The official US State Department website has gone down after a post thought to be a prank said Donald Trump’s term as president “ended” nine days early.
The Republican’s bio page on the site briefly showed a sentence saying “Donald J. Trump‘s term ended on 2021-01-11 19:48:41.”
While the post appeared about four hours earlier by US Eastern Time than the time given, it prompted an online frenzy amid speculation that Mr Trump may have stepped down before Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January.
Reports later emerged that the message had been posted by a “disgruntled” employee of the department.
Two people familiar with the incident told the Associated Press that the department had launched an investigation.
They said that while the prospect that the entry was the work of a disgruntled employee could not be discounted, they had yet to reach any conclusions.
A similar message also appeared on Vice President Mike Pence’s page.
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Neither the department nor the White House had commented on the post at the time of writing.
The post was visible on the website for less than an hour, before it was replaced with text saying: “We’re sorry, this site is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please try again in a few moments.”
It came following days of widespread criticism over Mr Trump’s role in provoking a riot at the US Capitol by supporters challenging the certification of Joe Biden‘s victory in the November presidential election.
Ahead of the violence, Mr Trump had told his supporters to “fight much harder” – saying in a speech “you are allowed to go by very different rules”.
The breach of the Capitol had sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead, with dozens of people charged over the scenes and hundreds more cases are expected.
Despite overwhelming evidence of a fair election, Mr Trump has repeatedly challenged the validity of Mr Biden’s substantial victory.
Democrats in Congress began a push on Monday to force the outgoing president from office, introducing an article of impeachment that accuses him of “inciting insurrection”.
Mr Trump is due to be officially replaced as president by Mr Biden on the day of the inauguration on 20 January.