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The Justice Department Is Investigating Cambridge Analytica

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Though data-analytics firm Cambridge Analytica shut its doors and declared bankruptcy earlier this month, it did so loudly, protesting its innocence. “It​’s open season for anyone to say what they like about Cambridge Analytica,” the company lamented on Twitter at one point. “We’re accused of everything from stealing data to distorting democracies​.” At another point, it entreated followers to “get the facts” about the Facebook scandal, and in a press release announcing its closure, the company declared itself to be “the subject of numerous unfounded accusations.” Cambridge Analytica’s Twitter feed has since gone mute, but on Tuesday its noble protestations were again thrown into question by news that both the Justice Department and the F.B.I. are in the preliminary stages of investigating the company’s financial dealings, as well as how it attained and used data pulled from Facebook.

According to The New York Times, prosecutors are seeking to question former Cambridge Analytica employees, as well as banks that handled the company’s business. They’ve reportedly told potential witnesses that they’re conducting an open investigation, not only into Cambridge Analytica but also into “associated U.S. persons.” (Cambridge Analytica, the D.O.J., and the F.B.I. all declined the Times’s request for comment, though the firm has said it didn’t misuse Facebook data.) “I can confirm that I’ve been contacted by the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice, and answered preliminary questions,” Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who’s become a whistleblower, told the Times. “We plan to meet again to provide substantive answers to the investigators.”

The probe is thought to be wide-ranging; Brian Kidd, the assistant chief of the Justice Department’s securities and financial fraud division, is reportedly involved, as is at least one F.B.I. agent who specializes in cyber-crime, people familiar with the matter told the Times. Facebook has also reportedly been contacted by investigators, though Facebook itself declined to comment on proceedings. The U.S. investigation is still in early stages, but the Trump-linked data firm is also facing questions from U.K. investigators—the National Crime Agency of Britain is probing Cambridge Analytica for its potential role in the Brexit vote, as well as allegations that employees attempted to bribe foreign officials, destroyed evidence, and hacked computers; earlier reports have tied the firm’s work to the populist “Leave” campaign.

What’s less clear is whether the Cambridge Analytica probe has any link to Robert Mueller, who’s looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. Though a source told the Times that a prior meeting between at least two Cambridge Analytica executives and Mueller’s team seemed “perfunctory,” there’s some speculation that the data-mining firm, which was tapped to work on the Trump campaign by Jared Kushner, supplied information to a Russian troll farm that enabled its agents to better target their divisive Facebook ads. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” Mike Carpenter, an Obama-era assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia, told my colleague Chris Smith last fall. “But that’s not how they do this . . . The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.” If Mueller shows an interest in Cambridge Analytica, it may be a sign that seemingly disparate pieces of Trumpworld are interconnected.



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