Comment: The Perfect Shambles
It went wrong from the beginning.
Before the Chair, Damian Collins MP, had managed to finish the formal introductions and parish notices, Leave EU's PR man, Andy Wigmore, launched the first hand grenade. Will you resign as chair as you’ve had contact with Russians?
This set the jovially ugly, gloves-off tone for the long anticipated and much needed hearing. And the committee fluffed it at every step.
From the outset those billed as whistleblowers to the inquiry - including Brittany Kaiser and Chris Wylie - came under fire, almost following the same script used by Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica at his own second appearance.
The broader plot, however, followed (almost exactly) the interview I did with Andy Wigmore in March.
Covering Cambridge Analytica, the duo stuck to the "initial discussions" argument because there is no real evidence yet to prove otherwise. They also, aided by the committee's misunderstanding of what is known, said the only data ever sent to Cambridge Analytica was UKIP data. This is not actually entirely correct, and we know this because Andy Wigmore provided a large amount of detail on Labour data and its importance only recently.
They did not relent, next aiming at Parliament, saying: “Parliament itself is the biggest source of fake news in this country...after this meeting you’ll be meeting some Guardian journalist and spinning things whichever way you want.” Shameless. But predictable.
Wigmore then stuck to his lines as per our interview.
By this point I'd also tweeted "Good god this is depressing to listen to. Awful questioning." Which was incredibly fair, to say the least.
I've always maintained a proper criminal investigation should have been carried out by the NCA to prevent this public spectacle going sour and being mismanaged, and another former police officer agreed:
The Chair had no control of either of the two men, so it was unsurprising it went unchecked when they suddenly threw another grenade:
“Are you the MP who got drunk and harassed a woman?”
“Well one of you in this committee is.”
Not a real word from the chair. The farce was serving nobody.
Then they drove the hearing through another open goal: a misinterpretation of data records by a journalist.
The article they discussed was misguided, and conflated two sets of data, resulting in a conclusion insurance data was used in the referendum. It was depressingly unchallenged and the follow up questioning led back to the heart of the surrounding issues: none of the whistleblowers have much credibility because they were directly involved with Cambridge Analytica and have since launched their own data projects. The MPs were largely useless, sadly.
There was some glimmer of hope when the financing of the Brexit campaign came up and the use of the funds from the sales of New Law was mentioned, but a failure to research allowed Wigmore and Banks and to write off questions as a misunderstanding because he "didn't fully understand Arron's finances."
Even live tweeting the relevant material at the committee didn't help.
In an even more bizarre twist, when being questioned over Russia, Banks told the committee "we gave the phone numbers of the Trump transition team to the Russians," and it was accepted without any real comment.
I mean, Jesus...they'd either just admitted being at the heart of the US Russia scandal in which many people have already been indicted, or they were trying to invent a degree of protection for Trump from prior collusion allegations, despite a significant body of evidence which shows it's cobblers.
The committee tapdanced around a little discovery of mine, Big Data Dolphins, missed the broader point of the Mississippi problem, and then glossed over the important bit:
“We did look at scraping Facebook data from Mississippi.” This was a key concern raised in Alternative War last year, and at least there was another vindication for me there.
Unfortunately, a lot of the information from whistleblowers and other journalists has been confused and conflated and this same topic allowed another attack on Chris Wylie, the Guardian, Byline as an organisation (while not me, I might add), and something called the Fairvote Project.
Banks and Wigmore wrapped Damian Collins up like a kipper over the latter, leaving him having to defend the committee for perceived support of it. He was utterly outclassed.
I summed it up quite neatly in a tweet, writing: "The truth is,
was always the reality of all this. Everything else is a mix of
bullshit and Chinese whispers, which is why I’ve stayed away from it. I
don’t know whether to laugh or cry."
I didn't laugh. Or cry. I shouted instead.
I can only assume some journalists had relied on a document written by the Atlantic Council to prove Russia connections, because it was specifically labelled as fantasy by Wigmore and Banks. Personally, I'm proud to say none of my research or writing is based upon it.
Banks then produced his passports and visa stamps as evidence that a recent Guardian article and comments by Wylie about emails and travel to Russia in 2016 were simply not true.
I've no idea about any of that but Banks did however confirm he had been to Moscow in 2015, further supporting source intelligence I had obtained for an article written last year. Which was nice.
The shambles ended with Banks and Wigmore walking out for a lunch appointment, leaving Collins looking flustered and stuttering about needing an extra five minutes.
Fair play to both Andy and Arron it was a masterclass in walking away without a single scratch - and you can watch the whole horror show here.
My god what a car crash, I tweeted. Then received the perfect reply to cap it all off.
As I wrote in Alternative War: “We see a long-term pattern of fluffed action being repeated – responding to an act of war with a Culture Committee and the inadequate system of fines provided by the ICO and the Electoral Commission...The most we will ever see is a contaminated crime scene.”
As Endless Screaming says: