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High-ranking GOP senator open to releasing Russian Facebook ads

High-ranking GOP senator open to releasing Russian Facebook ads
© Greg Nash

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine Biden brushes off criticism of budget nominee MORE (R-Texas) says that he’s open to making public the political Facebook ads that are suspected to have been purchased by Russian actors to influence the 2016 election.

Cornyn is the first Republican to express interest in making the ads available to the public.

“I don’t know why the ads [shouldn’t be released],” Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters on Thursday. “I assume that they were already published, so they’re not secret to my knowledge.”

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Despite the ads having been published on Facebook’s site after they were purchased by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency, Facebook has kept the 3,000 ads tightly under wraps since announcing they existed last month.

The company has cited privacy concerns as its reason for not releasing the ads, and initially hesitated on turning over the ads to Congress. The company eventually relented, giving all 3,000 ads to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees on Monday.

Reports on the ads describe them as meant to provoke racial and other divisions between Americans.

One ad urged its viewers to attend an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rally in Idaho, though Facebook deleted the event’s page before it occurred. Another suggested that Black Lives Matter is a growing political threat.

Democrats like Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position MORE (Va.) and his House Intelligence counterpart Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE (Calif.) have called for the advertisements to be released.

“I think [the ads] need to be public,” Warner said on Thursday.

The Virginia Democrat qualified that he also agrees with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRep. Mark Walker announces Senate bid in North Carolina North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.), who believes that it’s Facebook’s call, not the committee's, as to whether the ads are made public.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee does not release documents provided by witnesses, companies, whatever the classification — it’s not a practice we’re going to get into,” Burr said during a press conference on Wednesday.