec. of State. Several Democratic members have already announced their opposition to Pompeo based on numerous anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-reproductive rights. Even if the committee votes not to confirm him, Pompeo is expected to win approval on the Senate floor with the help of two Democrats, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.). Other Democrats in tight races in conservative districts may follow.

Schiff said he didn’t know how the Pompeo vote would end up but noted that many people thought his confirmation would not be so difficult.

Schiff, who has spoken on behalf of LGBT rights during his official trips abroad, as well as with former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, said he is concerned about how LGBT rights will be handled with Pompeo as the chief diplomat.

“I think that given the reactionary way this administration has conducted itself, probably anyone they put in that office—this is going to be a deep concern,” Schiff said. “As we see in the Defense Department, the Sec. of Defense, who is widely viewed as one of the few adults in the room, nonetheless is being forced to carry out these policies, which he doesn’t seem to agree with. There were recent reports that Sec Mattis urged the administration to come to Congress to seek authorization before the strike in Syria but was overruled.”

Told that many LGBT activists believe Mattis threw transgender service members under the bus with his latest report recommending the ban on open trans service, Schiff said he wasn’t sure the Sec. of Defense had a choice.

“Well, I don’t know, in the case of Mattis, whether he’s doing what’s he’s doing because he’s been told this is what you need to do by the administration,” Schiff said. “To the limited extent I’ve been able to see in his comments, it looked like this was policy the president announced on Twitter a year ago without any consultation that took the military by surprise and that the military, in fact, tried to resist it. Ultimately, it looks like the administration insisted they go forward and Sec. Mattis just had to carry out the president’s instructions. But in innumerable ways, this administration is hostile to LGBT rights, hostile to civil rights, hostile to minority voting rights, you could pretty much go down the line.”

Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee is continuing its Russia probe, despite obstruction from his Republican counterpart, Rep. Devan Nunes. Still considered a solid red seat in California’s 22nd congressional district, Nunes’ Democratic challenger Andrew Janz raised $635,931 in February after Nunes released a controversial and misleading memo alleging FBI abuse of a FISA surveillance warrant.

“We were in the midst of our investigations when Republicans decided to walk,” said Schiff. “Now on the Democratic side, we continue to investigate and we have the whistleblower Christopher Wylie of Cambridge Analytica coming before us next week {on Wednesday). We’ll invite the Republicans but we expect them to be a no-show. But there’s a lot more work to do.”

Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee Russia investigation has not looked at possible involvement by Vice President Mike Pence.

“The issue in which the vice president has come up is that the vice president went on national TV to say that [former National Security Advisor] Mike Flynn had never discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador” Sergey Kislyak, said Schiff. “Now we know that’s not true and that was the subject of Mike Flynn’s guilty plea.”

“For that reason, I think the vice president would be a relevant witness, in terms of who within the administration knew that, in fact, there were these clandestine efforts to undermine the bipartisan policy of the United States,” Schiff said. “In the Flynn documents, submitted by the Special Counsel, it reports that senior transition officials were made aware of these conversations in real time. Now we don’t know whether that was K.T. McFarland or it was others and we’ve endeavored to find out—but the Republicans have tried to stymy us.”

There was a major uproar at the time about whether Flynn lied to Pence and what that meant regarding Pence’s stance within the administration. “Pence has been a bastion of credibility within the administration, as the president himself has trafficked repeatedly in unfounded allegations about crowd size at his inauguration and voter fraud in November,” Politico reported Feb. 10, 2017.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the administration about Flynn after Pence defended him on national television.

“One of the things she was concerned about was that it could make Mike Flynn subject to compromise if people were out publicly saying something the Russians knew was not true,” Schiff said. “But obviously Mike Pence was one of the senior transition officials and so there is a significant question about what he knew.”

But as the esteemed non-profit Committee to Investigate Russia points out, there are also open questions about when and how much Pence, who also headed the transition team, knew about Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, 2016 asking about Flynn’s potential conflicts of interest.

“Pence’s team acknowledged receipt of the letter on November 28th. However, on March 9, 2017, Pence said in an interview on Fox News that he was hearing of Flynn’s ties to Turkey for the first time that very day,” according to the Committee to Investigate Russia.

