How pardons went toxic: Donald Trump has maxed out on clemency controversy but pardoned far fewer people than his predecessors – with only Bill Clinton drawing such fury before
- Justice Department data show Trump has granted clemency to just 0.5 per cent of requesters
- About 10,000 have asked for pardons or clemency
- Trump has been on a two-day pardon spree
- Granted to Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner’s father Charles
- Also provided to two GOP lawmakers convicted of crimes who were first endorsers
- Biggest uproar since Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich
- George H.W. Bush pardoned Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Iran Contra figures
- Trump has tweeted he has ‘the absolute right to PARDON myself’ but scholars are split
After making strategic use of his pardon power for years even while shunning thousands of requests for clemency, President Donald Trump caused a huge uproar this week by pardoning friends and political allies.
In doing so, he added his name to a long line of presidents who have issued controversial pardons – doing so in Trumpian fashion with a flurry of acts that bestowed personal benefit on criminals who had variously lied to the FBI, set up a video sting with a prostitute, stolen campaign funds, failed to register as a lobbyist, and murdered civilians.
Not since Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich has there been such blowback against a president’s used of his virtually unchecked authority at the end of his term.
President Donald Trump has stoked controversy and tempted fate with a spate of pardons in his last days in office. This week he pardoned close political allies Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, who resisted pressure to cooperate in the Russia probe
Clinton pardoned the fugitive financier who had been a major Democratic donor on his own last day in office – setting off a controversy that drove down his approval ratings and made successors think twice before.
His approval tanked to 42 per cent, hitting a career low, after the pardon.
In Trump’s case, he has used the lame duck period after Joe Biden’s electoral college win to grant a full pardon to longtime advisor Roger Stone, former campaign chair Paul Manafort, and Charles Kushner, the father of son-in-law Jared Kushner. Both Stone and Manafort resisted pressure to cooperate in the Russia probe.
Charles Kushner, who pleaded guilty to multiple crimes in 2004 and served two years in prison in part for setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute, videotaping it, and then trying to blackmail him over it.
Trump had already used his pardon power in ways that foreshadowed his actions this week. He pardoned Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who a judge ordered in contempt for his unauthorized roundups of immigrants, and former national security advisor Mike Flynn – who pleaded guilty as part of the Russia probe and who since getting a pardon in November has joined Trump’s claim of a rigged election. By last week, Flynn was back in the Oval Office after giving an interview where he defended use of martial law to have the military oversee a rerun of the election in states that Trump lost.
GOLD STANDARD: Bill Clinton set the standard for explosive pardons when he gave one to fugitive financier Marc Rich, a major Democratic fundraiser, on his last day in office
George H.W. Bush pardoned Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger along with other Iran Contra figures
Trump gave full pardons to longtime advisor Roger Stone and former campaign chair Paul Manafort
George H.W. Bush, who had been vice president under Reagan, pardoned Iran Contra figures
Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning after a massive leak
Josh Kushner, Charles Kushner and Jared Kushner attend a party in New York in 2014. The Kushner family was greatly embarrassed by the prosecution of Charles Kushner, who plead guilty to multiple crimes in 2004 and served two years in prison in part for setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute, videotaping it, and then trying to blackmail him over it
All the while, Trump’s grants of clemency were dramatically less than his predecessors, and at a rate that is a historic low.
Through late November, there were more than 10,000 petitions for clemency closed without presidential action, according to Justice Department statistics.
As a percentage of those applications, Trump granted clemency just 0.5 per cent of the time.
Trump granted fewer clemency petitions than any president since William McKinley, according to data compiled by Pew research.
By Nov. 23, Trump had used his pardon power 44 times.
Trump lived through some of the controversial history of the pardon power, electing to cast aside caution despite Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators probing whether attempts to dangle potential pardons constituted potential obstruction of justice.
In 1974, when Trump was not yet 30 and more focused on real estate than politics, Gerald Ford issued the infamous Nixon pardon, then suffered the political consequences.
Trump has granted clemency to only 0.5 per cent of applicants
The story of Trump’s pardons isn’t just in the numbers, but in the close associates he helped
Sasse issued the short statement after the White House released Trump’s latest list of pardons, with many going to friends and political allies, including those who refused to cooperate with prosecutors
In 1992, after Trump had met President Ronald Reagan and become a prominent public figure, President George H.W. Bush set off controversy when he pardoned Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and other Iran Contra figures.
It was after Trump had already flirted with running for president that Bill Clinton pardoned his brother Roger for a drug charge and issued the Rich pardon.
