Cambridge Analytica director ‘visited Assange to discuss US election’
Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks are already subjects of investigation, but the revelations open up fresh questions about the precise nature of the organisations’ relationship
A Cambridge Analytica director allegedly visited Julian Assange in February last year and later told friends it was to discuss what happened during the US election.
Visitor logs from the Ecuador embassy appear to show that Brittany Kaiser, a director at Cambridge Analytica until earlier this year, visited Assange on February 17, 2017.
Information passed to the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the US Senate judiciary committee states that the meeting was “a retrospective to discuss the US election”.
Kaiser is also alleged to have said that she had funnelled money to WikiLeaks in the form of cryptocurrency. She called the organisation her “favourite charity”.
The reports passed to investigators say that money was given to her by third parties in the form of “gifts and payments”.
Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks are already subjects of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but the revelations open up fresh questions about the precise nature of the organisations’ relationship.
There was no known connection until October last year, when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had “reached out” to Assange in 2016 regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix appeared before the UK DCMS committee for the second time on Wednesday, where he was expected to be pressed on Cambridge Analytica’s relationship with WikiLeaks.
At his first appearance, Nix told the committee: “We have no relationship with WikiLeaks. We have never spoken to anyone at WikiLeaks. We have never done any business with WikiLeaks. We have no relationship with them, period.”
He told members of parliament that Cambridge Analytica had found out about the Clinton emails leak on the news and had “reached out to a speaking agency that represents [Assange] – that was the only way we could find to get hold of him”.
On Wednesday, the sheer tone of the Parliament committee hearing was unusual, marked at times by exchanges that seemed somewhat personal.
Nix said that his political consulting firm got “an incredibly huge target” on its back because of its involvement in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Nix repeatedly suggested that lines of questioning were politically motivated, such as when Ian Lucas, a Labour lawmaker, challenged Nix’s claim that the firm had nothing to do with the campaign supporting Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“I’m sorry if members of this committee are unhappy with the outcome of the referendum. I’m sorry if members of the committee are unhappy with Donald Trump being president of the United States,” Nix replied.
“But you can’t simply put forward your prejudices onto me and make sweeping assumptions about our involvement with a political campaign simply because that is what you want to believe, because that narrative suits your view of the facts.”
Lucas retorted: “Facts are what we are presenting to you. What we are getting back from you is bluster and rudeness.”
Trump was one of Cambridge Analytica’s customers, though the firm has insisted that none of the Facebook data was used in his 2016 campaign.
When Kaiser appeared before members of parliament in April, she acknowledged that some employees at the company had contacts with lawyers who had also represented Assange.
Damian Collins, the UK DCMS committee chair, asked Kaiser: “If Alexander Nix wanted to reach out to Julian Assange, couldn’t he do it through you?”
Kaiser replied: “That’s what I was wondering when I found that out from the press – he could have asked me to put him in touch with the legal team. But he didn’t.”
Kaiser told members of parliament that her principal connection to WikiLeaks was through John Jones.
Jones represented Assange in his extradition case against the Swedish government and became a close, personal friend, visiting him weekly until he was killed by a train in April 2016. The inquest ruled that no one else was involved in the death of Jones, who had been depressed.
Jones’s legal assistant, Robert Murtfeld, who worked closely with him on the WikiLeaks case subsequently went to work for Cambridge Analytica as director of commercial sales in New York.
Information passed to the US and UK committees reveals that Murtfeld had arranged Kaiser’s visit to Assange last year.
Additional reporting by Associated Press