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Noah Y. Kim
By Noah Y. Kim January 12, 2021

No, State Department didn't issue statement saying Trump's term had ended

If Your Time is short

• The State Department on Jan. 11 took down Donald Trump’s biography page from its website after the page was updated to read that Trump’s term had ended on Jan. 11, 2021. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ordered an internal investigation into the incident. 

• Sources with inside knowledge of the incident told news outlets that a rogue staffer made the change. 

• Donald Trump is still president. Though many are calling for his removal, his term is not scheduled to end until Jan. 20 when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

Social media was set abuzz Jan. 11 when a U.S. State Department website was updated to read that President Donald Trump’s term had ended that day. 

"BREAKING NEWS: The U.S. Department of State just released a statement on their website stating that Donald J. Trump's term ended today (at 7:39PM ET)," reads one Facebook post. It includes a screengrab of a State Department webpage that reads "Donald J. Trump's term ended on 2021-01-11 19:39:00."  

The image is legitimate, but the claim in the post is misleading. It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Here’s what happened: Nine days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Trump’s biography page on the official State Department website was edited to read what we see in the post, that "Donald J. Trump's term ended on 2021-01-11." Mike Pence’s biography was also updated to say, "Michael R. Pence's term ended on 2021-01-11."

But these changes did not amount to an official "statement" from the State Department, as the claim suggests. 

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Citing two unnamed diplomats, Buzzfeed News reported Jan. 11 that the website edits were the work of a "disgruntled employee." CNN confirmed Buzzfeed’s report. 

Both web pages were taken down around 3:50 p.m. Jan. 11 and replaced with error messages. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered an internal investigation, according to Buzzfeed. 

The website changes appeared as Democrats were beginning the impeachment process against Trump on grounds that he incited a mob of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol. 

The State Department did not return requests for comment. 

The claim that the State Department released a statement that Trump’s term ended Jan. 11 contains an element of truth in that the agency’s website was edited to falsely suggest it had. But the change was not an official statement by the State Department. Rather, reporting indicates this was the action of a rogue employee; Trump is still president.  

We rate it Mostly False. ​

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No, State Department didn't issue statement saying Trump's term had ended

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