Financier Marc Rich had fled to Switzerland
In its wake, George W. Bush made only sparing use of the pardon, issuing clemency just 200 times. One that drew fire was his commutation of the sentence of former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby for his role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal. But he resisted pressure from his vice president to issue a full pardon. It would be Trump who would issue a full pardon in 2018, at a time when the Mueller probe was in full swing.
President Obama boosted grants of clemency dramatically, giving 1,927, but still not coming near to meeting the more than 36,000 requests amid a huge spike in drug sentencing.
However he steered clear of pardoning people close to him, drawing some controversy for the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence following a massive security leak. But he commuted the sentence to seven years, amid international concern over her being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods.
Full list of Trump’s pre-Christmas pardons
Charles Kushner – Full pardon
Charles Kushner (pictured left, with his son Jared) pleaded guilty to multiple crimes in 2004 and served two years in prison
Charles Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty to multiple crimes in 2004 and served two years in prison in part for setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute, videotaping it and then trying to blackmail him over it.
Kushner is the father of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared, a senior advisor to the President.
He was born in 1954 to holocaust survivors Joseph and Rae Kushner and named Chanan after his uncle who died in a concentration camp.
Kushner is a disbarred attorney and property developer who set up Kushner Companies in 1985, taking over management of his father’s 4,000 New Jersey apartments.
By 1999, Kushner had expanded the business to more than 10,000 residential apartments, a homebuilding business, commercial properties and a community bank.
Before Trump’s election in 2016, Charles Kushner was a long-time donor to the Democratic Party and in 2004, he was fined $508,900 for campaign donations in the names of his partnerships when he lacked authorization to do so.
After Kushner discovered William Schulder was cooperating with federal authorities, he hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law, then arranged to have the encounter in a New Jersey motel room recorded with a hidden camera and the recording sent to his own sister, the man’s wife.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it ‘one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes’ he ever prosecuted as US attorney.
Kushner pled 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering in 2005 and was disbarred.
After leaving prison in 2006, Kushner resumed his career in real estate, including purchasing the famed Watchtower complex along the Brooklyn Bridge, the former headquarters for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
His son Jared has talked openly about how deeply his father’s imprisonment impacted his life.
He was in his early 20s and a law and business school student in the mid-2000s when his father was sentenced and suddenly found himself having to run the family’s businesses while shuttling back and forth on weekends to see his father in Alabama.
Paul Manafort – Full pardon
Paul Manafort, 71, was convicted on eight counts of bank fraud and tax fraud and then made a deal with prosecutors to avoid a second trial
Paul Manafort, 71, was Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and was among the first people to be charged in Mueller’s investigation.
The investigation examined possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election campaign.
He was released from a low-security federal prison in May to serve his sentence on home confinement due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Prior to his release, he had been jailed since June 2018 and was serving more than seven years in prison following his conviction.
Manafort was prosecuted in two federal courts and was convicted by a jury in federal court in Virginia in 2018 and later pleaded guilty in Washington.
He was sentenced last March and was immediately hit with state charges in New York after prosecutors accused him of giving false information on a mortgage loan application.
A New York judge threw out state mortgage fraud charges, ruling that the criminal case was too similar to one that already landed Manafort in prison.
Prosecutors appealed that ruling last month.
Manafort worked for Trump’s campaign from March 2016 and chaired it from June to August 2016, overseeing Trump being adopted as Republican candidate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
He was the most senior campaign official to be implicated by Mueller.
Manafort was one of Washington D.C.’s longest-term and most influential lobbyists but in 2015, his money dried up and the next year he turned to Trump for help, offering to be his campaign chairman for free – in the hope of making more money afterwards.
But Mueller unwound his previous finances and discovered years of tax and bank fraud as he coined in cash from pro-Russia political parties and oligarchs in Ukraine.
Roger Stone – Full pardon
Roger Stone, 68, has been a longtime friend and ally of the president and was convicted in Mueller’s investigation for lying to Congress, witness tampering
Roger Stone, 68, has been a longtime friend and ally of the president.
He was also convicted in Mueller’s investigation for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Trump commuted his sentence in July just days before he was scheduled to report to federal prison.
‘The president has saved my life, and he’s given me the opportunity to fight for vindication,’ Stone said at the time.
Then 67, Stone said that entering prison would have been a death sentence in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘I had very, very severe asthma as a child. If you look at the profile of those who are most at risk, I think I fit that,’ he said.
On Wednesday, he issued Stone a full pardon.
Stone had worked on the campaigns of Republican politicians since the 1970s, including Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Bob Dole and George W Bush.