And what about how Gov. Pence got the job in the first place when he was having reelection problems in Indiana? Trump originally offered the vice presidency to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—but Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort (now suspected of being a “back-channel” to Russians), politically out-maneuvered Trump to secure the job for his pick—Mike Pence, according to CBS News on Oct. 30, 2016.

“I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to look into issues like that,” Schiff said. “It’s been a challenge even to look into things that are front and center in the Russian investigations. So right now, we’re completely dependent on the willingness of people to come in voluntarily because since the Republicans have checked out, we have no subpoena power. Now interestingly, they haven’t checked out of doing an investigation—it’s just that they’re only interested in investigating the FBI and the Department of Justice, they’re not particularly interested in what the Russians did or what the Trump campaign did in combination with them.”

Schiff is keenly aware of the religious-Russian connection. “On the issue of how the Russians sought to inveigle their way into our political process,” Schiff said, “they appear to have tried to use the NRA (National Rifle Association) as one of their vehicles. But they’ve also tried to make outreach through the religious communities and, of course, one of the ways Putin has tried to frame the ideological struggle against the United States is in terms of family values and conservative values. So the Kremlin has been pushing these anti-LGBT legislative initiatives both at home and in their near-abroad as a way of trying to insinuate themselves into other countries, including our own.”

While reporters continue to look at Trump’s odd bromance with evangelicals, thanks in large part to Pence’s “Christian supremacist” beliefs, little attention is being paid to the possible Pence-evangelical-Russian connection.

Last May, Time reported that Pence met privately backstage with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and chair of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department, at Trump backer Franklin Graham’s evangelical Washington summit on religious violence against Christians. Hilarion stayed at the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

The summit was a two year effort between Hilarion and Graham, who met with Putin when he was in Moscow. Time reported that Putin “promised he would do all he could to help their cause.” The summit was originally planned for Moscow but after Trump’s election, “Graham moved the event to Washington at the Russian leaders’ suggestion.”

Hilarion addressed the summit and talked about “the curtailment of people’s rights to the public expression of their faith,” among other conservative issues. “He criticized the U.S. for its ‘ideology aimed at supporting sexual minorities and the propaganda of the homosexual life,’” Time reported. “His remarks echoed Graham, who in 2014 praised Putin for protecting ‘his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda’ when Russia passed a controversial anti-gay law ahead of the Sochi Olympics.”

After speaking with Pence, a number of other evangelical leaders and state department officials backstage, Hilarion told Time he felt “very positive” about the future of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.“We will continue to work closely with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association but also with the larger evangelical community of this country,” he said. “We have many allies.”

A White House spokesperson confirmed Pence’s meeting with Hilarion to Time. But curiously, two months after the summit, on July 12, 2017, Pence’s press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox News and repeatedly refused to answer whether the Vice President ever met with Russians during the campaign.

Schiff said his committee needed sufficient facts to jut down the religious road. “I think there’s probably, honestly, a lot left to be done that is so clearly within the issues of collusion and obstruction of justice that we haven’t done yet that we need to finish those area before we look beyond it,” Schiff said. “What we’ll end up doing, if we’re fortunate and take back the House, is we’ll look at what investigative work was allowed to go forward, what the Special Counsel, by that point, has been able to do, what the Senate has been able to do and we’ll figure out what more remains to be done.”

The Human Rights Campaign has created a campaign about the “real history” of Mike Pence. Hopefully HRC will keep an open page on Pence since history is happening now, behind the scenes.

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California Politics

Karen Bass & her LGBTQ staff discuss commitment to equity & justice

“Diversity is something you have to do consciously,” Bass said. “I always look at my staff and [ask myself] ‘who’s missing?’

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Karen Bass with campaign staff, supporters, and former California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (Photo by LeRoy Hamilton)

LOS ANGELES – U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), a leading candidate to become the next mayor of the city Los Angeles, has hired LGBTQ+ folks with diverse backgrounds to leadership positions on her Congressional staff and in her mayoral campaign because of “their dedication to fighting for social and economic justice,” Bass told the Los Angeles Blade over the phone Thursday morning. 

“Diversity is something you have to do consciously,” she said. “I always look at my staff and [ask myself] ‘who’s missing?’ to make sure we have representation. I think it’s really important to approach it that way.” 

Meanwhile three senior members of Bass’s staff, all of whom identify as LGBTQ+ – Senior Advisor and Policy Director Joey Freeman, Campaign Manager Jenny Delwood, and Chief of Staff Darryn Harris — spoke to The Blade about their personal relationships with the Congresswoman. 

