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Fight over Kavanaugh nomination finds its oddest front yet: Wikipedia pages

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sept. 27 delivered an impassioned rebuke of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Video: Reuters)
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Whoever was answering the phones in what was supposedly Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s office Thursday evening was clearly tired of getting calls.

“Hello, FBI!” came the shouted greeting to a reporter’s call. “You must have the wrong number,” the woman on the phone said when asked about the online disclosure of senators’ personal information as Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh spoke before a Senate committee earlier in the day.

Have you received a lot of calls tonight?

The unwilling receptionist’s patience — already thin — had worn out and the line went dead.

Graham (R-S.C.) was one of three Republicans whose purported personal information was leaked as he questioned Kavanaugh. The Republican senators from Utah — Mike Lee and Orrin G. Hatch — were also “doxed” when an anonymous Wikipedia user edited their pages, adding phone numbers and home addresses. The information was quickly removed and aides contacted authorities.

The doxing, done in a seemingly partisan fashion, took an increasingly caustic clash over Kavanaugh’s nomination to its oddest front yet: the world of Wikipedia revision wars.

It came hours after emotional testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, and during Kavanaugh’s fiery response, which quickly devolved into a partisan brawl.

The Washington Post confirmed the accuracy of most of the addresses added to the senators' Wikipedia pages, both in Washington and in their home states; but calls to the posted numbers elicited a range of replies, the most colorful coming from the number listed for Graham’s office.

Another phone number listed for Graham, this one identified on Wikipedia as his “home” line, was actually the number for a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization. Most other numbers went straight to voice mail or were disconnected.

Graham’s spokesman, Kevin Bishop, said the senator’s office was aware of the leak but did not comment further.

A member of Lee’s staff, who did not identify himself, answered the number listed as the senator’s office line and said he had spoken to Capitol Police about the incident, but declined to comment further. Lee’s spokeswoman, Jillian Wheeler, said her office couldn’t confirm any details about the incident and also declined further comment.

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A spokeswoman for Capitol Police, Eva Malecki, said the department does not comment on ongoing investigations. Some of the information posted could also be found in publicly available documents, and it’s unclear what, if any, crimes may have been committed.

But the action put the senators in danger, said Hatch’s spokesman, Matt Whitlock.

“It’s shocking that someone would post Senator Hatch and other Judiciary Committee Republican’s home addresses online, putting their families at risk,” Whitlock said. “That it happened as they were asking questions in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing is just another indication of how broken this process has become.”

“This is outrageous,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, wrote on Twitter. “Please stop.”

The Wikipedia entries began circulating on Twitter thanks to an account called @congressedits, a social media “accountability bot” that tracks edits to the online encyclopedia made from IP addresses assigned to the U.S. Capitol. When someone makes edits to a page using one of those IP addresses, the bot takes a screen shot of the change and tweets it out to its 65,000 followers.

According to the bot, the Republican lawmakers’ articles were “edited anonymously from US House of Representatives.”

So, too, was the entry for “Devil’s Triangle,” a drinking game that Kavanaugh, under questioning from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), said he played in high school. An anonymous user added a new definition to the “Devil’s Triangle” entries: “a popular drinking game enjoyed by friends of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”

If these edits were meant to intimidate Republican senators or embarrass Kavanaugh, a rebuttal edit — also reported by the @congressedits account as having come from the House — was intended to shame the rogue reviser (or revisers) into abandoning the effort.

The Wikipedia article for the U.S. Congress received the following edit: “Wikipedia should block all congressional IPs if some little rich-boy socialist interns can’t be responsible online.”

The “intern” part of that edit may have been a reference to past escapades @congressedits exposed (or, perhaps more likely, facilitated). Last year, the Wikipedia article on internships was edited from a House IP address to include the plea “please pay us.”

(In an article for the Daily Beast, former Hill intern Kate Kohn shed some light on the intern editing practice and copped to making changes herself.)

Thursday evening was the second high-profile instance of doxing for Graham in the past few years. The first came from a notable member of his own party.

On the campaign trail in 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump famously recited Graham’s cellphone number during an event in South Carolina. Asked why he gave out Graham’s personal number, Trump said, simply: “So people can call him.”

That day, Graham seemed resigned to his fate, tweeting: “Probably getting a new phone. iPhone or Android?”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Read more:

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