Last year WikiLeaks planted itself in the middle of the political fray by releasing thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It turns out that after the massive email dump, the Trump campaign’s data collection agency reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to see how they could help disseminate thousands more emails that had been deleted from Clinton’s personal server.
According to sources close to a congressional investigation who spoke to the Daily Beast, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix emailed Assange to lend a helping hand in the distribution of the 33,000 missing emails, but Assange declined. In a statement after the Daily Beast’s report, the WikiLeaks founder confirmed that the exchange took place. If so, “this would be the closest known connection between Trump’s campaign and Assange,” writes the Daily Beast.
The missing emails became a focus for Trump during the campaign—at one point the candidate publicly called on Russia to release them, and a political operative working with the campaign had sought help from hackers to obtain them, the Wall Street Journal reported. But the emails have never been published, and it’s unclear if anyone has them.
Cambridge Analytica, a spinoff of the U.K.-based SCL Group, has, according to Bloomberg, received funding and support from Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the father-daughter donors who spent heavily on the Trump campaign; Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign CEO and White House advisor, also served on the company’s board of directors. In the U.S., Cambridge has worked primarily for conservative politicians, but its work is global–it has lately been helping the incumbent in Kenya’s controversial presidential election–and it now reaches beyond political candidates: This year, the company landed a contract with the U.S. State Department, and has also been cultivating commercial clients.
While Cambridge has said it provided data processing, ad targeting, strategy, and media distribution during the Trump campaign, the extent of its involvement and the effectiveness of its behavioral science-inspired tools remains a topic of debate. One Republican digital strategist who spoke to the Daily Beast said that after working with Cambridge Analytica on the campaign, he concluded that Nix “is not credible at all” and “a consummate salesman.” Still, in this case, he believed Nix’s story, since it was “another way that Cambridge could become the heroes.”