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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Breaking: "Substantial" Evidence Bill Huizenga Broke Federal Law And House Rules, Bombshell Bipartisan House Ethics Investigation Reveals

Rep. Bill Huizenga
By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)
The House Ethics Committee investigating Rep. Bill Huizenga released a scathing, bipartisan report that could mean severe legal and political problems for the 5th term Congressman.
The report says that the likelihood the Huizenga for Congress committee violated federal law and House rules on two charges is substantial, and significant more inquiry is warranted. They recommended no further investigation on a third charge.

Huizenga is accused of using his Congressional campaign account to pay for lavish vacations for his family (as well as the families of his staff) at locations including Disney multiple times, ski trips, beer tours, Mackinac Island, and other hot spots. (The ritzy Disney vacations with lobbyists, and others, like Universal Studios, were first reported by West Michigan Politics in 2014. I still want to go to the Harry Potter breakfast!)

Huizenga is also accused of accepting hundreds of illegal contributions from his staff, subsequently reimbursing them. Huizenga is unable to account for nearly $40,000 in payments to Chief of Staff Jon Dewitt in any way whatsoever. 

The Ethics Committee declined to further investigate whether Huizenga improperly used his official House expense account, voting 5-0 they did not believe that occurred. The other charges were affirmed 4-0, with an abstention.

As part of the investigation, depositions took place. Huizenga himself was deposed, as well as key figures like District Director (and campaign manager) Matt Kooiman, Campaign Chair Jim Barry, and Chief of Staff (and campaign adviser) Jon DeWitt.

Highlights of the depositions are at the end of the article, mainly, Rep. Huizenga claiming he was somehow unable to procure an official campaign credit card, so he had to put it in his name. Who would ever believe that?! 

Miraculously, his campaign manager somehow produces a card...

According to a  press release from House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, and Ranking Member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican:
"On August 16, 2019, the Committee received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics regarding Representative Bill Huizenga.  
Pursuant to House Rule XI, clause 3(b)(8)(A), and Committee Rules 17A(b)(1)(A) and 17A(c)(1), the Chairman and Ranking Member jointly decided on September 30, 2019, to extend the Committee’s review of the matter. In order to gather additional information necessary to complete its review, the Committee will review the matter pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a)..."
The committee's work will remain private until completion, likely not until sometime in 2020.
"In order to comply with Committee Rule 7 regarding confidentiality, out of fairness to all respondents, and to assure the integrity of its work, the Committee will refrain from making further public statements on this matter pending completion of its initial review," the press release concludes.
____________________________________________________________________


Here is what's happening:

Charge 1

The Ethics Committee report says Huizenga likely violated House rules and federal law regarding accepting contributions from staffers and reimbursing them. 

Hundreds of Huizenga contributions and subsequent reimbursements appear to have been illegal, as well as against House rules. 

Let's allow the report to tell the tale:
"In this review the OCE examined twenty-three disbursements comprising hundreds of individual staff outlays that may have been impermissible contributions," the report says.
The report notes that violates federal law.

 "Under 18 U.S.C. § 602, “[i]t shall be unlawful for . . . an individual elected to or serving in the office of Senator or Representative . . . to knowingly solicit any contribution within the meaning of section 301(8) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 from any other such officer, employee, or person.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 603(a), “[i]t shall be unlawful for an officer or employee of the United States or any department or agency thereof, or a person receiving any salary or compensation for services from money derived from the Treasury of the United States, to make any contribution within the meaning of section 301(8) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to any  Senator or Representative in  the Congress, if the person receiving such contribution is the employer or employing authority of the person making the contribution."
According to the House Ethics Manual: 
“The prohibition against an employee making [a] contribution to the individual’s employing Member is absolute. A House employee may not make such a contribution even if the contribution was entirely unsolicited and the employee genuinely wishes to make the contribution.”

The report continues:
"Generally, all the individuals interviewed stated that the campaign had no written or generally known policies or procedures related to how funds are spent or reimbursed. As the Chief of Staff put it, “[w]e don’t have a written policy. I mean basically everybody’s on the honor system. . . . If you made an expense, you’d get reimbursed.”
Additionally, while it was common practice to provide receipts when requesting a reimbursement, staffers either failed to do so with some frequency or those receipts were not maintained and thus could not be produced when the OCE asked Rep. Huizenga and his staff to verify certain reimbursements.

