The House Intelligence Committee plans to release a trove of Russian-backed Facebook ads from the 2016 election season after officials from Facebook and two other tech giants testify publicly in November.
The leaders of the committee’s Russia probe, Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) and ranking Democrat Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), told reporters Wednesday that they would move “as quick as we can” to release the advertisements to the public — something Schiff in particular has long urged. Schiff added that the committee would only release the ads once the “personally identifiable information” of individuals who may have unwittingly been made part of the Russian advertising campaign had been redacted.
Facebook identified more than 3,000 advertisements purchased in a Russian-orchestrated campaign to mislead the American public and exploit divisions around issues such as race in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Facebook officials have shared the content of those advertisements with both House and Senate investigators, who are also speaking with officials from Twitter and Google about Russian-backed efforts to manipulate public opinion on their platforms.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said last week that his committee will not release the content of the advertisements Facebook identified. He added, however, that the committee would not stand in Facebook’s way if the company chose to release the content of such ads itself.
Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are planning to speak with officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google about Russian-backed efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in a public setting in the coming weeks.
Conaway said Wednesday that they “believe the three companies will be represented that will be meaningful to this conversation.”
Committee investigators have also been meeting with officials from those companies before the public hearings. Conaway and Schiff’s announcement came after Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, came to the Capitol to meet with them and members of House leadership Wednesday afternoon.
As part of their probe, House investigators are also seeking information from Cambridge Analytica, a data science firm that was paid at least $6 million for work it did for the Trump campaign.
“As one of the companies that played a prominent role in the election campaign, Cambridge Analytica has been asked by the House Intelligence Committee to provide it with information that might help its investigation,” a Cambridge Analytica spokesman told The Washington Post. “We believe that other organizations that worked on the campaign have been asked to do the same. As you know, CA is not under investigation, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company.” The Daily Beast first reported the House Intelligence Committee’s interest in the firm.
Cambridge has drawn attention for its emphasis on using psychographics, or personality traits, to craft voter appeals. The company, which had more than a dozen employees embedded with the Trump campaign, did not end up using psychographics in that effort, saying later that it did not have time to employ those models. But the firm served as the campaign’s data-science provider, helping build persuasion models and conducting polling that showed Trump’s strength in the industrial Midwest.
One of Cambridge’s main financiers is hedge fund magnate Robert L. Mercer, whose daughter Rebekah is an influential conservative donor and served on Trump’s transition committee. Until he joined the administration, former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was on the board of Cambridge Analytica and held shares worth as much as $5 million in the company, according to his March federal financial disclosure.
Together, the Mercers and Bannon first helped propel the British-owned company into the U.S. political market in 2014, touting the firm’s work as a way for Republicans to step up their data game.
Democratic lawmakers who served on the congressional intelligence committees have publicly stated their interest in querying Cambridge officials about whether the Russians could have received any information from the Trump campaign about how to target voters.
Matea Gold contributed to this report.