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The feds are reportedly investigating Cambridge Analytica

So far, it appears separate from the work of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Cambridge Analytica
1901 Pennsylvania Ave., where Cambridge Analytica had a DC office.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Cambridge Analytica shut down earlier this month in the fallout from the Facebook data-harvesting scandal, which left the firm bleeding clients and racking up legal bills.

But the Trump-linked political consulting firm’s troubles aren’t over. The New York Times’s Matthew Rosenberg and Nicholas Confessore report that the FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating Cambridge Analytica.

Federal prosecutors have questioned witnesses and are examining bank records, and, according to the Times, the authorities seem to be most curious about the company’s financial dealings:

The federal investigation in the United States appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings — investigators have reached out to the company’s banks, for instance — and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, according to the American official, who was briefed on the inquiry, and other people familiar with it.

British authorities are also investigating Cambridge Analytica, and its British-based parent company, SCL Group. A report earlier this year revealed that Cambridge Analytica had gathered data from nearly 87 million Facebook users, exploiting Facebook’s privacy settings to access users’ data through a personality quiz. Facebook received much of the blowback for that scandal, with Mark Zuckerberg finally forced to appear on Capitol Hill to give marathon testimony before Congress. The Times reports that federal investigators have reached out to the social media giant.

But the name Cambridge Analytica had popped up even before the Facebook scandal. The political consulting firm worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign and other Republican candidates. Its operations came to the US courtesy of onetime Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who heard about SCL’s operations, which claimed to pioneer a type of political ad targeting based on people’s personalities. Bannon got the wealthy conservative donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer involved, and the Mercers agreed to finance an expansion of the firm to the US, which became Cambridge Analytica.

Some political observers think Cambridge oversold its ad targeting capabilities, but questions still emerged about the firm’s work for the Trump campaign. It drew the scrutiny of Robert Mueller, who reportedly questioned people who worked on Trump’s digital operations. (There’s also the strange fact that Alexander Nix, the Cambridge CEO, spoke with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the email hacking of Democratic Party leaders, which Vox’s Andrew Prokop delved into in this worthwhile explainer.)

Right now, it’s unclear whether this FBI and DOJ investigation has anything to do with the Mueller probe. A source told CBS News that federal prosecutors seem mostly interested in possible financial crimes, and the Times reports that a top prosecutor from the Justice Department’s securities and financial fraud division is involved.

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