Stone entered the political arena for real in 1972 when he ditched his studies at George Washington University, this time to support Nixon in his re-election campaign – not to be the only time he shifted allegiances without a qualm.
In one of his first ‘dirty tricks’ he contributed $135 to one of Nixon’s Republican rivals in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance – then slipped the receipt to a journalist.
When Nixon triumphed the braggadocious young aide was rewarded with a job in the administration.
Perhaps unintentionally, his association with student dirty tricks also gained him an association with the ‘ratf***ers,’ the dirty operative beloved of Nixon.
Stone himself denied being one of them, saying they were from the University of Southern California, but the nickname was attached to him for life.
The 37th President of the United States left a lasting impression on Stone: the longtime GOP operative would later have Nixon’s face tattooed on his back.
James Batmasian – Full pardon
Batmasian is a real-estate investor and runs property management companies in South Florida.
In 2008, he pleaded guilty to cheating the federal government out of more than $250,000 by failing to pay federal taxes for employees at his company.
He was an influential developer and at the time was one of the largest landowners in Boca Raton, Florida. He served an eight-month prison sentence.
John Boultbee and Peter Atkinson – Full pardon
Boultbee is the former chief financial officer and Atkinson is the former vice president of Hollinger International.
Both men were convicted as part of an alleged fraud scheme involving Lord Conrad Black, and served nearly a year in prison for mail fraud.
Trump has had previous real estate partnerships with Hollinger International Inc.
Gary Brugman – Full pardon
The former US Border Patrol agent was convicted of striking and violating the civil rights of a man who had crossed the US border illegally.
Court records said Brugman and other Border Patrol officers had stopped a group of people who crossed the border illegally and during the encounter, he struck one of the men with his foot, pushing him to the ground and then hit the man with his hands.
The man later filed a complaint when he was in custody at a Border Patrol station. Brugman had worked as a Border Patrol agent for four years in Eagle Pass, Texas.
He served 27 months in prison.
The White House said his pardon was supported by several Republican members of Congress and conservative media personalities, including Laura Ingraham, Sara Carter, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs, along with former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who also was convicted of a federal crime and pardoned by Trump.
Rebekah Charleston – Full pardon
Charleston was arrested in 2006 for tax evasion and the White House said she is a victim of sex trafficking who was forced into prostitution.
Officials said she volunteers to help sex trafficking victims and her pardon was also supported by a law enforcement agent who arrested her.
Robert Coughlin – Full pardon
Coughlin pled guilty to a single count of conflict of interest in performing his duties as a Department of Justice official.
He was charged for doing favors on matters before the Department of Justice in exchange for sports and concert tickets.
Coughlin voluntarily surrendered his law license and was sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house and 200 hours of community service.
He was issued a full pardon.
Margaret Hunter – Full pardon
Margaret Hunter (pictured in August this year) was convicted of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds and was sentenced to three years of probation
Hunter is the wife of former US Representative Duncan Hunter, who Trump pardoned on Tuesday.
Along with her husband, she was also convicted of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Her husband, a Southern California Republican, had pleaded guilty to stealing about $150,000 from his campaign funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle, from vacations to outings with friends, private school tuition and his daughter’s birthday party.
Rickey Kanter – Full pardon
Kanter was the owner and CEO of Dr. Comfort, a company which manufactures special shoes and inserts for diabetics.
He settled claims in civil court regarding shoe inserts that were technically non-compliant with Medicare regulations before a federal charge was filed against him.
Kanter pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and completed his sentence of one year and one day in 2012.
James Kassouf – Full pardon
Kassouf pleaded guilty in 1989 to a federal tax offense.
The White House said that since his convicted, he has been devoted to his church, fire department and works with charitable organizations.
Cesar Lozada – Full pardon
Lozada, an immigrant from Cuba, was charged in 2004 of conspiring to distribute marijuana.
He served his sentence of 14 months in prison and 3 years supervised release, and paid a $10,000 fine.
Mary McCarty – Full pardon
McCarty, a former county commissioner in Palm Beach County, Florida, was issued a full pardon on Wednesday. She was convicted of a federal criminal charge for honest services fraud.
When she was convicted, prosecutors said she had misused her position as a county commissioner to ‘personally enrich herself, her husband, and their associates through a series of municipal bond transactions’ and by receiving gifts and gratuities from people doing business with the Board of County Commissioners.
The White House said her pardon was supported by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media.
Stephanie Mohr – Full pardon
The former Maryland police officer was convicted in 2001 of violating a homeless man’s civil rights by letting her police dog attack him even though he had surrendered.
