Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told congressional Democrats on Tuesday that Steve Bannon turned the company into a “full service propaganda machine,” according to excerpts from the interview released by Democrats from two House committees.
In a closed door meeting on Tuesday with Democrats from the House Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform committees, Wylie said that Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and executive chairman of Breitbart, told Cambridge Analytica’s staff to test messaging on Vladimir Putin.
“It was the only foreign issue, or foreign leader, I should say, being tested at the time I was there,” Wylie said. “I can’t explain why it was that they picked Vladimir Putin to talk about in focus groups or to do message testing or to do models on, and why that would be useful to Steve Bannon.”
According to Wylie, Bannon wanted to use Cambridge Analytica as a tool to discourage Democrats from voting.
“There is one document which I have that specifically says—in bold terms—voter disengagement as an objective in the United States,” Wylie said, adding that it was aimed at “discouraging particular types of voters who are more prone to voting for Democratic or liberal candidates.”
In a real shocker, Wylie said that Steve “I read the Art of War” Bannon didn’t care if the information in Cambridge Analytica’s campaign ads was incorrect, because he viewed the election as a war.
“[Bannon] made it quite clear to me that his—so, when you think about the idea of a culture war, and he uses that term pointedly,” Wylie said. “So, war is battle, and therefore, it is about winning. And that speaks volumes to Mr. Bannon’s character—that he goes and seeks out a foreign military contractor to help build tools for that war.”
Wylie also explained that Cambridge Analytica was a shell company, and that most of the work was done in London by the parent company, SCL:
Something that’s really important, I think, for people to understand is that Cambridge Analytica doesn’t have staff, or at least at the time that I was there, never had staff. All of the consultants, employees, any kind of worker that was involved with Cambridge Analytica was actually paid—your pay stub would be from SCL, not Cambridge Analytica. Having looked at legal correspondence, for example, between The Guardian and Cambridge Analytica, they have said as recently as several months ago that they have no staff. So it is, for all intents and purposes, more of a concept than anything else. Everything happens in London, at SCL Group.
“Mr. Wylie’s statements today demonstrate why it is so important that our Committees prioritize investigating foreign interference in our elections. We need interviews, documents, and hearings without delay,” Democrats from both committees said in a joint statement released on Tuesday calling on Republicans Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy, who chair both committees, to hold hearings. “Cambridge Analytica is not the first company to engage in these types of tactics, nor will they be last if we fail to conduct oversight and investigate this matter thoroughly. ”
Democrats said that Republicans from the Judiciary Committee “refused” to participate in the Wylie interview. The same committee is, however, doing a hearing with Diamond and Silk tomorrow about social media censorship of conservatives, so there’s that.
Working with the Guardian, Wylie helped expose the Cambridge Analytica data theft scandal, which affected at least 87 million Facebook users (including me, thank you so much to the person or people on my Facebook friends list who took the personality quiz). At a conference hosted by Financial Times in March, Bannon maintained that he “didn’t even know” about the theft, but said that he “helped put the company together and gave it that amazing name.”
“The great opposition party, media, never went after the Obama campaign, never went after the progressive left that’s been doing this for years,” Bannon said. “And in 2013, when I thought a data company might be important, all of a sudden [it] becomes global news.”
Bannon didn’t respond to comment from NBC News.