Facebook Inc. has given special counsel Robert Mueller extra details on political ad spending from a Russian group that tried to sow discord online ahead of last year’s U.S. Presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The social network provided copies of ads and explained how they were targeted and who bought them, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing investigation. That surpassed the level of information Facebook told Congress last week. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported Facebook’s latest disclosures.
Facebook said it is cooperating with investigators and declined to comment further. The company’s policy is to only provide information to the government if there is a valid court order, subpoena or search warrant.
The information is relevant to Mueller as investigators try to understand whether there were any links between Russia’s activity and President Donald Trump’s election campaign. Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of the probe, U.S. officials familiar with the situation told Bloomberg earlier this week.
Facebook said last week it found about $100,000 in ad spending connected to fake accounts probably run from Russia. Facebook marketing is becoming increasingly important for election strategy, but social media ads are not legally required to provide the same transparency as ads that run on more traditional forums like television.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Republican from North Carolina, said this week he wanted a “full accounting” of what happened given Facebook’s own admission that Russians appeared to buy $100,000 in political ads in the U.S. last year, and has said a public hearing is more likely than not. He has been discussing next steps with the committee’s ranking Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia.
Warner wants a public hearing to force Facebook to account for what happened on its platform during the election, and has been frustrated at the company’s disclosures to date. He has repeatedly questioned whether Facebook has put enough resources into the issue.
Lawmakers are concerned not just with the last year’s activities but with preventing future efforts to target American elections and those of allies.
— With assistance by Billy House, and Chris Strohm