President Donald Trump retweeted an attack that included an unsubstantiated name of the intelligence community whistleblower at the heart of the Ukraine scandal as part of a series of rants and conspiratorial posts Friday night.
On Saturday morning, the retweeted message was no longer visible to some Twitter users. It appeared, for most of the day, that Trump or someone with access to his account had removed the controversial retweet. Most of Friday night’s other reposts, including pro-Trump and anti-Democrat memes from suspicious-looking Twitter accounts, also appeared to be missing.
The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on Friday night’s retweet and what appeared to be Saturday morning’s reversal, even after other news outlets reported Trump had removed the post.
It turned out that a Twitter glitch was hiding those retweets and lots of others. The company did not explain this when CNN made inquiries Saturday morning, apparently because the glitch was being investigated.
Twitter explained the software bug in a statement Saturday night, saying: “Due to an outage with one of our systems, tweets on account profiles were visible to some, but not others. We’re still working on fixing this and apologize for any confusion.”
A Twitter spokesman confirmed that Trump’s account was affected by the bug, along with millions of other accounts.
The upshot: Trump never reversed his retweet containing the unsubstantiated name of the whistleblower. It is still officially part of his Twitter timeline, which has 68 million followers, but some users still could not see it as of Saturday night.
Of all the posts in Trump’s Friday night tweetstorm, his whistleblower-related post was the most noteworthy because nearly every public official involved in the impeachment inquiry agreed that the identity of the original complainant should be protected.
Trump has shared more than 100 posts about the whistleblower since September, almost entirely critical, but until this week he had refrained from sharing any content directly pointing to a person’s name.
Some far-right media outlets and personalities have published stories claiming to know the name of the whistleblower, but his or her identity is not known and has not been reported by mainstream outlets – including CNN.
On Thursday, the President retweeted a post from his reelection campaign containing an article with the purported name of the person.
Then he shared a post with the unsubstantiated name late Friday night.
Earlier in the evening, one of the lawyers for the intelligence community whistleblower, Mark Zaid, reiterated a message he has been sharing for months: “Protect the Whistleblower.”
“I guarantee Republicans will want #whistleblowers during next Democrat Administration, whenever that may be,” Zaid wrote. “They likely won’t have many given their continual attacks on integrity of lawful #WBer system.”
What Trump’s tweetstorm reveals
According to the Trump Twitter Archive, which tracks every post from the President, he shared 55 posts on Friday, mostly by retweeting pro-Trump accounts, some of them obscure. Many of the accounts are anonymous or semi-anonymous, with names including such phrases as “Trump Lady,” “America First” and “pet lovers for Trump.”
Some of the accounts show signs of being run by spam operations, but others appear to be genuine, passionate Trump supporters.
Twitter has said that tweets with the unsubstantiated name of the whistleblower do not violate its rules. However, sharing personal information about the named person, like his or her phone number, would be a violation. Facebook has taken a harder line on the issue, invoking its policy prohibiting the outing of any “witness, informant, or activist.” The site has been removing content with the purported name.
Ultimately, what the President’s tweetstorm reveals – in unflattering detail – is his sketchy sources of information.
Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio confirmed to CNN Saturday afternoon that the platform has suspended some of the pro-Trump accounts that Trump had promoted Friday night. In one example, an account called @trumpgirlonfire that Trump had quoted with “The Wall is funded & being built!” is no longer accessible.
Pacilio cited violations of Twitter’s rules and declined to comment on specific accounts. Twitter often takes such action when a user’s behavior is deemed to be inauthentic.
‘Unthinkable for an American president’
National security lawyer and CNN analyst Carrie Cordero wrote on Twitter Saturday that “just a few short years ago it would have been unthinkable for an American president to flout the law & intentionally endanger an intelligence community professional.”
Trump’s attempts “to intimidate the whistleblower show that his version of America is the opposite of a law & order nation,” Cordero said. “Instead, it’s one of lawlessness, of disregard for the institutions & the people in them who keep America safe, of recklessness & of the corrupt use of power.”
In one rant, Trump tweeted against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling the California Democrat “crazy,” an insult that he has tweeted at her eight times in the past five days. Pelosi, in previous responses to Trump’s tweeted insults, has said she prays for the President.
He also retweeted people calling Democrats “rats” and videos claiming to prove “collusion between DNC & Ukraine during 2016 Presidential campaign.” There has been no evidence of collusion between the Democratic National Committee and Ukraine in the last election.
Vox’s Aaron Rupar, who closely tracks the President’s public comments, wrote on Twitter Friday night, “The President of the United States has, today alone, retweeted 2 QAnon fan accounts, a Pizzagate account, an account that compared his following to a cult, and an account that described Obama as ‘Satan’s Muslim Scum.’ And this insanity isn’t even a blip on the news radar.”
UPDATE: This headline and story have been updated to reflect Twitter’s statement Saturday night that a bug impacted millions of accounts, including Trump’s, that caused some users to not see some tweets. Trump never reversed his retweet containing the unsubstantiated name of the whistleblower, and the retweet is still officially part of his Twitter timeline.