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Lawmakers zero in on Zuckerberg

Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOvernight Cybersecurity: Fallout from Comey memos | IG reportedly investigating memos over classified info | DNC sues Russia, Trump campaign | GOP chair blasts FDIC over data security Congress must establish clear, equitable internet rules — now Americans want tougher regulations for tech companies: poll MORE is drawing intense scrutiny from lawmakers demanding that the Facebook founder testify to Congress about the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

Facebook’s data practices are under the microscope like never before following a report that the British research firm connected to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlynn to campaign for Montana GOP Senate candidate Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone Decline in EPA enforcement won't keep climate bill from coming MORE’s campaign improperly obtained information on 50 million Facebook users as it sought to find ways of influencing voters at the polls.

On Monday, the top Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee — Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse, Senate GOP compete for cash Overnight Tech: Alleged robocall kingpin testifies before Congress | What lawmakers learned | Push for new robocall rules | Facebook changes privacy settings ahead of new data law | Time Warner CEO defends AT&T merger at trial Senators grill alleged robocall kingpin MORE (S.D.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLet's hold Facebook to the same standards as other players in the industry Cindy Hyde-Smith sworn in as Mississippi's latest senator Miss. Dem touts campaign poll saying he leads GOP candidates in Senate race MORE (Miss.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranTrump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job Overnight Finance: Senate repeals auto-lending guidance, shattering precedent with vote | House passes IRS reform bills | Senate GOP fears tax cut sequel Senate repeals auto-loan guidance in precedent-shattering vote MORE (Kan.) — sent a list of questions to Zuckerberg about the “troubling” reports, with Moran saying Zuckerberg needed to testify.

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“That’s our first step, and then I think testimony in front of the Commerce Committee would be appropriate and required,” Moran told reporters on Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of questions left to be answered.”

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Trump steps up fight with California over guard deployment | Heitkamp is first Dem to back Pompeo for State | Dems question legality of Syria strikes Top Dems demand answers from Trump over legality of Syria strikes New York seeks authority to prosecute despite presidential pardons MORE (Calif.), also told The Hill on Tuesday that he believes that Zuckerberg, along with other CEOs, should attend hearings.

“We had the general counsel come in. That was quite some time ago. We’ve learned more about the Russian interference since then,” Schiff explained.

Zuckerberg is also taking heat in Europe.

British lawmakers, who are concerned about the episode with London-based Cambridge Analytica, have called on him to appear before Parliament’s digital oversight committee.

As the calls for answers mount, Zuckerberg has remained silent. His company has sought to send the signal that it takes the matter seriously even as it faults Cambridge Analytica and other players.

“Mark, Sheryl and their teams are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue,” Facebook said in a statement, referring to the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”

The company has also promised to investigate the incident and Cambridge Analytica’s handling of the data. For its part, Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing and says that the data was not used during its work for the Trump campaign.

The appearance before any congressional panel of the billionaire tech magnate would be a cable television blockbuster — particularly given Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Trump’s campaign and the cloud of the Russia investigation hanging over the political world.

Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs take great pains to stay out of the spotlight in the midst of controversies, and that impulse is likely heightened now that the industry is faced with a growing movement that wants to hit them with tougher regulations.

Facebook in October revealed that Russian groups used its platform to influence the U.S. political process. That led to hearings in November at which lawmakers grilled Facebook and other tech companies about how the influence campaign was able to use their platforms to sow discord among voters.

Facebook dispatched its top lawyer to testify in November. This time around, Congress is strongly hinting that sending lawyers won’t be enough.

“The last time we had a hearing, Facebook and Google and Twitter sent their lawyers, which were undoubtedly expensive because they did a damn fine job of dodging and bobbing and weaving,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told reporters on Monday. “They didn’t say a damn thing.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd MORE (D-Minn.) and Kennedy this week urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley renews complaints about History Channel Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos MORE (R-Iowa) to hold a hearing with Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs about how their platforms oversee political firms’ data practices.

“This is a major breach that must be investigated,” Klobuchar said over the weekend. “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves.”

While members have ripped executives at Facebook and other companies, the major social media platforms are no closer to facing regulation today then they were immediately after the November hearings. One of Facebook’s biggest worries now is that public testimony from Zuckerberg about his company’s data and advertising practices could be one of the first steps toward changing that.

Klobuchar said that Facebook’s controversy with Cambridge Analytica is further evidence that internet companies need to be regulated. She and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerComey memo fallout is mostly fizzle Pompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel Heitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State MORE (Va.), have pushed their Honest Ads Act legislation, which aims to hold tech companies to the same political ad transparency standards as radio, TV and print outlets, as a way to do this.

For all of the growing bipartisan outrage at companies like Facebook and Google, Republicans have generally been loath to regulate the platforms. But there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s good luck will continue in the wake of this latest scandal, especially as Democrats, who have a good chance of reclaiming Congress this year, become more willing to confront Silicon Valley and its left-leaning leaders.

“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be subpoenaed if he doesn’t appear voluntarily. [He should] appear under oath, in public, along with other CEOs in the same space, and Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica and others connected with the company,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.