Two journalists from different publications have pieced together enough clues to confirm Senator Mitt Romney has a secret Twitter account — under the amusing and vaguely French pseudonym "Pierre Delecto." The former Republican presidential nominee created the account in 2011, just before announcing his bid for the White House.
During an interview with The Atlantic this week, Romney mentioned to writer McKay Coppins that he uses a secret Twitter account — "What do they call me, a lurker?" he said. Romney also maintains a verified personal account and an official one as senator from Utah.
Coppins asked Romney about President Trump's Twitter rants, and specifically, the president's creation of the #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY hashtag. Romney said simply, "That's kind of what he does," referring to Mr. Trump's use of Twitter attacks.
That's when Romney revealed his secret Twitter habit. Romney would not reveal the handle. He did, however divulge one crucial piece of information that would later be used as a clue: "I'm following 668 people," he said.
Using this evidence, another journalist from Slate got to sleuthing. Ashley Feinberg assumed Romney would be following his family members with the secret Twitter persona, and she assumed correctly.
While some of Romney's five sons have too many Twitter followers to sift through, one family member — his oldest granddaughter, Allie Romney Critchlow — only had 481 followers. So Feinberg looked through the account until one follower with few tweets and no photo caught her eye: @qaws9876 — aka Pierre Delecto.
The mysterious Pierre Delecto was following 703 people — 35 more than Romney said he had. Feinberg surmised that Delecto (a.k.a. Romney) had added a few more people since his Atlantic interview, hence the higher follower count.
What was so telling about Delecto's account was the content. His first follow was Romney's oldest son, Tagg, Feinberg found. He also followed lesser-known Romney family members and quite a number of high-profile Republicans and political pundits.
And while Delecto has tweeted just 10 times total, this only proved to Feinberg that the account was used for "lurking," as Romney described it. The first tweet, sent four years after the account was created, was a retweet of a Fox News poll from the 2016 presidential race.
Feinberg also noted that of Delecto's 257 "likes," 30 were on tweets from Romney's real Twitter account. She was confident that Delecto was, in fact, Mitt Romney himself.
Slate published the story and almost instantly, Delecto went private. Slate updated their story to reflect this and then about two hours later, updated the story again with a breakthrough: Romney's confession.
McKay Coppins, the writer of the Atlantic piece that sparked this detective work, reached out to Romney to ask him about it. "Just spoke to @MittRomney on the phone, and asked him about Pierre Delecto," Coppins tweeted. "His only response: 'C'est moi.'" (French for "It's me.")
Despite his confirmation, there are still some unanswered questions. What does the "@qwas9876" handle refer to? These letters and numbers are close to each other on the keyboard, so it may just be Romney's simple way to create an anonymous, easy-to-remember alias.
And how did he come up with the name Pierre Delecto? The origins of his alter ego remain unexplained.