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Facebook Removes Pages That Coordinated Posts Defending Man Embroiled in Impeachment Probe

By Rebecca Ballhaus 

WASHINGTON -- Facebook Inc. late Friday took down a network of several dozen Facebook pages that were coordinating posts defending Robert F. Hyde, a figure who has become embroiled in the impeachment investigation.

The pages described themselves as representing groups of supporters of President Trump from different states, and several of them had the same contact information and other details as Mr. Hyde's Republican campaign for a House seat in Connecticut.

Facebook's move was one of its most high-profile attempts to combat coordinated behavior by domestic actors on its platform, which is a violation of its policies. The apparent coordination of the pages was uncovered in an analysis conducted by the social-media intelligence company Storyful and included in an article published earlier on Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

"When we find networks of Pages misleading people by concealing who controls them, we require those owners to show additional information. In this case, the necessary disclosure was not made, so per our policy, the Pages have been removed," a Facebook spokeswoman said.

After House Democrats released text messages this week in which Mr. Hyde told Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, that suggested he was monitoring the movements of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the Facebook pages began sharing posts from Mr. Hyde's campaign page in which he defended his actions, the analysis showed.

Storyful is owned by News Corp, parent of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones.

On Jan. 16, at least 30 of the pages -- with names like California Supporters for President Donald J. Trump -- shared a Hyde for Congress post that linked to a National Public Radio article about Mr. Hyde's texts about the ambassador.

On Friday, several of the pages had shared a video in which Mr. Hyde said it was ludicrous to take his texts seriously. "Like I have anybody over in Ukraine? Are you serious?" he said.

Mr. Hyde said his texts to Mr. Parnas were a joke and that he didn't monitor the ambassador's movements. He didn't respond to a request Friday to comment on his involvement with the Facebook pages.

The pages collectively had more than 120,000 likes and focus on Mr. Hyde and anti-Democratic memes. They shared the same memes and posted content around the same time, Storyful found. Several of them featured pictures of Mr. Trump with Mr. Hyde, wearing matching "USA" caps or flashing thumbs-up.

Several of the pro-Trump pages listed as their owner Finley Enterprises LLC, the same company listed as the owner on Mr. Hyde's campaign page. The email listed under several of the pages contact information is rfhyde1@gmail.com, which echoes Hyde for Congress's @rfhyde1 Twitter handle. There was no response to an email sent to that address.

The Trump campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

Last year, at least 23 of the pro-Trump pages spread a meme about Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that said "Lock up Adam Schiff for treason," according to an analysis published in November by BuzzFeed News.

At the time, Mr. Hyde told BuzzFeed he didn't run the pages and said: "I like positivity and like to follow all Trump media."

The texts released by House Democrats showed Mr. Hyde told Mr. Parnas in the spring of 2019 of the then-ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch: "They will let me know when she's on the move." On another occasion, he wrote: "They are willing to help if we/you would like to pay a price."

Mr. Parnas, in an MSNBC interview, described Mr. Hyde as a "weird character" and said he didn't take his texts seriously.

The Connecticut GOP chairman has called for Mr. Hyde to end his campaign; Mr. Hyde is one of several candidates vying to be the Republican nominee to run against incumbent Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes.

Ukrainian authorities on Thursday opened a criminal probe into whether Ms. Yovanovitch was put under surveillance by American citizens before she was removed from her post last year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday that "to the best of my recollection" he had never heard of Ms. Yovanovitch being surveilled.

On Thursday, FBI personnel visited Mr. Hyde's Connecticut home and business, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Hyde is a 40-year-old former Marine who has said he worked as a landscaper in Connecticut for nearly two decades before starting his congressional campaign. His LinkedIn page describes him as a self-employed "Change Agent" from January 2014 through the present. He also served as president of a public-relations firm called Finley Hyde & Associates LLC. The company's website features photos of Mr. Hyde with Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others.

In May, police responded to a call from the Trump golf resort in Doral, Fla., where Mr. Hyde told officers that "was in fear for his life, was set up and that a hit man was out to get him," according to a police report. Among Mr. Hyde's concerns: "He explained that he was scared due to several painting workers and landscape workers trying to do harm to him because they weren't working."

On social media, Mr. Hyde has posted several pictures with the president, including one taken at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Easter.

--Emily Glazer contributed to this article.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 17, 2020 22:14 ET (03:14 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.