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

With news that Santa won’t be coming to Cottonwood Centre this year, April Blais wanted to set up a photo op with the jolly old elf in her front yard. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack family blown away by response to Christmas light display

The Blais family has decked out their yard with holiday decor, collecting food bank donations

Abbotsford residents gather in the Clearbrook area on Monday to demonstrate against what they say is unfairt treatment by the Indian government to farmers in the Punjab region of that country. (Maan Sidhu photo)
Abbotsford residents gather to protest unfair treatment of India farmers

Locals believe new bills will devastate small farms, demand farmers be allowed to protest peacefully

An original piece of artwork by Rosie Laponder, was stolen along with various art supplies from Julie Ann’s Art and Custom Framing in Chilliwack on Nov. 28, 2020. (Submitted image)
Thieves steal original artwork, art supplies from Chilliwack store

‘It kind of makes you sick to your stomach,’ says store manager

The paraglider pilot, while attempting to free himself, dropped 30 feet and sustained serious injuries as Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue members worked quickly to extract him from the trees. They were able to get him to a waiting ambulance at the end of a nearby forest service road. (Contributed Photo/Dave Harder)
UPDATE: Rescued paraglider being treated for non-life threatening injuries

Pilot tried to self-rescue but sustained serious injuries in a 30-foot fall

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
UPDATE: Chilliwack man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

Long list of charges for Alberta man caught following morning of crime in Chilliwack

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Mirandy Tracy, left, and Tara Kurtz are two Langley mothers who are organizing a "sick out" for Tuesday, Dec. 1 to protest COVID conditions in schools. They're calling for masks and smaller class sizes, among other things. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Politician, labour leader throw support behind student Sick Out day

Langley parents started the movement to keep kids home on Dec. 1 as a protest

A family emerged with a purchase at the Tannenbaum Tree Farm at 5398 252 St in Aldergrove on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Christmas tree season is off to an early start

People are ‘bored’ with staying home due to COVID-19 and want to decorate early, farm owner believes

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A convoy of seven pickup trucks, six of which were hauling boats, makes its way around the Chilliwack Law Courts on Dec. 1, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
First court date for Fraser River anglers ticketed during demonstration fishery

Convoy of trucks circled the courthouse in downtown Chilliwack Tuesday honking their support

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

Most Read