Because the Campaign Committee could not provide documentary proof of many of the largest expense reimbursements, the OCE often had limited information with which to determine whether a given reimbursement was permissible. 

This was a particular problem with regard to campaign reimbursements to Rep. Huizenga’s Chief of Staff, for whom there were at least $33,274.33 of reimbursements since November of 2015 with no supporting documentation.
Further, Rep. Huizenga and his staff generally were unaware that congressional staff members may not make personal outlays for the campaign. For example, when OCE staff asked the Chief of Staff how often he made expenditures on behalf of the campaign, he stated that he did so “fairly regularly.”

When asked about whether there were policies in place preventing his congressional staffers from making personal outlays on behalf of his campaign, Rep. Huizenga appeared not to be aware that his congressional staffers would be prohibited from doing so, and instead stated that he simply preferred that the Campaign Committee pay directly.
Rep. Huizenga was also asked about a number of the large reimbursements to his Chief of Staff and surmised that most of those reimbursements would be for travel or meals while traveling,  which would fall within the exception to the ban on congressional staffer outlays.

However, the eleven identified expenditures were reported to the FEC with disbursement category code descriptions of either 001 or 007, neither of which are for travel expenses. Category 001 is for “Administrative/salary/overhead expenses” and Category 007 is for “Campaign event expenses.”

From the little detail that was provided, the OCE can determine that in November and December, the Chief of Staff made personal outlays for $1,078.69 of unspecified “entertainment” expenses.

Because no receipts or limited other documentation were maintained and because the Campaign Committee’s FEC reporting does not contain the requisite detail, the OCE cannot determine conclusively whether all of the Chief of Staff’s $41,419.22 of expenditures filed under Categories 001 and 007 were in fact impermissible outlays, or whether some were travel and subsistence related expenses that were permissible. However, based on the evidence available to the OCE, some portion of these expenditures appears to be impermissible.  

Based on the foregoing information, the Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Huizenga’s Campaign Committee accepted contributions from individuals employed in Rep. Huizenga’s congressional office."
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Charge 2

According to the report:

"After reviewing documents produced by Rep. Huizenga, the OCE reviewed several campaign-related trips Rep. Huizenga, members of his staff, and their families took from 2015 to 2018. Those trips include trips to Disney World, Mackinac Island in Michigan, and Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. 

While these trips were generally described as campaign fundraisers, the high cost and the attendance of staff’s families on these trips raised concerns that campaign funds were being converted for personal use to pay for vacations for Rep. Huizenga, his staff, and their families."

That's a BIG problem...


"The Campaign Committee reported campaign disbursements that may not be legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes. If Rep. Huizenga converted campaign funds from the Campaign Committee to personal use, or if Rep. Huizenga’s Campaign Committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes, then Rep. Huizenga may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law. 
The Board recommends that the Committee further review the above allegation concerning Rep. Huizenga because there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Huizenga’s Campaign Committee reported campaign disbursements that were not legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes." 

The report continues:

"While the evidence shows there was some underlying campaign purpose motivating each of the above-described trips and other expenditures, the evidence also shows that they also had a significant or primary personal-use component for some of the attendees that were nevertheless paid for with Campaign Committee funds. Though Rep. Huizenga may have had a bona fide campaign purpose for bringing his family on the above trips, based on the  testimony of Rep. Huizenga and his staff, the family of Rep. Huizenga’s staff were often brought for reasons other than to benefit the campaign.

When considering whether financing travel for staff’s family members was primarily motivated by a campaign or personal purpose, there are several indicia of personal use. The D.C. Deputy told the OCE she brought her family to Disney World to be near them, as the campaign frequently pulls her away from her family. And the Chief of Staff understood the funding of his family’s trips to be a form of compensation for his work for the Campaign Committee. With respect to the Deer Valley trip, the Chief of Staff explicitly stated that attendees didn’t need to bring children to participate,and the D.C. Deputy noted that space was limited on the trip. 

Nonetheless, Rep. Huizenga chose to bring his family and his Chief of Staff’s children on a financial-services focused fundraising trip, instead of bringing his financial services expert, the D.C. Deputy. Additionally, the evidence shows that some of the ten or more family members and friends brought to the Mackinac Island Conference did little or no work for the campaign while on the trip, and instead spent their time touring the island or shopping.

