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Facebook : Coordinated Posts Defend Connecticut Man Who Exchanged Ukraine Texts

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01/17/2020 | 07:26pm EST

By Rebecca Ballhaus

WASHINGTON -- A network of several dozen Facebook pages is coordinating posts defending Robert F. Hyde, a figure who has become embroiled in the impeachment investigation, according to an analysis of the sites.

Some of the pages, which describe themselves as representing groups of supporters of President Trump from different states, share contact information and other details with Mr. Hyde's Republican campaign for a House seat in Connecticut, according to the analysis, which was conducted by the social-media intelligence company Storyful.

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 and Pennsylvania Supporters for 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.

In the past, Facebook has taken down pages when it found they engaged in inauthentic behavior, which it defines as "working together to mislead people about who they are and what they're doing."

On Friday, several of the pages 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 to comment on Friday on his involvement with the Facebook pages.

The pages collectively have more than 120,000 likes and focus on Mr. Hyde and anti-Democratic memes. The pages 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 list 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 to comment.

Facebook has many unofficial pages for supporters of political figures. A spokeswoman didn't have an immediate 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 wasput 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 the president's Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago on Easter.

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

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FACEBOOK 0.22% 197.2 Delayed Quote.-3.92%
NEWS CORPORATION -4.12% 12.33 Delayed Quote.-12.80%
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