Trump retweets al­leged name

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Dar­lene Su­perville and David Klep­per

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. >> Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump retweeted, then deleted, 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 had been re­moved from Trump’s feed, though it could still be found in other ways, in­clud­ing on a web­site that logs ev­ery pres­i­den­tial tweet.

While Trump has re­peat­edly backed ef­forts to un­mask the whistle­blower, his 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 Ze­len­sky 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 Ze­len­sky, 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.

The White House had no com­ment Satur­day on the pres­i­dent’s retweet or why it was re­moved.

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.

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.

AN­DREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks to at­tor­ney Alan Der­showitz in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tues­day.

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