Taking the trips, combined with the campaign funds spent on the personal, family dinner at Osteria Rossa, there appears to be a pattern of disregard for, or lack of understanding of, the rules prohibiting the use of campaign funds for personal use. 


Based on the foregoing information, the Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Huizenga’s Campaign Committee reported campaign disbursements that were not legitimate and verifiable."
Federal law says:

"Pursuant to 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(1), a “contribution or donation [to a Member of Congress] shall not be converted by any person to personal use.”

House Rule 23, clause 6 says:

 “A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner— (a) shall keep the campaign funds of such individual separate from the personal funds of such individual; (b) may not convert campaign funds to personal use in excess of an amount representing reimbursement for legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures; and (c) except as provided in clause 1(b) of rule XXIV, may not expend funds from a campaign account of such individual that are not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”

The House Ethics Manual notes:

“Members have wide discretion in determining what constitutes a bona fide campaign or political purpose to which campaign funds and resources may be devoted, but Members have no discretion whatsoever to convert campaign funds to personal use. Furthermore, House rules require that Members be able to verify that campaign funds have not been used for personal purposes."

Of note: the committee is now subpoenaing Disney, and three other companies:

 "The following individuals and entities refused to cooperate with the OCE’s review: (1) Affordable Limousine; (2) Playtime Events Management, Inc.; (3) The Walt Disney Company; and (4) Sea Island, The Cloister." Subpoenas have been issued for all four entities.

As mentioned, the depositions reveal some interesting moments.

Rep. Huizenga claims the campaign was unable to get a credit card, so he has to keep one in his name, billed directly by the campaign bank account. What?





However, while being interviewed, Matt Kooiman produces a campaign card:


_____________________________________________________________

This is not an isolated incident. Read more about Huizenga's past issues below:

According to reports filed with the United States House of Representatives Ethics Committee, Huizenga failed to provide adequate information on more than one occasion.





WMP previously reported that Huizenga's "Huizenga House Fund," from his time as a State Representative,  had numerous problems, including over a dozen un-filed campaign finance reports from 2004-2009. 

Subsequently, I filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's office.

>>>Breaking: Rep. Huizenga's Super Shady State House Finance Issues Remain Unresolved 10 Years Later


 >>>Read the complaint to the Secretary of State HERE

On February 11, 2015, Huizenga or a representative met with the Secretary of State's office and filed the information required in the 14 outstanding reports.

On March 6, 2015, the Secretary of State requested Huizenga, because of his role as treasurer of the fund, provide an official affidavit saying his lack of disclosure of $14,000 worth of contributions was really an honest "oversight."


>>>WMP: Developing: Rep. Huizenga Responds To Campaign Finance Controversies After Meeting With Secretary of State Officials



 _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lewandowski and Langlois Rallying In GR To Support President Trump During Dem Impeachment Efforts



By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)

President Trump's 2016 Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski is coming to Grand Rapids to hold a rally supporting the President as he fights against controversial Dem impeachment efforts.

Lewandowski will be joined by Joel Langlois, who is running for Congress in the 3rd District Republican Primary. 

The winner will replace Justin Amash as the GOP nominee after Amash left the party earlier this year.


Langlois

The rally is December 5th at the DeltaPlex, and begins at 7. Tickets are required, but are available for free HERE

Langlois, a Grand Rapids businessman, owns the DeltaPlex, as well as the Intersection.

Former Amash supporter Ann Timmer, who confronted Amash over his support of impeaching President Trump at a townhall this summer, will also attend the event.



Other candidates include State Representatives Jim Lower and Lynn Affendoulis, former Sand Lake Village President Tom Norton, and Peter Meijer.

 _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Monday, October 7, 2019

Gongwer Covers WMP Whitmer Whistleblower Controversy: Lawmakers Speak Out



By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)


From Friday's Gongwer:

"Republican lawmakers Friday said Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer's declaration this week that longtime whistleblower protection language in each departmental budget for state employees is unconstitutional and thus unenforceable was a move that undermines government transparency and provides a chilling effect on the possibility those observing problems will come forward.

Ms. Whitmer declared an identical section in 13 budget bills unenforceable, asserting it violates the separation of powers. The language has been placed in budget bills each year dating back to the early 2000s.

"A department or state agency shall not take disciplinary action against an employee for communicating with a member of the Legislature or his or her staff," the section removed in each of the 13 budget bills said.

