Facebook officially turned over thousands of Russian-funded political ads to Congress today, as expected. Russia purchased the ads during the election, touting various issues, all of which were aimed at helping Donald Trump win the election without necessarily mentioning his name. Now the head of one of the congressional committees involved is acknowledging that those ads are about to become public.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is telling CNN that the ads won’t be made public by him, because he views them as evidence in an ongoing investigation (link). But there’s really no reason for him to even bother saying this, unless he’s expecting the ads to imminently leak out to the public – and he wants to make sure that he and his committee don’t take the blame for it. This also raises the question of whom he’s trying to reassure.
Burr is a Republican, but it’s doubtful that he’s worried about what his constituents might think on something that’s so narrow in scope. Instead, it seems more likely that he’s trying to make sure the people running Facebook know the inevitable leaks aren’t coming from him. That way, he can maintain a trusting relationship with Mark Zuckerberg and company, which will be needed as the Trump-Russia investigation continues to dig deeper into how the Kremlin used social networks to dishonestly influence voters. But it seems fairly clear that the ads will become public soon.
In fact that same CNN report quotes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, also a Republican, as saying he can’t see a reason why he won’t end up releasing them himself. So this may be the new congressional good cop / bad cop routine. The House Intel Committee leaks the Russian Facebook ads so the public can see just how damning they were, burning its trust with Facebook’s leaders in the process, but the Senate Intel Committee maintains its own relationship with Facebook for the future. In any case, get ready to see those Russian Facebook ads.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report