U.S.

Democrats Believe an American Company Aided Russian Meddling in the Election

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Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) speaks during a news conference in Baltimore on January 12. Bryan Woolston/Reuters

A group of Democrats have approached President Donald Trump's former campaign team over its use of voter data, concerned over Russia's potential influence on the election.

House Democrats Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings sent the letter to Cambridge Analytica, a big data firm that provided analysis for the Trump campaign; Brad Parscale, who led President Donald Trump's digital presidential campaign; and other firms that helped on voter information.

“It is now clear that Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election involved the careful targeting of certain voters through social media and other online platforms,” wrote the pair in the letter Thursday, asking that the firms and Parscale hand over documents detailing their campaign operations.

The Congressmen serve as Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee and the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee respectively.

Russia’s targeting of voters “appears to have been executed with an extraordinary level of precision that suggests a deep familiarity with American voter preferences and habits and exceeds the reported capabilities of foreign cyber operations,” they continued, expressing their fear that an American company could have taken part in the alleged interference.

The digital operations companies and GOP voter data firms who also received the letter were overseen by Trump’s son-in-law and current senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee interviewed Parscale as part of its probe of Russian meddling. The committee launched the investigation early this year, along with another in the Senate, after key American intelligence agencies suggested that Russia had conducted a misinformation campaign to sway the election toward Trump.

Read more: Facebook certain divisive political ads came from Kremlin-linked “troll farm”

In September, Facebook revealed a Russian firm America’s Defense Intelligence Agency describes as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin” bought and targeted ads and misinformation at American voters. The ads were seen by an estimated 10 million people and specifically targeted voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump won by less than a percentage point.

In Parscale's congressional interview, which was't open to the public, he denied there was any Russian collusion with the campaign's digital operations, two sources told CNN. A congressional source said Parscale downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the campaign, although its staff were embedded in his team.

Cambridge Analytica had not responded to Newsweek’s request for comment or to questions about whether it will comply with the Democrats' request by publication time. The firm and Pascale have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

After Pascale was interviewed by the committee Tuesday, Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks, confirmed on Twitter that he was approached by Cambridge Analytica during the campaign. The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that the firm sought unpublished emails from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s private server. Assange said he did not assist them.

American intelligence agencies concluded in a report in January that during the election Wikileaks published emails stolen from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. Trump used these emails against Clinton during the campaign, describing their contents during rallies.

“There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia's online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation,” former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mike Carpenter told McClatchy in July.

In their letter, the Democrats asked the Trump campaign's digital firms whether they sent or received information about the election from a foreign government or foreign actor, or "used misappropriated data."

They suggest that Russians did not fully understand how to maximize the impact of the information they had, and that “experts have suggested this type of data manipulation could have been provided only by seasoned American political operatives with access to a sophisticated data analytics operation,as well as detailed and granular knowledge of American voter preferences” Rep. Conyers and Rep. Cummings wrote.

“The prospect that any American company may have aided a foreign government, worked with hostile foreign actors, or benefited from unlawfully accessed information is concerning,” they said, “and could impact the consideration of ongoing legislation.”

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