They also highlighted what they described as a throughline in Bass’s adherence to principles of equity and justice, beginning with her early career as a nurse and physicians’ assistant through to her candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles. 

Bass is slated to square off against billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso in the November 8 election to replace term-limited incumbent Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The two candidates advanced from the June 7 primary elections, having each received less than 50% of the vote. 

A longtime ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Bass kicked off her “LGBTQ+ for Bass affinity group” Wednesday night at the historic Black Cat restaurant in Silver Lake.

Bass has been a mentor to the next generation of LGBTQ+ leaders on her staff.

When it comes to her staff, Bass said, “I see my role as helping to develop their leadership and helping to support them however I can.” 

“I was able to be my full self here; fully black, fully gay,” said Harris, Bass’s chief of staff, who has known the Congresswoman for his entire adult life and served in multiple positions before being appointed to lead her congressional office. 

“When you have a boss who’s that supportive of you, it helps in so many different ways,” he said. “Not only with the work we do, but also it was one of the things that helped deepen our friendship and deepen our mutual trust, because I was able to bring my whole self to work.”

Delwood, Bass’s campaign manager, has also known the Congresswoman for more than a decade and served in multiple positions before her appointment to lead her mayoral campaign. As a human being, as a professional, and as a lesbian, Delwood said Bass has embraced every part of who she is. 

“The Congresswoman has been not only a boss, but also a mentor,” Delwood said. “I started working for her as a fellow/intern in 2007 in the California Assembly, and she and I have built a very strong relationship over the years. She is part of my extended family, now.”

Jenny Delwood, pictured right, with Bass (center) officiating her wedding to wife Christine
(Photo courtesy of Jenny Delwood)

Beginning with her early career in healthcare, Bass has been an ally of the LGBTQ+ community

“When I went to school to be a physicians’ assistant in the early 1980s,” Bass said, the virus that would become known as HIV/AIDS began to emerge, disproportionately impacting gay men. “It was unbelievable, in the first few years of the epidemic, how [badly] these patients were treated,” she said. 

In her work treating patients, and as a full-time clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Bass pushed for better treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, practicing what she preached. 

“From that time on, she’s been standing for and with the community,” said Freeman, Bass’s senior advisor and policy director, who identifies as gay. 

“She was on the ground floor of the HIV AIDS epidemic,” Delwood said, “providing medical care for people with HIV/AIDS when folks were steering clear of and being discriminatory [against those who were positive].” From those early days of her career, Delwood said, “Congresswoman Bass has been in deep solidatiry with the LGBTQ community.”

“It wasn’t just gay men with HIV,” said Zach Seidl, Bass’s communications advisor, “but trans folks, too.”  In the best of cases, doctors would greet HIV/AIDS patients in hazmat suits; in the worst, refusing treatment, Seidl said. Bass, meanwhile, insisted she needed to help them, he added.   

Bass believes in consulting people who will be directly impacted by policy

Policymakers often speak with subject matter experts without consulting those who will be directly impacted, Bass said. It’s an oversight the Congresswoman has been careful to avoid. 

For example, Bass told the Blade she visited a federal prison yesterday morning to hand out copies of draft legislation that concerns women in the criminal justice system, inviting incarcerated women to read and share comments or input by email. 

This will extend to her work as mayor, Freeman said. If elected, Bass will be charged with selecting staff, commission members, and general manager appointments, roles where she will ensure LGBTQ+ people are well represented, because this is how she prefers to govern – by consulting with people who are directly affected by policy. 

Working so closely with Congresswoman Bass, “I have the opportunity to see that every single day,” Harris said, “Ordinary people influencing public policy at state, federal, and – soon – the citywide level” under her leadership. 

Bass believes the most effective way to create lasting change is to work with community members and to bring forward solutions that are community driven, Delwood agreed. “In order to actually solve homelessness or address crime in LA or deal with our lack of affordable housing, it’s imperative” to work with a variety of stakeholders from the community as well as in the county, state, and federal government, she said. 

Bass and her staff have big plans to address problems afflicting Los Angelinos 

“I could have stayed in Congress to fight for a leadership spot,” said Bass, who was reported as a front runner for President Joe Biden’s vice president during his 2020 electoral campaign. But there are crises in Los Angeles, she said, pointing to the latest figures on the city’s unhoused population as an example. 

