WASHINGTON – Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told House Democrats that Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former adviser, was behind much of the company’s early focus on promoting public discontent to influence U.S. elections.
“Cambridge Analytica was set up to be essentially a full-service propaganda machine,” Wylie said, according to a partial transcript of Tuesday’s closed-door interview released by House Democrats.
Republicans didn’t participate in the interview of Wylie, conducted by Democrats on the Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. Wylie also met on Wednesday with House Intelligence Committee Democrats. Bannon, who served as chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign and later as chief White House strategist, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wylie set off a firestorm last month with his revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. political research firm hired by Trump’s presidential campaign, accessed tens of millions of Facebook profiles to harvest data of unsuspecting Americans and use it to influence the election.
Wylie’s comments Tuesday related to a time period after Bannon became involved in Cambridge Analytica in 2014 but before he joined the Trump campaign in 2016. Bannon served as vice president and secretary of Cambridge Analytica from June 2014 through August 2016, according to a government disclosure report he filed.
Bannon said he wanted to use Cambridge Analytica to discourage specific groups of people from voting, including those likely to vote for Democrats, Wylie told lawmakers, according to the partial transcript released on Wednesday.
Bannon also directed the company to test messaging later used by the Trump campaign, Wylie told lawmakers. Bannon pushed for research intended to capitalize on discontent within certain populations by using themes such as “drain the swamp” and immigration, Wylie said.
Bannon said he didn’t care if campaign ads created and promoted through Cambridge Analytica promoted incorrect information because he was trying to win a “culture war,” Wylie told the Democrats.
In something that Wylie said he couldn’t fully explain, he also reported that Bannon directed Cambridge Analytica in 2014 to test images and concepts for an American audience relating to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian expansion in Eastern Europe.
“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,” he told the Democrats.