Prosecutors said after the man had surrendered, Mohr released her police dog and the canine bit into the man’s leg, requiring ten stitches.
Mohr, the first canine handler in the Prince George’s County police force, served 10 years in prison.
She was convicted of violating the man’s civil rights under the color of authority; another officer who faced trial in the case was acquitted.
Joseph Occhipinti – Full pardon
Occhipinti was an agent with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service when he was convicted in 1991 of conspiracy to violate civil rights under the color of law and making false statements.
Authorities charged that he illegally detained and searched Hispanic store owners in New York City and then made false statements to cover-up those activities.
His sentence was commuted after seven months in prison by President George HW Bush.
The White House said he had earned 76 commendations during his career, including from three attorneys general.
Russell Plaisance – Full posthumous pardon
Trump granted a posthumous pardon for Plaisance, who was convicted of conspiracy to important cocaine from a 1987 case, which the White House said stemmed from ‘one conversation in which he participated’.
A White House news release cited the judge who presided over his sentencing saying that the actions were inconsistent with Plaisance’s life history and character.
Officials said he has built a tugboat business that has seven vessels and employs 50 people.
The White House said the prosecutors involved in his case did not object to the pardon.
William J. Plemons, Jr. – Full pardon
The White House said Plemons was convicted of various financial crimes in the late 1990s and early 2000s and served 27 months in federal prison.
Officials said he served in the Air Force and supported several charitable organizations.
Topeka Sam – Full pardon
Sam, now a criminal justice advocate who helped work on a bipartisan criminal justice overhaul that Trump often touts, was convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and served three years of a more than 10-year prison sentence.
She was in the White House when Trump signed the overhaul measure, known as the First Step Act, into law. Sam posted a video on Twitter shortly after the pardon was announced, thanking Trump, and saying, “this is all so surreal.”
Her case had been championed by other criminal justice reform advocates like Alice Marie Johnson, whose life sentence Trump commuted in 2018 at the urging of reality TV star Kim Kardashian West.
Mark Shapiro and Irving Stitsky – Commuted sentence
Trump commuted Shapiro and Stitsky’s sentences after they were convicted in federal court in New York of defrauding more than 250 people in a $23million real estate scam.
Both men were convicted and sentenced to serve 85 years in federal prison.
Prosecutors said Stitsky and Shapiro also diverted millions of dollars of investor funds for their own benefit.
The White House said the men had been offered plea deals to serve no more than nine years but had turned them down and chose instead to go to trial.
A White House news release praised the men as “model prisoners,” who had earned support and praise from other inmates.
Mark Siljander – Full pardon
The former Southwest Michigan congressman was convicted of obstructing justice and failing to register as a foreign agent.
He was sentenced to serve more than a year in prison after being accused of accepting stolen funds on behalf of a Missouri charity with alleged terrorism ties.
Prosecutors said an associate had conspired to hire Siljander to lobby for the charity’s removal from a government list of charities suspected of funding international terrorism.
The charity closed in October 2004 after being designated a global terrorist organization by the US government.
Joseph Martin Stephens – Full pardon
Stephens pleaded guilty in 2008 to being a felon in possession a firearm, a federal offense.
He has previously been convicted of a felony offense in 1991, when he was 19 years old, the White House said.
He served 18 months in prison and was issued a full pardon on Wednesday.
John Tate and Jesse Benton – Full pardon
Two former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides, Tate and Benton were convicted based on indirect campaign payments to a state Senator.
Former campaign chairman Benton and campaign manager Tate were found guilty of a plot to make hidden payments to an Iowa state senator in exchange for his endorsement that prosecutors said corrupted the 2012 Iowa caucus process.
They received 6 months home confinement and 2 years’ probation.
Christopher Wade – Full pardon
The White House said Wade was convicted of multiple cyber-related offenses and has ‘shown remorse and sought to make his community a safer place.’
He was issued a full pardon.
Daniela Gozes-Wagner – Commuted sentence
Wagner is a single mother of two children who has been in federal custody since her 2017 conviction for health care fraud and money laundering.
She worked as a mid-level manager for a company that improperly received Medicare and Medicaid funds
Wagner was the only defendant to go to trial and received a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and was ordered to pay $15.2 million in restitution.
Andrew Barron Worden – Full pardon
Wordon received a 1998 conviction for wire fraud.
Worden had just graduated from college and made mistakes in running an investment firm he founded, the White House claimed.
Christopher II X, formerly Christopher Anthony Bryant – Full pardon
For a two-decade period ending in 1998, II X battled a severe addiction to both cocaine and marijuana. In this period he committed numerous state and federal offenses.