Bass Policy Director Joey Freeman (Middle) and Campaign Manager Jenny Delwood (far right)
(Photo by LeRoy Hamilton)

It was the second time in her career that Bass was faced with such a decision, she said. “I was a full-time faculty member of the medical school” when Los Angeles began to experience a crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

“I was mortified at how the city was responding to crack cocaine and gang issues,” Bass said. “These were health, social, and economic issues, but the response of policymakers was to criminalize everything and everyone in South LA.”

Leaving USC, Bass formed the Community Coalition and began her work as a community organizer. “I worked to prevent the city from locking everyone up, and to steer people away from gangs,” the Congresswoman said. “And then I looked for how we organize people to fight for drug treatment instead of incarceration for those who were addicted.” 

Likewise, Bass said, the current moment calls for coalition building and working across the government to improve the lives of Angelenos and effectuate just policymaking for, especially, vulnerable communities.

Members of Bass’s staff pointed to how the Congresswoman could be particularly effective as mayor on issues of homelessness, LGBTQ+ rights, child welfare reform, foster care reform, housing affordability, and violence against Black trans people. 

“Forty percent of young people on the streets are LGBTQ+,” said Delwood. “Being able to address that is a top priority of the congresswoman as well as our entire team.” Many children land in the foster care system because of discrimination over their sexual orientation or gender identities, she said, and while LGBTQ+ adoptive or foster parents are greeted with “open arms” in LA, such is not the case in many other parts of the country. 

As Mayor, in coordination with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Bass will be able to champion foster youth, reform the child welfare system, and prove to the rest of the country how successful LGBTQ adoptive and foster parents can be, Delwood said. 

Freeman agreed. There is a lot of overlap, he said, with issues concerning the foster care system, with high rates of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth, with the housing crisis. “What we need to do to address homelessness and prevent future homelessness is to tackle the root cause,” Freeman said. “Are LGBTQ  youth receiving the support they need?”  

Congresswoman Bass “has deep relationships with folks here, in DC, and in Sacramento, so when you’re dealing with challenges in LA, she knows how to go in there and how to pool the resources in order to solve them,” Harris said. 

Harris highlighted Bass’s community organizing and coalition building roots, arguing she is the best candidate to represent all of Los Angeles as the city’s mayor.

One issue Harris said he is eager to see Bass’s leadership in addressing is the high rates of murder and violent crime against members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black trans people. “I’m excited to see how she would be able to ensure that they are safe, tracking some of those federal dollars to ensure that they have protections against domestic and sexual violence,” he said.

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California Politics

Rep. Karen Bass greets LGBTQ+ affinity group at the historic Black Cat

Bass has been a longtime ally of the LGBTQ+ community. In her remarks she listed some of her achievements in the battles for LGBTQ+ equality

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Screenshot via video by Troy Masters for the Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Surrounded by well-wishers, supporters, and former California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez at her side, U.S. Representative Karen Bass launched the official “LGBTQ+ for Bass affinity group” Wednesday evening at the Black Cat, an LGBTQ+ historic site located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of the City.

Pérez, an openly Out gay man served as the 68th Speaker of the California State Assembly, succeeding Bass as Speaker in 2010. Bass made several warm references to their mutual past political history. She also spoke on subjects that are critical to furthering LGBTQ+ equality and equity in her six-minute chat.

U.S. Representative Karen Bass & former California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez
(Photo by Troy Masters)

The congresswoman is locked in a close race with billionaire real estate tycoon Rick Caruso to succeed current Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti in the Fall elections on November 8. Both candidates advanced from the June 7 primary election since neither received 50% of the vote. Incumbent Mayor Garcetti is unable to stand for re-election due to term limits.

Bass has been a longtime ally of the LGBTQ+ community. In her remarks Wednesday at the Black Cat she listed some of her achievements in the battles for LGBTQ+ equality, first in the California Assembly, then in Congress.

The venue where the Congresswoman launched the LGBTQ+ political affinity group is famed as an LGBTQ+ historic site. The Black Cat was the site of one of the first demonstrations in the United States protesting police brutality against LGBT people, preceding the Stonewall riots by over two years.

