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)

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

River’s incredible story came to an end when he was finally caught in a live trap on Dec. 13, 2020, after spending 16 days of surviving on his own in a North Thompson Valley wilderness area. (James Akey photo)
Bringing River home for Christmas

Lost dog saved from B.C. wilderness by a community that cared

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Vancouver Island paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Most Read