A political data company owned by Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Steve Bannon and billionaire top backer Robert Mercer has fallen into the sights of the House Intelligence committee’s probe into Russian election meddling. A source on Capitol Hill leaked that the probe’s results are “fruitful.”
Today’s news about ex-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon means that two of Trump’s three campaign chiefs are under serious investigation for potential ties to Russia during last year’s election.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is looking at Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Donald Trump’s campaign as part of its investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 race, according to sources familiar with the probe.
The company is in the process of turning over documents to HPSCI, according to a source familiar with the committee’s work. Another source close to the investigation said that the probe’s focus on Cambridge Analytica is “fruitful.”
Cambridge purports to go beyond the typical voter targeting—relying on online clues like Facebook Likes to give a hint at a user’s political leanings and construct a picture of a voter’s mental state. The “psychographic” picture Cambridge ostensibly provides to a campaign is the ability to tailor a specific message based on personality type – angry, fearful, optimistic and so forth – rather than simply aiming ads at voters from likely convivial candidates.
It’s illegal for a foreign person or government to spend money on a federal election campaign, or for Americans to knowingly help coordinate foreign electioneering.
Senior Pentagon officials overseeing America’s response to the Russian propaganda blitz say that Putin’s online troll army needed targeting information from Americans.
The BBC produced a video in August where they interviewed Trump’s Facebook ghostwriter. She showed exactly how intertwined the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica became during the election.
Watch a high ranking Trump Campaign official demonstrate how closely the campaign worked with Cambridge Analytica. The story continues below:
— BBC Stories (@bbcstories) August 13, 2017
Bannon’s company also participated in the Brexit vote, but later tried to hide its tracks until The Observer’s Carole Cadwallader exposed Mercer’s hand in the fateful referendum working for entities related to Leave.EU.
“The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Electoral Commission opened inquiries as a result of my articles,” Cadwallader told Occupy Democrats when asked about the impact of her investigative reporting into Cambridge Analytica.
During last year’s American elections, Donald Trump’s Twitter account got all of the attention, but Jared Kushner told Forbes very bluntly that the key to his campaign was actually Facebook:
“We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences.”
In fact, Kushner’s work was so surprisingly successful that it prompted Forbes to run the only major interview Trump’s son-in-law gave about the digital team under the banner headline: “THIS GUY GOT TRUMP ELECTED.” That’s when Kushner explained for the first time that his secret sauce during the campaign was a particular way to use Facebook ads called microtargeting:
“I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff. They gave me their subcontractors.
I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting.”
Cambridge Analytica provided a sophisticated software package and computing power to the Trump Campaign, who elevated three completely inexperienced people to lead their national social media operations last year.
The Trump campaign’s rookie operatives were son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump’s former golf caddy, Dan Scavino and the guy who made Eric Trump’s winery marketing website, Brad Parscale. None of them are a Silicon Valley subcontractor, though Parscale’s company did collect a whopping $91 million from the Trump campaign.
A new 60 Minutes report with Parscale revealed that Kushner got a lot more than a tutorial; both Facebook and Twitter sent “embedded” salespeople to work directly with the Trump team and Cambridge Analytica.
McClatchy reported in July that Jared Kushner was the first person of interest in the White House targeted by Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian election interference. The Washington Post reported last month that Facebook is working with Congressional investigators over their newly revealed Russian ad buyers, while CNBC reported that they’re also working with Special Counsel Mueller.
“Trump didn’t get elected by running a regular campaign. What they did was remarkable and we know that it was given a big boost by Russian cyberwarfare,” says the Democratic Coalition’s co-founder and experienced campaign operative Scott Dworkin.
“So there are really important questions to ask about CA and its ties to major Trump supporters in the US,” says Dworkin, “and in the Kremlin.”
This is the first report that places Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer’s company Cambridge Analytica squarely in the sights of a major Russia election interference investigation.
According to the Trump team’s own words, it was used to suppress the vote, but under the federal Voting Rights Act it’s illegal to target protected classes of citizens to discourage them from voting.
If Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia through Cambridge Analytica, their secrets won’t stay hidden for long now that the House Intelligence Committee is on the case.