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Jeff Chiu / AP

Facebook will give congressional investigators access to the more than 3,000 ads bought by Russian operatives during the campaign, it said on Thursday, reversing a previous decision that had drawn criticism. It also said it would increase transparency around political ad spending in a move that gets ahead of any new disclosure rules lawmakers could try to impose on digital campaign ad spending.

Details: Facebook had previously said it hadn't provided that information to congressional investigators, citing privacy concerns and federal law, but had provided the information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Colin Stretch, the company's general counsel, said Thursday that the decision had been made after a legal review.

"We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election," said Stretch in a blog post. "That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part."

New rules for political ads: In what is perhaps the most drastic change for advertisers and ad buyers, Zuckerberg said that in the coming months they will not only require that advertisers have to disclose which page paid for an ad, "but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser's page and see the ads they're currently running to any audience on Facebook."

In a separate post, Facebook issued a set of answers to questions around the probe. Key takeaways:

Facebook says it didn't know when the ads were purchased that they might be part of a Russian operation because they were uploaded using Facebook's self-service tool, and weren't sold directly from a Facebook salesperson to a client.The company says it's possible there are more ads from Russian or other foreign actors using fake accounts, but it is actively looking for this type of abuse. "It's possible that government investigators have information that could help us," said Elliot Schrage, the company's top policy executive, in the post.

What they're not doing: Releasing this information to the public.That's not likely to satisfy critics who argue there should be more transparency required about who buys digital political ads. Facebook cited "sensitive national security and privacy issues" involved in the investigation.

Key quote: "I don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday. "Now, I wish I could tell you that we're going to be able to stop all interference. But that just wouldn't be realistic."

Go deeper

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is transmitted.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Private equity bets on delayed tax reform in Biden administration

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In normal times, private equity would be nervous about Democratic Party control of both the White House and Congress. But in pandemic-consumed 2021, the industry seems sanguine.

Driving the news: Industry executives and lobbyists paid very close attention to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen's confirmation hearings this week, and came away convinced that tax reform isn't on the near-term agenda.