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House lawmakers hope to release Facebook ads bought by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election

Plus, more details on Sheryl Sandberg’s meetings with lawmakers on Wednesday

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Testifies To House Intel Committee Hearing On Russia Interference In Election
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) (L) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who is heading the committee's investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

House lawmakers investigating Russia’s suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election are hoping to release copies of the 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Kremlin-aligned agents and trolls.

The move by the House Intelligence Committee — announced by its leaders on Wednesday —comes as Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg huddles with lawmakers on the panel and others in Congress who are newly eyeing Russia’s disinformation campaign on social media.

“My personal advice is that we will do that as quick as we can,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, the top GOP lawmaker leading the probe, when asked if the committee plans to release the ads.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, added that lawmakers have “asked for Facebook’s help to help scrub any personally identifiable information, but it’s our hope that when they conclude, then we can release them publicly.”

On Facebook’s part, Sandberg expressed during her meeting with lawmakers a “very strong desire on their own to get any assistance they can from the intelligence community when they identify foreign bad actors,” Schiff said.

“I think we should seek to facilitate when the intelligence community identifies the Russians are using this platform in the same way that when the intelligence community finds that ISIS or Al Qaeda is using the platform for recruitment, there ought to be a dialogue through FBI or DHS,” he explained, per a transcript shared with Recode on Wednesday.

In September, Facebook revealed that it found 470 profiles tied to agents of the Russian government, which purchased 3,000 ads around Election Day. The ads — viewed by 10 million U.S. users — in many instances sought to stir political unrest, often by riling viewers on divisive issues related to race, religion, immigration and gun control.

After initially resisting, Facebook shared copies of those ads in October with lawmakers on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are more broadly investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Both panels plan to grill Facebook — as well as its peers, Google and Twitter — at back-to-back public hearings on Nov. 1.

Otherwise, though, Facebook has not released copies of the ads for public viewing. If the House Intelligence Committee is able to release the ads, Conaway predicted on Wednesday that it would not happen before the scheduled hearing.

Sandberg’s meeting with panel leaders is part of a full-court blitz of Washington, D.C., this week. On Wednesday, she also met with other top Democratic and Republican lawmakers — including a session with House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and another meeting with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

At Sandberg’s meeting with Republicans, Rep. Greg Walden — the leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees tech — “inquired about Facebook’s latest efforts to protect Americans’ personal information online and ensure the platform is enforcing its terms of use rules,” a panel source told Recode.

The aide did not further elaborate, but did confirm that Russia and misinformation came up during the private conversation.

On Thursday, Sandberg is slated to appear at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, which recently has expressed its concerns that Russian agents were able to share racist, divisive messages around Black Lives Matter and other similar causes.

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