When the Russia question came up during a hearing at the British Parliament last month, Alexander Nix did not hesitate. We’ve never worked in Russia, said Mr. Nix, head of a data consulting firm that advised the Trump campaign on targeting voters. As far as I’m aware, we’ve never worked for a Russian company, Mr. Nix added I’ve never worked with a Russian organization in Russia or any other country, and we don’t have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals. But Mr. Nix’s business did have some dealings with Russian interests, according to company documents and interviews. Mr. Nix is a director of SCL Group, a British political and defense contractor, and chief executive of its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, which advised the Trump campaign. The firmsâ€™ employees, who often overlap, had contact in 2014 and 2015 with executives from Lukoil, the Russian oil giant.
The contacts took place as Cambridge Analytica was building a roster of Republican political clients in the United States and harvesting the Facebook profiles of over 50 million users to develop tools it said could analyze voters behavior. Cambridge Analytica also included extensive questions about Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in surveys it was carrying out in American focus groups in 2014. It is not clear what or which client prompted the line of questioning, which asked for views on topics ranging from Mr. Putin’s popularity to Russian expansionism. On two promotional documents obtained by The New York Times, SCL said it did business in Russia. In both documents, the country is highlighted on world maps that specify the location of SCL clients, with one of the maps noting that the clients were for the firms elections division. In a statement, SCL said an employee had done commercial work about 25 years ago for a private company in Russia
Cambridge Analytica has been a political flash point since its role in the Trump campaign attracted scrutiny after the election. While Mr. Nix’s firm turned over some records to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during its investigation of Russian interference, Democrats on the committee want a fuller review. It is imperative to interview a broader range of individuals employed by or linked to Cambridge Analytica, they said in a report this month Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge Analytica and develop the company’s voter-profiling technology, said Lukoil showed interest in how the company used data to tailor messaging to American voters. I remember being super confused,â€ said Mr. Wylie, who took part in one of the Lukoil meetings. I kept asking Alexander, Can you explain to me what they want? he said, referring to Mr. Nix. I’dont understand why Lukoil wants to know about political targeting in America.
We are sending them stuff about political targeting they then come and ask more about political targeting, Mr. Wylie said, adding that Lukoil just didn’t seem to be interested in how the techniques could be used commercially.
A second person familiar with the discussions backed up Mr. Wylie’s account, but spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement. Though Lukoil is not state-owned, it depends on Kremlin support, and its chief executive, Vagit Alekperov, has met with Mr. Putin on a number of occasions. Reuters reported last year that Lukoil and other companies received instructions from the state energy ministry on providing news stories favorable to Russian leadership.