A well-connected tech investor met with Facebook senior management late last month on behalf of billionaire Republican donor Rebekah Mercer to suggest an independent investigation into Cambridge Analytica, data collection, and the 2016 election, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The investor, Matt Michelsen, and a Facebook source confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the meeting took place. According to Michelsen, Facebook leadership seemed open to the possibility of an outside inquiry — and to meeting in person with Mercer — during the hour-long, March 20 meeting, but changed its attitude suddenly later that week.
News that Facebook had initially seemed to consider, but then declined to pursue Mercer’s suggestion of an independent investigation into the way the controversial data analytics firm funded by Mercer’s father, Robert, used its platform, provides new insight into the social giant’s response to the ongoing crisis that has shaken the faith of the public and investors.
According to Michelsen, it also reflects a firm belief by both Mercers that they did nothing wrong in funding Cambridge Analytica, a fact they believe an outside investigation would confirm.
The Facebook source downplayed the meeting's significance, saying that it was largely pro forma and granted because of Michelsen’s relationship with one of the people in the meeting.
Rebekah Mercer did not comment for this story.
According to his LinkedIn account, Michelsen is an adviser to venture funds and tech firms including 8VC and Palantir. He told BuzzFeed News he has close relationships with senior managers at Facebook, though he did not disclose who was in the meeting.
Michelsen and his family were skiing in Colorado with Mercer and her family when news broke that Facebook had failed to disclose Cambridge Analytica’s improper use of data about tens of millions of Americans. Michelsen told Buzzfeed News he cut the trip short to fly to San Francisco to meet with senior managers at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. Mercer had asked him to represent her position and request an independent investigation.
“I left the meeting with the idea that Rebekah was going to be able to meet with senior managers and figure out what happened,” Michelsen said.
But, according to Michelsen, on March 23 he received a call from a senior manager who had not been present at the meeting to inform him that Facebook would not meet with Mercer.
Facebook is currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, as well as officials in the United Kingdom and Australia. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is testifying Tuesday and Wednesday before Congress. The company also conducted its own, internal investigation into the scope and nature of the improper data access, which it first discovered in 2015.
The Mercer family, major donors to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and funders of a variety of right-wing concerns, rarely speak to the press.