I’m not sure “Trump data chief” is the right term but then I’m not sure the Daily Beast’s term, “Trump data guru,” is right either. Alexander Nix, the subject of the story, is really the Mercer family’s data chief. He’s the head of Cambridge Analytica, the firm owned by Trump patrons Robert and Rebekah Mercer which once counted Steve Bannon as a board member. The Trump campaign paid millions to Cambridge Analytica last year for campaign work, which is where the Nix/Trump connection comes from, although the media’s been scratching its head for awhile about what exactly the firm did for Team Trump and some experts have questioned its “psychographic” methodology.

Because of the Mercer/Bannon connection and the opaque nature of Cambridge’s work for the campaign, Vanity Fair wondered last month if Cambridge might have been some sort of conduit between Team Trump and the Russians. The theory is that Moscow would have needed in-depth data on American voters in swing states in order to target them with tailored pro-Trump/anti-Clinton appeals on Facebook and other social media. The Trump campaign’s own data outfit, in collaboration with Cambridge, could have provided that data to Russia. How much evidence is there that this actually happened? Uh, none that I know of, although Cambridge has done some work in Russia in the past. But Bob Mueller is reportedly interested in knowing more about what Cambridge did for Trump. And it’s been widely publicized that Mueller’s office is looking at Russian social media “active measures” during the campaign.

Long story short, given the suspicions about Cambridge among Trump critics, anything that places the firm in contact last year with any anti-Clinton actors suspected of working for Russia will be news. And so we have today’s story: Nix reportedly reached out to Julian Assange and Wikileaks during the campaign about releasing Hillary’s lost emails. Collusion?

Nix, who heads Cambridge Analytica, told a third party that he reached out to Assange about his firm somehow helping the WikiLeaks editor release Clinton’s missing emails, according to two sources familiar with a congressional investigation into interactions between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Those sources also relayed that, according to Nix’s email, Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own

After publication, Assange provided this statement to The Daily Beast: ”We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”

“It’s not at all clear that anybody hacked Clinton’s emails or has them,” said one of the sources familiar with the investigation.

Assange confirmed on Twitter what he told the Daily Beast, that Cambridge did reach out to him and he said no thanks:

https://twitter.com/JulianAssange/status/923226553428987904

A source told the Daily Beast that he wouldn’t trust Nix as far as he could throw him. Assange has his own reasons to lie, conceivably: He’s hoping for a pardon from Trump and might be willing to put some pressure on the president by falsely confirming an approach from a data firm that worked for him about Clinton oppo last year. Maybe that’s Assange’s way of warning Trump that he should want him as an ally, not an enemy.

But let’s assume it’s true. Why would Cambridge think Wikileaks, of all people, would need “help” releasing Clinton’s emails if Assange had them? What sort of help? The most logical meaning of that is that Cambridge had the emails and was looking to launder their release through Wikileaks, but that makes no sense. If Trump or his allies had the emails, they would have come out. If Wikileaks had rejected them, Fox News certainly would have leaped at the chance to publish them. If there’s anything damning about the Cambridge/Assange interaction, it’s not this specific contact about Clinton’s emails, it’s the fact that it shows an arm of the Trump campaign was willing to reach out to an arm of Russian intelligence, Wikileaks, to damage Hillary. Assange said no to this pitch but did he say no to others? Did he facilitate any further communications between Cambridge and Russia?

It’s all speculative, though, and the timing of the story is highly suspicious in light of last night’s bombshell about Team Clinton having bankrolled the Trump dossier. The “two sources familiar with a congressional investigation” who spoke to the Daily Beast are probably Democrats desperate to bump the Clinton/Fusion GPS story off the front page, so they tossed out a few breadcrumbs about Cambridge talking to Assange. It’ll probably lead nowhere, just like the last story about a right-wing operator reaching out last year to friends of the Kremlin to try and fail to obtain Clinton’s emails. It’s amusing, though, to watch people on both sides wrestle with a question that’s once again newly germane in light of the dossier scoop: When is and isn’t it fair to try to obtain oppo research on an opponent from Russian agents? Hillary’s former campaign spokesman, as well as many a Democrat on social media last night, argued that it would have been malpractice for her not to try to dig up dirt the Russians may have had on the other party’s candidate — which is precisely Donald Trump Jr’s defense for why he took that meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on Clinton. Don Jr’s meeting was dirty pool but paying a British agent to write up rumors collected from Russian sources isn’t?

Here’s Rand Paul chattering about “rumors” that the DNC/Podesta emails were leaked to Wikileaks by, er, Democrats. Is he referring to the Seth Rich conspiracies or something else?