In the past, governors will recommend the removal of this language in their budget proposals. Then the Legislature placed the boilerplate language back in when passing budget bills. Finally, the Legislature in conference committee keeps the language and the governor has let it remain once it arrives on his or her desk.

The boilerplate language is not the only line of defense for whistleblowers. There is also the Whistleblowers' Protection Act, passed in 1980.

"For her to take that out is just indefensible," said Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), whose district includes a large number of state employees.

Mr. Barrett chaired the Senate Appropriations Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee and said the move could cause a chilling effect for those who may have information on state government problems within agencies or complaints about supervisors, for example.

Mr. Barrett said it appears to him that Ms. Whitmer resents the idea of equal branches of government. He also called it hypocrisy for Democrats to be praising the current whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump that has led to an impeachment investigation while not calling out a reduction in whistleblower protections on the state level.

Mr. Barrett said he has had a few complaints brought to his attention from state employees in the past and his wife works for the Department of Health and Human Services. He questioned the impact striking the language could have on state workers in his district as a result of removing an additional layer of protection.

"To me, it's disappointing to see that struck out," House Appropriations Chair Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said.

Mr. Hernandez said the move weakens good governance, adding private suggestions from state employees on how to improve government efficiency as well as in addressing shortcomings in operations or leadership can be less likely to come to light as a result.

Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) went a step further, noting among the issues Ms. Whitmer campaigned on was government transparency, which by stripping the whistleblower language is a move toward doing the opposite while in office.

"She doesn't have their backs," said Mr. Nesbitt, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee, of state employees.

Tiffany Brown, spokesperson for Ms. Whitmer, in a statement called whistleblower protections important and said executive directives issued by the governor shortly after taking office on issues including government ethics show a proactive approach by the governor on the topic.

However, she said whistleblower protections must comply with the Constitution, saying the boilerplate language does not.

"As the attorney general concluded, these provisions regarding communications with the Legislature, included in many appropriations bills, violate the state Constitution's multiple provisions requiring a separation of powers because a department's disciplinary policy is a core executive function," Ms. Brown said. "As state courts have affirmed, one branch of government cannot provide oversight for another branch in personnel matters."

She also added that the attorney general has concluded the provisions "violate the Constitution's rule against a law carrying out a purpose not encompassed in the law's title."

"Most bills that included this provision had as their purposes to make appropriations," Ms. Brown said. "This provision, however, did not make an appropriation nor create conditions on the spending of appropriated funds, and therefore violated this constitutional requirement."


Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) chairs the House Appropriations School Aid and Department of Education Subcommittee. The education funding budgets he oversaw in committee were among the ones that did not contain the boilerplate language.

Despite him personally not having a large volume of communications with state employees nor anything that would approach the level of whistleblower content, he said there is the optics of what Ms. Whitmer did to consider.

"The message it sets is what's more important," Mr. Miller said. "I don't think it's a good one."


Read more:

Breaking: Governor Whitmer Ends Whistleblower Protection For State Employees

Whitmer Begged Lansing Lobbyists: Get Republicans To Support My Gas Tax Hike! (Or Have Funding For Your Projects Vetoed)

 _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Michigan Freedom Fund's Tony Daunt: WMP Whistleblower Revelations Are A "Bombshell"



































By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)


Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tony Daunt is calling the West Michigan Politics story that broke last Wednesday about Governor Whitmer removing protections for whistleblowers a "bombshell."

Daunt writes:

"This is a bombshell that’s gone almost entirely unreported in all the coverage spilling out of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s use of the veto pen to eliminate $13 million for county sheriffs to patrol local roads, strip $35 million from public charter schools serving minority students and low-income families, and perhaps most ridiculously, reduce road funding by $375 million after spending two years grandstanding about “Fixing the Damn Roads”. Apparently, what she really meant was “Raise the Damn Taxes”!



Buried among the Governor’s 147 line-item vetoes in the state budget was a shocking and appalling move to greatly reduce government transparency and threaten whistleblowers in state Government.

Whitmer vetoed a section in each of the Department budgets that reads:

“A department or state agency shall not take disciplinary action against an employee for communicating with a member of the legislature or his or her staff.”
She vetoed the same provision in 13 budgets. That’s every last one of the state’s non-school budgets. 

She vetoed whistleblower protections 13 times. 13. Times.

The boilerplate language eliminated by Whitmer is designed to protect whistleblowers in state government who may seek to expose government malfeasance, bad behavior, abuse of taxpayer funds, or any number of other troubling behaviors inside state departments.

