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The Trump campaign is abruptly trying to distance itself from data firm it paid millions. Here’s why

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In the final months of the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign paid Cambridge Analytica, a British data-mining firm, millions of dollars to target potential voters in pursuit of victory.

But yesterday, after The Daily Beast revealed that Cambridge Analytica’s CEO had emailed Julian Assange to try to obtain 33,000 of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, the president’s campaign team did all it could to distance itself from the firm.

During the campaign, Cambridge Analytica chief Alexander Nix emailed Assange to try to obtain Clinton’s missing emails, which Cambridge Analytica would then transform into a “searchable database for the campaign or a pro-Trump political action committee,” according to CNN. Nix also wrote an email to Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s top donors and the daughter of Robert Mercer, saying that he had contacted Assange.

Assange confirmed he had received the overtures, as well as the fact that he declined Nix’s offer:

It’s unclear at what point during the campaign Nix approached Assange, but Nix’s firm received nearly $6 million from the Trump campaign in total, including $5 million in Sept. 2016 alone.

Brad Parscale, who oversaw Trump’s data-gathering efforts, hired the firm in June 2016 at the behest of Trump’s former campaign manager Steve Bannon, who himself was the former vice president of the Cambridge Analytica board, per Business Insider.

During the election, Cambridge Analytica was seen as pivotal to Trump’s eventual victory. A story from NBC a few days before the election noted that the company held approximately 4,000 “data points” on over 200 million American adults. Jared Kushner, in a May interview with Forbes, said that Cambridge Analytica was part of “formaliz[ing] the system” for the campaign “to ramp up … digital fundraising.”

Wrote the firm a day after the election:

Cambridge Analytica was instrumental in identifying supporters, persuading undecided voters, and driving turnout to the polls. The firm’s integrated Data Science, Digital Marketing, and Polling and Research teams informed key decisions on campaigning, communications, and resource allocation. …

Cambridge Analytica planned and executed the campaign’s digital media planning and buying operation to win over voters, and was able to test and immediately refine its messaging and delivery platforms by using the firm’s data and polling.

But that, it appears, is now all in the past. After Nix’s attempt to collaborate with Assange came to light, Trump Campaign Executive Director Michael Glassner went out of his way to distance the campaign from Cambridge Analytica – and instead pointed to the RNC as responsible for the campaign’s data targeting. “We as a campaign made the choice to rely on the voter data of the Republican National Committee to help elect President Donald J. Trump,” Glassner said. “Any claims that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false.”

Parscale – whose own firm had specifically worked with staffers from Cambridge Analytica for its data operation, per CNN – also backpedaled. telling Wall Street Journal that the invoice for Cambridge Analytica was “mislabeled in the FEC reports.”

The notion that the Trump campaign didn’t rely on Cambridge Analytica for its data operations struck those who’d covered the election as a farce. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, who co-wrote an Oct. 2016 feature on the Trump campaign’s data operations – in which he noted that locations for Trump’s rallies are “guided by a Cambridge Analytica ranking of the places in a state with the largest clusters of persuadable voters” – called the campaign’s denials yesterday “almost laughably false.” As Green said during an appearance with Anderson Cooper, Trump visited Michigan and Wisconsin “because the Cambridge models told him that’s where you can pick up voters.”

The campaign’s statements yesterday are “wrong,” Green added. “They had a Cambridge tool called the Battleground Optimizer Path to Victory that … would feed in poll numbers and it would spit out the likeliest path for Trump to get to 270 electoral votes. And they would send Trump to those states based on what the model told us.”

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