Democrats Ask Trump Campaign's Data Firms About Overseas Help

(Bloomberg) -- The top Democrats on two House committees are demanding answers from five data analytics companies involved with President Donald Trump’s campaign about their voter targeting and whether they were helped by a foreign entity or actor.

Representatives John Conyers of the Judiciary Committee and Elijah Cummings of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in letters to the companies Thursday that while it’s known that Russia interfered with the 2016 election by targeting voters online, that’s only part of the picture.

"An open question remains, however, as to how the targeting of these advertisements and news stories was directed from the ground," the two lawmakers wrote. "It appears that the Russians themselves did not know how to maximize the impact of the information they wanted to disseminate."

The letter added, "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."

The two Democrats asked for answers to a list of questions, including whether any of the companies coordinated or sought outside assistance for disseminating online media, "‘fake news’ or otherwise -- that you knew to have been generated outside of the United States?"

The companies were asked about the "overlap between voters targeted by the Russian government and voters you targeted on behalf of clients" during the campaign, and whether the companies’ information systems were ever compromised.

Wikileaks editor Julian Assange wrote on Twitter Wednesday that his group was approached before November 2016 by Cambridge Analytica, one of the data companies working for the Trump campaign, and that Wikileaks rejected the overture. He wrote that he wasn’t confirming the subject of the contact. The Daily Beast reported that Cambridge Analytica’s Alexander Nix had written in an email that he contacted Assange to seek help in obtaining Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

In addition to Nix, the letters were addressed to the Trump campaign’s top digital guru, Brad Parscale, web director of Giles-Parscale; Alex Lundry, chief data scientist of Deep Root Analytics; Michael Meyers, president of TargetPoint Consulting; and Matthew Lakin of the Data Trust. Parscale’s company is based in San Antonio while the others are in Washington or its suburbs.

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