As a video camera secretly recorded the conversation, Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix boasted about his role in Donald Trump’s election campaign, saying that he had met the candidate in 2016 “many times” and suggested he was integral to the victory.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy,” Nix told a person posing as a potential client on a recording released this week by Britain’s Channel 4 News.
The claims by Nix intensify questions about the role Cambridge Analytica played in President Trump’s campaign and what data the firm used. Nix was suspended this week amid allegations of unethical behavior and reports that his company improperly obtained the Facebook data of millions of Americans.
Nix told The Washington Post in an October 2016 interview that he could not be involved in the campaign’s strategy because he was a British citizen.
Top Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, played down the work of the data-science company, which was paid at least $6 million to do voter modeling and ad buys for Trump in the 2016 general election.
Brad Parscale, who served as the campaign’s digital director and who helped hire Cambridge Analytica, appeared to dismiss Nix’s claims Wednesday. “Another day of people taking credit for @realDonaldTrump’s victory,” he tweeted. “So incredibly false and ridiculous. Let them say that under oath. Just an overblown sales pitch.” Parscale did not respond to a request for comment.
However, The Post reported Tuesday that Cambridge Analytica’s voter persuasion strategy was guided by conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon in the years before he became Trump’s strategist, according to Chris Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee. Bannon oversaw the effort to siphon up Facebook data to create a powerful voter targeting tool and was a top executive at Cambridge when it tested themes such as “drain the swamp” later harnessed by Trump.
The White House and Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Nix did not respond to a request for comment.
Questions about Cambridge Analytica’s data collection resulted from news reports that an app created by a Cambridge University psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users. The app not only collected data from 270,000 Facebook users who gave direct permission, but apparently millions of their Facebook friends. Facebook last week banned the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie for allegedly improperly sharing that data.
Kogan said in an interview with BBC Radio that he did nothing wrong and was being made a “scapegoat.” He said he was “assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement Wednesday that his company had “made mistakes” in its handling of the issue. He said that Cambridge Analytica has agreed to a forensic audit to confirm it deleted the data, as the company said this week it did.
Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.
In its statement this week, the company admitted for the first time that it had received Facebook data from a company connected to Kogan — something it had repeatedly denied after the Guardian first reported the firm’s use of the information in 2015.
In a Feb. 2017 interview, Nix told The Post that the Guardian article was “fully inaccurate.”
“We do not have any historic data,” he said.
Cambridge Analytica repeatedly insisted this week that it used no Facebook data in the models that it did for the Trump campaign.
“We ran a standard political data science program with the same kind of political preference models used by other presidential campaigns,” the firm tweeted this week.
Nix, in an interview with The Post at the company’s New York City office two weeks before the 2016 election, discussed at length the way the company sought to use Facebook data. He said information gleaned from the site was done so with permission of Facebook and its users.
“You can collect Facebook data legally with the consent of the Facebook users and the consent of Facebook,” Nix told The Post, in a portion of the interview not previously reported.
“If I were to ask you, ‘Can I use your data?’ and you say, ‘Sure, here’s my data,’ you can give that to me,’” Nix said.
Nix also stressed that he was not involved in the Trump campaign’s strategy, noting that would violate U.S. campaign finance law.
“As a British person, I am unable to give strategic advice to political campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m not sitting inside the campaign, I’m not advising. . . . I myself [am not] inside the firewall,” Nix added, saying that U.S. citizens employed by the company did that work.
Daniel A. Petalas, former Federal Election Commission acting general counsel, said Wednesday that Nix would not have been allowed to provide substantial advice to Trump or his campaign because of his status as a foreigner.
Nix “could play golf” with Trump but not “talk about how the campaign is conducting its activities,” said Petalas, principal of the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer.
Craig Timberg in London contributed to this report.