George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, admitted to lying to investigators looking in to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and in 2017
George Papadopoulos – Full pardon
Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, admitted to lying to investigators looking in to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and in 2017, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about the timing and significance of his contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials.
He served 12 days of a 14-day sentence in federal prison, then was placed on a 12-month supervised release.
While stating at his sentencing hearing that he had made a ‘terrible mistake’, since his release from prison, Papadopoulos has claimed that he was targeted as part of an anti-Trump agenda.
Alex van der Zwaan – Full pardon
Trump also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, 36, the Dutch son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan.
Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000 for lying to Mueller’s investigators about contacts with an official in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Van Der Zwaan admitted that he wasn’t truthful about his dealings with Rick Gates, ex-Trump camapaign chair Paul Manafort’s deputy.
Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough – Full pardon
Four Blackwater guards contracted by the government who were convicted in connection with the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad.
Blackwater is owned by billionaire Erik Prince, a confidante of Trump whose sister is Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.
Chris Collins – Full pardon
Collins, 70, had been the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and was a strong defender of the president. He won re-election in 2018 but resigned the next year.
Collins was sentenced to serve two months in federal prison after he admitted to helping his son and others dodge $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.
Steve Stockman – Commuted sentence
Former Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas, 64, was convicted in 2018 of misuse of charitable funds.
He was found guilty of conspiring to bilk at least $775,000 from conservative foundations that intended the donations for charities and voter education.
Prosecutors said Stockman, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 until 1997, and from 2013 until 2015, misused donations from the foundations for personal and political use.
Duncan Hunter – Full pardon
The former California Congressman, 44, pleaded guilty a year ago to a single count of conspiring to convert campaign funds to personal use, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos – Full pardon
The former U.S. Border Patrol agents were convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and lying about the incident after shooting an unarmed undocumented immigrant in 2006 and failing to report it.
The agents claimed the man waved a gun but they were found to have lied
Philip Lyman – Full pardon
Lyman is a county commissioner in Utah who was sentenced to 10 days in jail related to his protest of ATV restrictions on federal land.
Lyman’s arrest came amid a push against federal control of large swaths of land and happened in the wake of an armed confrontation that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had with Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.
The Trump administration in 2017 lifted a ban on motorized vehicles in parts of the canyon but left restrictions in place through other areas where Lyman led his ride.
Weldon Angelos – Full pardon
Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison when he was 24 years old for selling marijuana and carrying a handgun, also received a full pardon.
‘Because of mandatory minimums, Mr. Angelos was sentenced in 2002 to 55 years’ imprisonment,’ the White House said.
He had no criminal record before he was convicted of selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant three times and prosecutors argued he was a gang member who carried a gun during two of those deals, though he was not accused of using or showing a weapon.
The music producer was freed from prison in 2016 after serving 13 years.
Alfonso Costa – Full pardon
Costa is a dentist who pleaded guilty to health care fraud related to false billing, and who is also a close friend and business partner of Ben Carson.
The Trump administration said he took full responsibility for his conduct, served two years of probation, and paid nearly $300,000 in fines and restitution.
Alfred Lee Crum – Full pardon
Crum, 89, received his pardon this week after pleading guilty in 1952—when he was 19 years old—to helping his wife’s uncle illegally distill moonshine in Oklahoma.
The White House said he had served three years probation and has maintained a clean record since.
Philip Esformes – Full pardon
Esformes was a Florida nursing home mogul convicted of paying bribes in a Medicare fraud case.
He was convicted on 20 criminal counts in what prosecutors described as a $1 billion scheme, one of the biggest such cases in U.S. history.
Otis Gordon – Full pardon
Gordon had been convicted for possession with intent to distribute
Crystal Munoz – Commuted sentence
Munoz was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
She had served 12 years of a 20-year prison sentence on a drug conspiracy charge after being convicted for her role in a marijuana smuggling ring.
She contended her only role was drawing a map others allegedly used in moving the drugs from Mexico to Texas and that her lawyer failed to adequately defend her.
Tynice Nichole Hall – Commuted sentence
Trump has commuted the remainder of Hall’s term of supervised release.
He previously commuted her term of incarceration after she had served nearly 14 years of an 18-year sentence for allowing her apartment to be used to distribute drugs.
Judith Negron – Commuted sentence
The president also commuted the remainder of Negron’s term of supervised release after he commuted her term of incarceration after she had served 8 years of her sentence.
She was sentenced to 35 years for her role as a minority-owner of a healthcare company engaged in a scheme to defraud the Federal Government.
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