Trump's shady data firm may be about to pull its biggest stunt yet


Cambridge Analytica says it's closing its doors — but that's only half of the sordid tale.

Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm hired by the Trump campaign, announced Wednesday that it was shutting down its operations and closings its doors, citing mounting legal fees and a dwindling number of clients willing to associate themselves with the scandal-plagued company.

However, as is often the case with Cambridge Analytica — a firm that specializes in disinformation and psychological warfare — there appears to be more going on here than meets the eye.

The company, as we know it today, may be closing down. But that doesn't mean it's going anywhere. In fact, the rebranding of Cambridge Analytica looks to be well underway already.

In August, the shady crew behind Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group set up a new company called Emerdata, which was first uncovered by journalist Wendy Siegelman earlier this year. While the company remains shrouded in secrecy, corporate filings from the U.K. describe the nature of its business as "data processing, hosting, and related activities."

In an interview with British television station Channel 4, an official from Cambridge Analytica's parent company said Emerdata was established to acquire all of SCL and Cambridge Analytica, so they could be combined into one entity. British government filings show that Emerdata also shares an address with Cambridge Analytica's parent company in London's Canary Wharf neighborhood.

But an address isn't the only thing Emerdata shares with Cambridge Analytica.

Ousted Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was listed as a director of Emerdata in February, but was terminated on March 28, just a week after Cambridge Analytica cut ties with him. The same day, Cambridge Analytica's former chief data officer Alexander Tayler replaced Nix as Emerdata's new director.

Meanwhile, SCL chairman Julian Wheatland, who was reportedly tapped to replace Nix as Cambridge Analytica's CEO before it announced its closure, is listed as Emerdata's CEO.

And it doesn't end there.

On March 16, Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer — daughters of Robert Mercer, the Republican megadonor who bankrolled Cambridge Analytica — were appointed to serve as directors of Emerdata. On Emerdata's corporate filings, Rebekah listed her correspondence address as 597 Fifth Avenue in New York City. That also happens to be the same address as Cambridge Analytica's New York office.

Also listed as a director of Emerdata is Johnson Chun Shun Ko, who was appointed in April 2014 as deputy chairman of the board at Frontier Services Group — a Chinese security firm chaired by Erik Prince. Besides being the founder of notorious private military contractor Blackwater (and the brother-in-law of Betsy Devos), Prince is also a prominent Trump supporter with ties to the super PAC that paid for Cambridge Analytica's work on behalf of the Trump campaign.

In September 2016, Prince was the second-largest donor to Make America Number 1 — a super PAC founded by the Mercer family and run by former Trump campaign CEO and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon along with Kellyanne Conway.

The super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.5 million in 2015 and 2016, and reportedly funded the "Defeat Crooked Hillary" attacks ads created by Cambridge Analytica.

Taken together, these filings show that the major players behind Cambridge Analytica and its parent company have already established a new company under the name Emerdata, which is staffed and run by Cambridge Analytica executives — along with multiple members of the Mercer family.

Emerdata shares an address with Cambridge Analytica's London office, and the correspondence address listed for director Rebekah Mercer just happens to be the same address as Cambridge Analytica's New York office.

This doesn't give the appearance of a company that is closing its doors — it gives the appearance of a company that is trying to shed its toxic brand and reinvent itself.

On Wednesday, former employees of Cambridge Analytica confirmed that it's likely the data firm will try to rebrand itself and come back under a different name — one that is not associated with an international scandal but that still engages in the same scandalous (and potentially illegal) tactics.

"Cambridge Analytica as a brand is absolutely toxic," one former employee told Financial Times after the news broke Wednesday. "Although, guaranteed, that company SCL will emerge in some other incarnation or guise."

Meanwhile, as Trump and his inner circle try to distance themselves from the shady data firm they once celebrated, Trump's top donors appear to be working to help Cambridge Analytica make a comeback.

By all appearances, Cambridge Analytica — a company known for its dirty tricks — may now be well on its way to pulling its biggest stunt yet. But this time, it will be doing so under the watchful eye of special counsel Robert Mueller.