From the One Archives at USC: A New Year’s 1967 raid by the Los Angeles Police turned brutal as LAPD undercover officers began beating several of the patrons and ultimately arrested fourteen patrons for “assault and public lewdness.” As reported by the local gay newspaper Tangents, two bartenders were beaten unconscious. The paper also noted that patrons fled to another gay bar, New Faces, but they were followed by police and arrested. The officers mistook the manager, a woman named Lee Roy, for a man (named “Leroy”) wearing a dress, and beat her severely.

Photo by Troy Masters

The historical account continued: Contrary to popular myth, there was no “riot” at the Black Cat, but a civil demonstration of 200 attendees to protest the raids was held on February 11, 1967. The demonstration was organized by a group called PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) – founded by Steve Ginsberg – and the SCCRH (Southern California Council on Religion and Homophile). The protest was met by squadrons of armed policemen. Demonstrators carefully adhered to all laws and ordinances so that the police had no legitimate reasons to make arrests.

Two of the noteworthy events that arose from the Black Cat arrests and later protests was the establishment of The Advocate, which began as a newspaper for the group PRIDE and has continued publishing to this day and formation of the Metropolitan Community Church led by Los Angeles LGBTQ+ pioneer, the Reverend Troy Perry.

Karen Bass speaks at LA’s iconic Black Cat:

Editor’s Note: The Los Angeles Blade has endorsed Rep. Bass in her election campaign to become the next mayor of the city of Los Angeles.

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Politics

Gay man wins Democratic congressional primary in Ill.

Eric Sorensen running for retiring U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos’ seat

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Eric Sorensen (Photo courtesy of Eric Sorensen)

MOLINE, Ill. — Illinois Democrats are hoping to send a gay person to Congress for the first time in the state’s history.

Voters in the 17th Congressional District in northwest Illinois on Tuesday voted to have Eric Sorensen, a former meteorologist, become the Democratic nominee for the district’s U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by retiring Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos.

“THANK YOU to everyone who was a part of this movement,” Sorensen wrote on Twitter following his primary victory. “From day one this campaign has been built on three pillars: Trust, science, and communication. I’m honored to be your #IL17 Democratic nominee for Congress.”

Sorensen, who bested his closest primary opponent by more than 13,000 votes, has centered much of his campaign messaging around the issue of mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sorensen’s candidacy and potential to become the state’s first openly gay member of Congress has been met with celebration from those advocating for more of such representation on Capitol Hill. After Sorensen claimed victory on Tuesday, advocacy groups and political organizations like Equality PAC and the LGBTQ Victory Fund were quick to offer their support.

“It has never been more important to defend our pro-choice, pro-equality majority in Congress,” Victory Fund President Annise Parker said in a statement. “As a meteorologist, Eric spent the last two decades keeping his local community safe by telling the truth and promoting a pro-science agenda. His success tonight is a testament to his continued leadership and grassroots support, as well as a highly effective ground game focused on candid conversations about how to make government work for all Americans.”

Hoping to keep the district from flipping to Republican control in a midterm year that is expected to be an uphill battle for Democratic congressional majorities, Sorensen has also gained the backing of the district’s current congresswoman. Bustos took to Twitter following Sorensen’s victory to announce her support.

“Illinoisans deserve a representative who will fight for working families, help build our local economy and continue to lift up Midwestern voices,” Bustos wrote. “Eric will do that.”

Sorensen’s ultimate ascension to Illinois’ 17th Congressional District seat, however, is not assured. Though the district leans Democratic, it is widely labeled as a competitive race following nationwide redistricting of congressional maps ahead of this year’s midterms.

Such a competitive landscape is coupled with a competitive rival battling Sorensen for the seat.

His Republican opponent, lawyer and Army Reserve Capt. Esther Joy King, previously ran for the seat in 2020, losing to Bustos by just four percent of the overall vote.

Having already secured a number of high-profile Republican endorsements including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, King has already begun her November messaging campaign after besting her primary opponent by more than 30 percentage points.

“It doesn’t have to be a choice if we elect leaders who will put their constituents first rather than far-left, out-of-touch policies and that’s exactly what I’m running to do,” King said in a statement Tuesday night. “Let’s come together to win this in November.”

Groups like the Victory Fund, however, are remain optimistic that Sorensen’s potential to make history will be within reach when voters enter the polls on Nov. 8.

“Voters are clearly enthusiastic about Eric’s vision for a more equitable future,” Parker said. “We trust Eric will be a vital voice in Congress come November. The stakes have never been higher.”

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