WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday questioned Facebook Inc's decision to overhaul how it handles paid political advertisements amid investigations into alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections.
"The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook," Trump wrote on Twitter. "What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary," referring to Hillary Clinton, his rival in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Earlier this month, Facebook said an internal review had shown that an operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on 3,000 Facebook ads promoting divisive messages in the months before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection revealed
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.
Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
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The company initially declined to turn over details on the ads to Congress but said on Thursday it would do so, making a concession to U.S. lawmakers who have threatened to regulate the world's largest social network over ads that run during election campaigns.
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook, for the first time, would now make it possible for anyone to see any political ads that run on Facebook, no matter whom they target.
Facebook also will demand that political advertisers disclose who is paying for the advertisements, a requirement that under U.S. law applies to political ads on television but not on social media.
Zuckerberg said on Thursday the changes would help address concerns that governments including Russia are using Facebook ads to meddle in other countries' elections.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia engaged in cyber attacks to sway the 2016 election against Democrat Hillary Clinton in favor of Trump. U.S. congressional investigators and a special counsel are investigating the matter. Moscow has denied any interference.
While Trump dismissed the advertisement controversy, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, expressed concern.
"Well, I think all of these social media providers are faced with many challenges," Tillerson said on ABC's "Good Morning America," pointing to their use by militant groups around the world as well as in election campaigns.
"But they also have responsibilities," he said. "And I think they're going to have to think carefully about their responsibilities in this regard."
U.S. election law bars foreign nationals and foreign entities from spending money to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)