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White House ex-staffer misidentified as Trump whistleblower

November 8, 2019

CLAIM: Photos of White House staff show the whistleblower who led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The man in the photos whose face is circled in red in posts online is R. David Edelman, who left his position with the White House in 2017 before Trump’s inauguration.

THE FACTS: The falsely captioned photos of Edelman circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit this week as social media users tried to unmask the whistleblower, possibly inspired by posts and stories shared by conservative outlets and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., that claimed to reveal the person’s identity. The posts sharing the photos said the whistleblower could be seen in the shot.

“Here’s a picture of the ‘whistleblower’ see the ‘NERD’ in the picture...his face is circled,” said one post containing the photo.

Edelman took to Twitter on Thursday to debunk the claim. He said he is correctly identified in the photos, but that he left his job in 2017 and is not the whistleblower.

“Sorry to disappoint, y’all,” he tweeted.

One of the widely circulated posts included a photo taken by Susan Walsh for The Associated Press on Nov. 9, 2016. It shows Edelman alongside White House staff, including former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as they listen to President Barack Obama address Trump’s election victory in the White House Rose Garden. At the time, Edelman was serving under Obama as the special assistant to the president on economic and tech policy.

Edelman told the AP he was first alerted by a friend in Europe that the photos were being shared with him circled as the supposed whistleblower. He then saw posts with the photos making the rounds on Twitter and Reddit, from fringe accounts to those of right-wing personalities with large followings.

“I did some research and discovered it was beginning to get traction despite not having any grounding in reality,” he said. “I’m trying to correct the record.”

Edelman left his position at the White House in 2017 before the transition to Trump’s administration. He has since been working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he manages a research group on artificial intelligence and public policy research.

He said he has received threats because of the false claims online, and has reached out to Twitter about the post.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536