President Donald Trump glances at the cheering White House visitors and claps his hands as as he leaves the White House for a campaign trip to Battle Creek, Mich., Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Washington. Trump is on the cusp of being impeached by the House, with a historic debate set Wednesday on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress ahead of votes that will leave a defining mark on his tenure at the White House. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Trump retweets post naming alleged whistleblower

Unmasking the whistleblower, who works in the intelligence field, could violate federal protection laws

President Donald Trump retweeted a post that included the alleged name of the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment by the House.

Just before midnight Friday, Trump retweeted a message from Twitter user @Surfermom77, an account that claims to be a woman named Sophia who lives in California. The account shows some indications of automation, including an unusually high amount of activity and profile pictures featuring stock images from the internet.

By Saturday morning, the post seemed to have disappeared on many users’ feeds, suggesting Trump had deleted it, though it could still be found in other ways, including on a website that logs every presidential tweet.

The retweet then reappeared Saturday night. Twitter told The Associated Press that an outage with one of its systems caused tweets on some accounts, including Trump’s, to be visible to some but not others.

Trump has repeatedly backed efforts to unmask the whistleblower. But his Friday night retweet marks the first time he has directly sent the alleged name into the Twitter feed of his 68 million followers.

Unmasking the whistleblower, who works in the intelligence field, could violate federal protection laws that have historically been supported by both parties.

The whistleblower filed a complaint in August about one of Trump’s telephone conversations with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other dealings with the Eastern European nation. The complaint prompted House Democrats to launch a probe that ended with Trump’s impeachment earlier this month. The matter now heads to the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to acquit the president.

The central points from the whistleblower’s complaint were confirmed during the House impeachment hearings by a string of diplomats and other career officials, many of whom testified in public. The White House also released a transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, in which he asks for help investigating former Vice-President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity has been circulating in conservative media and on social media for months.

U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

Trump insists he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine and has asserted that the whistleblower made up the complaint, despite its corroboration by other officials. Trump also argues that he has a right to face his accuser and has called on the whistleblower to step forward.

For months, an array of right-wing personalities, amateur pro-Trump internet sleuths and some conservative news outlets have published what they claim to be details about the whistleblower, including name and career history. The president himself has also been inching closer to outing the individual; earlier this week, Trump shared a tweet linking to a Washington Examiner article that included the alleged name.

Surfermom77, the Twitter handle on the post Trump retweeted, describes herself as a “100%Trump Supporter” and California resident. The account had nearly 79,000 followers as of Saturday afternoon. Some of its previous posts have denounced Islam and sharply criticized former President Barack Obama and other Democrats.

Surfermom77 has displayed some hallmarks of a Twitter bot, an automated account. A recent profile picture on the account, for instance, is a stock photo of a woman in business attire that is available for use online.

That photo was removed Saturday and replaced with an image of Trump.

A deeper look at Surfermom77’s account shows the user previously used two other stock photos as profile pictures, including one of a model wearing an orange hat used by a hat retailer.

Surfermom77 has also tweeted far more than typical users, more than 170,000 times since the account was activated in 2013. Surfermom77 has posted, on average, 72 tweets a day, according to Nir Hauser, chief technology officer at VineSight, a technology firm that tracks online misinformation.

“That’s not something most humans are doing,” Hauser said.

ALSO READ: President Donald Trump impeached by U.S. House on two charges

While many bots only repost benign information like cat photos, others have been used to spread disinformation or polarizing claims, as Russian bots did in the lead up to the 2016 election.

In past years, Surfermom77 has described herself as a teacher, historian, documentary author and model. Attempts to reach the person behind the account by telephone on Saturday were unsuccessful. An email address could not be found.

Facebook has a policy banning posts that name the alleged whistleblower. But Twitter, which doesn’t have such a rule, has not removed the tweet from Supermom77 or tweets from others who have named the alleged whistleblower.

“The Tweet you referenced is not a violation of the Twitter Rules,” the company wrote in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

Some details about the whistleblower that have been published online by Trump’s supporters have been inaccurate or misrepresented.

For example, a photo shared widely on social media last month was circulated by Facebook, Reddit and Twitter users who wrongly claimed it showed the whistleblower with Obama’s staffers outside the White House as Trump moved in.

The individual in the photo actually was R. David Edelman, a former special assistant to Obama on economic and tech policy. Edelman debunked the claim on his Twitter account and told the AP he received threats online as a result of the false claims.

Michael German, an FBI whistleblower who left the agency after reporting allegations of mismanagement in counterterrorism cases, said outing government whistleblowers not only puts them at personal risk but also discourages other government officials from stepping forward to expose possible wrongdoing.

German, now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said the ease with which the alleged whistleblower’s identity has been spread online shows the need for greater legal protections for whistleblowers.

He added that it’s “completely inappropriate for the president of the United States to be engaged in any type of behaviour that could harm a whistleblower.”

___

Keppler reported from Providence, R.I. Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

Darlene Superville And David Klepper, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Columbia Basin Trust shuffles board, new leaders at the table

The Trust is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors

West Kootenay snowpack nearing record levels

High snowpack can mean a greater risk of flooding in spring, say forecasters

VIDEO: Kootenay Patricks, Montreal Canadiens play to the crowd in Nelson

The charity game was a spectacle from puck drop

Province looking at steps to dissolve Jumbo resort municipality

Disincorporating municipality will likely require a legislative change, according to the province

RCMP still investigating body found between Nelson, Castlegar

Halimi’s body was found between Nelson and Castlegar in May 2018

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

First-place Canucks beat Blues 3-1 for ninth straight home win

Miller nets pair as Vancouver defeats Cup champs

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Police search for man who went missing from Vernon hotel

Jay Rosenberger, 38, was last seen Friday

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

After four sexual assaults in the same B.C. park, RCMP ask women not to walk alone

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

BC Place lights up in purple and yellow to honour Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash

Whistleblower says Iranian-Americans questioned at Peace Arch crossing were targeted

Immigration lawyer says response from Customs Border Protection is a ‘total cover up’

Most Read