As the tumult surrounding the Russia scandal intensifies, yesterday brought a new twist. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm utilized by Donald Trump's 2016 political operation, became the subject of international scrutiny, following reports that it exploited Facebook, "harvesting private information" about tens of millions of users without their permission.
There's also a curious Russia angle to the story. As Chris Wylie, the firm's former research director, noted on NBC's "Today" show yesterday, Cambridge Analytica partnered with a Russian oil giant with a history of influence operations overseas, which expressed an interest in targeting American voters.
The controversy surrounding the firm, which was created in part by major Trump donor Robert Mercer and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, grew even more serious as yesterday progressed.
In a meeting with the head of Cambridge Analytica -- the political data firm used by the Trump campaign in 2016 -- reporters from NBC News' U.K. partner ITN Channel 4 News posed as potential clients interested in changing the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections.The reporters, who were trying to find out how the company operated, quickly learned about the novel and deceptive methods employed by the company, including bribes, blackmail, and misinformation campaigns. The findings were broadcast by the network on Monday.On hidden camera, the reporters recorded Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, discussing the idea of hypothetically entrapping an opposition leader. He described how the company could record a person accepting a bribe, "an offer he can't refuse" or "send some girls around to the candidate's house."
When he wasn't talking about meddling in elections with entrapment tactics, the Cambridge Analytica executive referenced the potency of political misinformation. "It doesn't have to be true," Nix said. "It just has to be believed."
Given these extraordinary new details, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee will certainly want to re-open their investigation, right? Right?
Well, no, apparently not. Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday:
The Republican leading the House investigation into Russian election meddling said revelations that a data firm working with Donald Trump's presidential campaign may have improperly harvested data on millions of Facebook users doesn't change his plans to shut down the probe this week."I have no intention of bringing in any other witnesses to the Russia investigation," Representative Michael Conaway said Monday.Conaway, a Texas Republican, called reports that Cambridge Analytica may have exploited Facebook and obtained millions of people's profiles without authorization "concerning," but he said the Intelligence Committee would wrap up its Russia inquiry on Thursday with a vote on whether to approve a majority-written report of its conclusions.
As it turns out, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee effectively wrapped up their work investigating the Russia scandal last week -- after announcing the end of their interviews, GOP members released a pre-cooked draft report intended to help Donald Trump -- but this didn't mark the literal end of the panel's probe.
Rather, Republicans will vote on Thursday to endorse their own partisan document, at which point classified information will be redacted and the report will be released to the public, all of which should take a few days.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) insisted yesterday that the Cambridge Analytica revelations need further scrutiny. His Republican counterparts don't appear to share in his sense of urgency.