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Another Strand in the Tapestry

Who is behind Trump’s political data analytics company?

Ann Marlowe
January 11, 2017
Collage: Tablet Magazine; inset images: Wikipedia
Collage: Tablet Magazine; inset images: Wikipedia
Collage: Tablet Magazine; inset images: Wikipedia
Collage: Tablet Magazine; inset images: Wikipedia

Is it possible the unlikely lovefest between far-left Russophile Julian Assange and the Trump team may go deeper—and may have been going on for longer—than we think? Last week, Trump agreed with Assange on the “dishonesty” of the American media, and Sarah Palin first-named Assange and apologized for 2010 statements that he has “blood on his hands.” But the Assange camp and the Trump camp have not just a thread, but a tapestry connecting them.

One newly unearthed strand comes through the data-analytics company Trump hired for his campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and its director of commercial sales in New York, a German-born, English-educated ex-academic called Robert Murtfeld.

Murtfeld, who studied law in the U.K., was a legal assistant at Assange’s law firm, Doughty Street Chambers, from June 2013 to August 2015, after leaving a doctoral program at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London without a degree. Murtfeld left Doughty Street for Cambridge Analytica in August 2015 and became head of commercial sales in September 2016. At Doughty Street, Murtfeld’s mentor had been John Jones, Q.C., who worked for Assange as well as for Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, sentenced to 50 years in jail by the International Criminal Court.

Doughty Street Chambers’ most famous member is Amal Clooney, who has defended former Gadhafi intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi. Along with the late Jones’ client Seif Gadhafi, Senussi is wanted by the ICC for war crimes.

On Apr. 18, 2016, Jones’ body was found on the train tracks at the West Hampstead Thameslink train station early in the morning. He’d been staying voluntarily in a nearby private mental hospital for “depression” and had gone to take a walk. CCTV footage showed that no other person was involved in the incident.

Tablet magazine has discussed Cambridge Analytica before, examining the tangled corporate structure and dubious past shareholders of the British company SCL, whose American branch, Cambridge Analytica, did data analytics for Ted Cruz and then for the Trump campaign. As noted in that August piece:

For 10 years, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company’s largest shareholder was Vincent Tchenguiz, who, together with his brother Robert, is estimated to be worth £850 million (about $1.1 billion). Even today, a year after Tchenguiz divested his shares, SCL Group Chairman Julian Wheatland, who is also one of the company’s four directors, is a Tchenguiz employee.

Oddly enough, Vincent Tchenguiz has several Libyan links too. As I reported previously, he is to this day an investor in Zander Group, a privately held U.K. company that held a soil-regeneration contract with Gadhafi ’s government. Tchenguiz did a £20 million trade-offset deal with Gadhafi in 2008, and was formerly half-owner of a London estate agency, now called Chestertons, which sold the office tower at 14 Cornhill to the Libyan Investment Authority in 2008.

But enough of foreign despots and back to Trump: CA’s American board members include Stephen K. Bannon of Breitbart News, who became Trump’s campaign chairman. Perhaps this explains the odd choice of Murtfeld, a recently arrived foreigner without any corporate experience, for a CA sales position that screams out for a lobbying background. At least on Google, Murtfeld is best known for having organized the memorial service for the Joneses—and for his willingness to hear a Nazi sympathizer.

Murtfeld, whose bio on a Columbia Law website identifies him as an expert on the “International Law of Genocide,” invited Klaus Barbie’s defender, Jacques Verges, to speak at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in February 2012.

Murtfeld’s invitation caused considerable controversy—two British MPs objected to Verges’ presence in Britain—and it’s unclear if Verges actually appeared. But the SOAS is famously leftist; it is, in fact, just the sort of place where Carlos the Jackal, another Verges client, may still have fans. This past April, students at SOAS voted for BDS—and protested when the school’s director dared to meet with the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom.

It’s the rare German who would put himself in the position of sponsoring an enthusiast for Nazis such as Verges, and it’s a rare firm that would hire him in a sales position—but as last week’s news shows, the far left and far right are moving closer together.


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Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a writer and financial investigator in New York. She is the author of How to Stop Time. Her Twitter feed is at @annmarlowe.