By Eric Auchard and David Ingram
The suspended chief executive of Cambridge Analytica said in a secretly recorded video broadcast on Tuesday that his UK-based political consultancy’s online campaign played a decisive role in U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory.
CEO Alexander Nix’s comments, which could not be verified, are potentially a further problem for Facebook Inc as it faces lawmakers’ scrutiny in the United States and Europe over Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of 50 million Facebook users’ personal data to target voters.
The social media network’s shares fell for a second day, closing down 2.5 percent, as investors worried that its dealings with Cambridge Analytica might damage its reputation, deter advertisers and invite restrictive regulation. The company has lost $60 billion of its stock market value over the last two days.
Cambridge Analytica’s board of directors suspended Nix on Tuesday, shortly before the second part of British broadcaster Channel 4’s expose of the firm’s methods.
In the program Nix describes questionable practices used to influence foreign elections and said his firm did all the research, analytics and targeting of voters for Trump’s digital and TV campaigns. He also boasts he met Trump when he was the Republican presidential candidate “many times”.
Nix’s comments “do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” Cambridge Analytica said in a statement on Tuesday.
Cambridge Analytica has denied all the media claims and said it deleted the data after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.
Brad Parscale, the 2016 Trump campaign’s main digital adviser who dealt regularly with Cambridge Analytica, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nix’s claims.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now senior adviser, oversaw the Trump campaign’s digital operations. One former Trump adviser said Kushner brought Cambridge Analytica into the 2016 campaign effort. Kushner’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Washington Post on Tuesday that in 2014 conservative strategist Steve Bannon, who would go on to be Trump’s White House adviser, oversaw the firm’s early efforts to collect Facebook data to build detailed profiles on millions of American voters. (wapo.st/2HOTQNu)
Bannon approved spending nearly $1 million to acquire data, including Facebook profiles, in 2014, Wylie told the Post. It is unclear whether Bannon knew how Cambridge Analytica was obtaining the Facebook data, the Post reported.
Bannon, who served on Cambridge Analytica’s board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
U.S. law bans foreigners from making contributions or spending money on behalf of a U.S. election campaign but it was not illegal for the Trump campaign to retain Cambridge Analytica’s services, according to Bradley Smith, a former Republican member of the U.S. Federal Election Commission.
“The fact that they are a British company doesn’t add anything to the analysis unless they were giving their services away for free or charging below-market rates,” said Smith, now a professor at the Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio.