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Viral Photo Doesn’t Show Schiff With Whistleblower


Quick Take

Viral posts are spreading a false claim that a photograph shows Rep. Adam Schiff with the “whistleblower.” The photo was posted by Schiff and shows his family and his daughter’s boyfriend — who is a college student, not an intelligence official.


Full Story 

As the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump nears its end, social media users have resurfaced a false claim attempting to depict a family tie between Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower whose complaint led to the impeachment.

The meme now circulating makes the baseless claim that a young man seen in a photo with Schiff’s family is the “‘whistleblower’ aka Schiffs daughters boyfriend.” Schiff is chairman of the House intelligence committee and the lead manager prosecuting the impeachment case before the Senate.

The person in the photo was identified by Schiff — in public social media posts — as his daughter’s boyfriend. But there’s no basis for the claim that he’s the whistleblower, a member of the intelligence community who anonymously filed a complaint regarding Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Schiff shared the photo in question on his verified Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts in November with the message: “Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! With Eve, Alexa and her boyfriend Eric.”

The individual in the photo is actually an undergraduate college student studying mathematics, FactCheck.org confirmed, not a government official.

The whistleblower’s identity hasn’t been publicly confirmed, but some outlets have identified an intelligence official by the same first name who is alleged to be the whistleblower — which has evidently fueled the falsehood. That official is not the same person shown in the photo.

The dubious claim about Schiff’s daughter’s boyfriend appeared almost immediately as an apparent joke after Schiff posted the photo in November. A website called “Genesius Times” — which bills itself as the “MOST RELIABLE SOURCE OF FAKE NEWS ON THE PLANET” — also parroted the claim, editing a screenshot of Schiff’s actual tweet to make it read: “her boyfriend ‘Whistleblower’ Eric.'”

As the memes have spread in recent days, another publication that claims its work is satire — but whose content often serves as the of source of misinformation — also published a headline on Jan. 31 claiming that “Adam Schiff’s Daughter is Dating the Whistleblower.”

Previous social media hoaxes have also wrongly alleged to show photos of the whistleblower, including some with high-profile Democrats.

As we’ve explained before, whistleblowers are permitted under federal law to anonymously report alleged wrongdoings to inspectors general, Congress and other appropriate authorities. While the law only bars inspectors general and their staffs from disclosing the identity of a whistleblower, there are other legal considerations for not naming the complainant — it could, for example, obstruct a congressional investigation or lead to retaliation against the federal employee.

Schiff and others have worked to protect the identity of the whistleblower. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee to the court, refused to read a question during the impeachment trial that was submitted by Republican Sen. Rand Paul that included the name of the alleged whistleblower.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Kiely, Eugene, et. al. “The Whistleblower Complaint Timeline.” FactCheck.org. 31 Jan 2020.

Kiely, Eugene. “Legal Implications of Outing the Whistleblower.” FactCheck.org. 20 Nov 2019.

Schiff, Adam (@RepAdamSchiff). “Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! With Eve, Alexa and her boyfriend Eric.” Twitter. 28 Nov 2019.

Totenberg, Nina. “Chief Justice Roberts Navigates Shoals Of The Impeachment Trial.” NPR. 31 Jan 2020.