The whistleblower who publicly revealed how Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica used information mined from Facebook under false pretenses during the 2016 election cycle will give an interview to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation of Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.
A lawyer for Christopher Wylie confirmed Tuesday that Wylie plans to accept the invitation from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).
Schiff said Monday that panel Democrats want to talk to Wylie to determine where and how the Facebook data was stored and used, and whether others — including Russian operatives — had access to it.
“Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately-acquired data on millions of Americans to help sway the election,” Schiff said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said that he too is interested in speaking to Wylie.
Democrats on the House panel vowed last week to continue to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, despite the committee’s Republican leaders announcing that they had completed a draft report about the panel’s findings. The panel is expected to approve a final version of that report Thursday, although it will not be released publicly until the intelligence community reviews it and makes any necessary redactions.
House Democrats do not have independent power to subpoena witnesses to testify. But Wylie has been outspoken about how Cambridge Analytica — a company he helped build, according to a profile in the Guardian — planned to use the Facebook users’ data and an algorithm to build “psychographic” profiles that could be used to predict the political leanings of every potential American voter.
Facebook gave permission to University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan to access information on 270,000 users of the social media site to help build a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” But the app’s reach went much further, ultimately allowing Kogan to access data on 50 million users. The information was passed on to Cambridge Analytica and Wylie, breaking the terms struck with Facebook for access to the data. Facebook found out about the events in 2015, but was told that Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan had deleted the data. Several days ago, Facebook discovered that they had not.
Last year, the House Intelligence Committee spoke with Wylie’s former boss Alexander Nix — the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica — by videoconference, as Nix is located in London.
Schiff stressed in his invitation to Wylie that his accounts of Cambridge Analytica’s data operations “raise serious questions about the veracity of the testimony” Nix gave to the committee.
The details of Wylie’s planned interview with the committee have not yet been worked out, although Wylie has apparently shown some willingness to travel from London, where he is based, to Washington to speak with members, according to a person familiar with discussions.
In the meantime, the New York Times reported Monday that Facebook’s security director is now leaving, while CNN reported that Kogan told colleagues that he would be happy to testify to congressional committees investigating Russian meddling, but hadn’t been invited.
Senators of both parties also want Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Warner called on Zuckerberg on Tuesday to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Several committees on the Hill, including the Senate Intelligence and House Judiciary panels, are also expecting to hold staff-to-staff meetings with Facebook employees in the coming days.