Over the past week, Facebook has finally acknowledged that it sold election advertising to fake Russian accounts, and it’s turned over relevant data to the Congressional investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. Now it turns out Facebook has turned over far more data to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, suggesting that he obtained it via search warrant – which would significantly alter the trajectory of his overall probe.
Facebook has turned over more data to Mueller than it gave to Congress, and apparently more data than its own policies call for, according to a new Wall Street Journal report (link). This new revelation has led the WSJ to conclude that Mueller probably used a search warrant to get his hands on the information. CNN has since confirmed the warrant (link) I think this goes even further than has been reported.
Facebook is trying to save face in two ways here. The first is that it doesn’t want the public to conclude that it played a purposely sinister role in Trump’s clearly illegitimate election victory, for fear of what that backlash might to do its own popularity. In such case, Facebook’s best move is to fully cooperate with the investigation, in an effort to try to right the wrong. The second is that Facebook doesn’t want the public to conclude that it’s willing to hand user data over to the government at the drop of a hat.
These two goals are somewhat disparate, making it tricky for Facebook to figure out how to simultaneously accomplish both. One way to thread the needle would be to voluntarily give a basic amount of relevant data to Congress, whose investigation is playing out in public, while sitting back and letting Mueller obtain a search warrant for the more detailed data. That way, Facebook is seen as having only turned over the most comprehensive data because it was legally compelled to do so.
Now that Robert Mueller has a search warrant allowing him access to every last bit of information that will allow him to trace these Facebook accounts back to their Russian owners, it puts him in a much more powerful position. It means he can go back and get any additional data he wants, affording him a much easier time of getting to the bottom of the ad buys – and proving they came from the Kremlin. It also sets precedent for Mueller to obtain similar warrants for Twitter and other online entities, if he hasn’t already.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report