Brad Parscale played a crucial role on President Donald Trump's campaign as digital director
Parscale dismissed the idea that online Russian bots would have been effective
House Russia investigators are planning to call on Brad Parscale, the digital director of President Donald Trump’s campaign, as the congressional and federal probes dig into any possible connections between the Trump digital operation and Russian operatives, congressional sources said this week.
The House Russia investigation is planning to send an invite to Parscale soon, as they begin scheduling witnesses over the summer, sources said. The Senate intelligence committee is also interested in how Russian bots were able to target political messages in specific districts in critical swing states, although it is not clear if Parscale will be called before the Senate panel as well.
The news from the House comes as federal investigators have dug into Jared Kushner’s role overseeing Trump’s data operation – although he has not been identified as a target of the probe. Kushner is expected to talk soon with Senate investigators about the campaign’s data operation.
Parscale played a critical role behind the scenes on the Trump campaign, directing online spending and voter targeting with the use of a highly sophisticated data bank built by the Republican National Committee. Parscale, was running the Trump Organization’s digital operation in early 2015, when he was hired onto the Trump campaign – months before Trump officially announced his bid.
Parscale told CNN Friday that he had not been contacted by any investigators – either federal or Congressional.
Senate investigators in particular have been interested in looking for a link between the prevalence of fake news that supported Trump and was pinpointed in key areas of Rust Belt states that ultimately flipped from blue to red – and helped Trump secure the White House.
“There have been reports that their ability to target this information, some reports at least saying that in the last week of the campaign in certain precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania there was so much misinformation coming talking about Hillary Clinton’s illnesses or Hillary Clinton stealing money from the State Department or other. It completely blanked out any of the back and forth that was actually going on in the campaign,” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said at a March 30 hearing.
Warner then added, “One of the things that seems curious is would the Russians on their own have that level of sophisticated knowledge about the American political system, if they didn’t at least get some advice from someone in America?”
Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism expert, responded that Russian bots masqueraded as conservative voters to support Trump – but did not say whether he believed the Russians had any help from an American political operative in picking out their targets.
“Part of the reason those bios had conservative Christian, you know, America, all those terms in it is those are the most common ones. If you inhale all the accounts of people in Wisconsin, you identify the most common terms in it, you just recreate accounts that look exactly like people from Wisconsin,” Watts testified. “So that way whenever you’re trying to socially engineer them and convince them that the information is true it’s much more simple because you see somebody and they look exactly like you even down to the pictures. When you look at the pictures, it looks like an American from the Midwest or the South or Wisconsin or whatever the location is. And they will change those, they can reprogram them.”
But Parscale dismissed the idea that online bots, controlled by Russian operatives, would have been effective in swinging votes to Trump, noting that Twitter – where those bots operate – was not an effective tool for the campaign itself (albeit a highly effective tool for Trump.) Twitter, Parscale said, is designed for shouting a message to extremes on the left and the right, but Facebook is where influencers can be most effective in moving key swing votes.
“Twitter wasn’t even something we focused on in the campaign, we didn’t feel it mattered, Facebook is where 70% voters focused and was the 500-pound gorilla … to win the election,” Parscale said. “Twitter is not where Trump voters were. Over 95% (of the campaign’s online budget) went to Facebook.”