It was written and approved by Republicans and Democrats in the legislature who champion government transparency, and has been part of the budget language since at least 2003!

Not surprisingly, her move to draw the curtains on any potential bad behavior inside her own departments didn’t make the Governor’s list of talking points.

It’s a potentially devastating move for integrity in state government. And it begs a pair of questions. What’s the Governor worried about? Or what’s she trying to hide?"

  _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Saturday, October 5, 2019

State Senator Tom Barrett DESTROYS Governor Whitmer For Removing State Employee Whistleblower Protections

















By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)

State Senator Tom Barrett is speaking out after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shockingly and unexpectedly removed whistleblower protections for state employees who talk to legislators earlier this week.

"It’s ironic that at the same time the Democratic leadership in Washington is applying for sainthood for the “whistleblower” attacking President Trump, that Governor Whitmer would take this action," Barrett tells West Michigan Politics. "It clearly proves both are just partisan power grabs."


Barrett has frequently spoken with state employees during his time in Lansing.

"I have personally been approached by state employees with candid concerns regarding different issues throughout my tenure in the MIchigan Legislature," Barrett said. "Each time, I reassured the individual that they would not face disciplinary action if it were discovered that they brought their concerns forward.  Now, Governor Whitmer has removed key protections for state employees."

Barrett believes Whitmer wants to grab as much power as possible.

"Between her recent budget vetoes, State Administrative Board moves, and striking whistleblower protections for state employees, her actions show that she only wants to consolidate power in state government at the very the top of the executive branch."

State Rep. Steve Johnson also blasted Whitmer in a statement to West Michigan Politics.

"State employees should always be free to expose wrongdoing in the executive branch," Johnson said. "It's important we find out more about this."

Stay tuned!

  _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Friday, October 4, 2019

Whitmer Begged Lansing Lobbyists: Get Republicans To Support My Gas Tax Hike! (Or Have Funding For Your Projects Vetoed)



By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)

West Michigan Politics has learned Governor Whitmer asked her staff to organize meetings with every multi-client lobbyist in Lansing in September, subsequently scheduling back-to-back appointments with all of them, on the same day, each half hour. 

In those meetings, Whitmer told all of them if they didn't get the Republicans to support her  gas tax hike, she would line item veto all of their priorities that Republicans had already placed in the budget.


The lobbyists, however, were not pleased with Whitmer's demands, and didn't make a major effort to push the gas tax hike...


This seems to explain some of Whitmer's bizarre and controversial budget cuts earlier this week.

Stay tuned!

Breaking: Governor Whitmer Ends Whistleblower Protection For State Employees

Developing: Governor Whitmer Threatened State Employees: Don't Talk With Legislators During September Budget Negotiations!



 _________________________________________________________________

Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Developing: Governor Whitmer Threatened State Employees: Don't Talk With Legislators During September Budget Negotiations!


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer


By Brandon Hall

(Email Him At WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com)

Governor Whitmer issued clear orders to department leaders in state government throughout meetings a few weeks ago: state employees are forbidden to talk with legislators during the final, heated month of budget negotiations.

However, some state employees ignored the directive, feeling it was more important to do what they thought was right instead of playing partisan politics with state programs.

Now, many of these employees fear for their jobs after Governor Whitmer shockingly and unexpectedly eliminated whistleblower protections for state employees who talk to legislators earlier this week. 

That rule stood for decades through multiple Governors from both parties before Whitmer removed it.

Rep. Steve Johnson
State Rep. Steve Johnson blasted Whitmer's decision Thursday afternoon in a statement to West Michigan Politics.

"State employees should always be free to expose wrongdoing in the executive branch," Johnson said. "It's important we find out more about this."

Exactly! It's pretty straight forward...

Here is what Whitmer removed from every budget:


"The department shall not take disciplinary action against an employee for communicating with a member of the legislature or his or her staff."

Sadly, the media has been completely silent on this issue because of so much other drama in Whitmer's budget... Stay tuned!

Read more:

Breaking: Governor Whitmer Ends Whistleblower Protection For State Employees

Whitmer Begged Lansing Lobbyists: Get Republicans To Support My Gas Tax Hike! (Or Have Funding For Your Projects Vetoed)




 _________________________________________________________________
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at WestMIPolitics@Gmail.com
Facebook
Twitter