The White House Ethics Mess

Once again the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica has become an ethics issue for a Trump nominee for a White House position. CNBC broke the story that John Bolton, Trump’s toxic choice to replace General H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, has some ethical problems that have arisen from his ties to the data mining company.

The exact sticking points for Bolton are unclear, but ethics experts say the appearance of a possible future role for Bolton with an entity such as a political action committee could be a cause for concern for White House officials. Bolton’s PAC and super PAC, which are no longer receiving or spending capital, have been financial players in the early going of the midterm election cycle.

That’s nice but then there is this:

The John Bolton Super PAC has been a big player during the early stages of the 2018 midterm elections. The group has raised $3.8 million in the most recent election cycle, including receiving the financial backing of this year’s top Republican donor, Richard Uihlein, founder of the shipping supplies company Uline. Robert Mercer, former chairman of hedge fund giant Renaissance Technologies and a key Trump supporter, also contributed, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

So far, the group has spent $1.2 million with the majority of their funds going toward various advertisements and polls.

However, watchdogs such as Common Cause have brought the PAC’s past spending efforts to light with a number of legal complaints filed to the FEC. All of the complaints relate to the Bolton groups’ work with political data firm Cambridge Analytica, a company under scrutiny for gaining access to 50 million Facebook accounts and allegedly distributing user data to the Trump campaign in 2016.

Bolton’s super PAC in 2014 spent $340,000 on what it described as research and then more than $800,000 the following year. While it’s unclear what was obtained through Cambridge Analytica’s research, The New York Times reported in March that Bolton was purchasing services for “behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging.”

From the NYT’s article:

“The data and modeling Bolton’s PAC received was derived from the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a data expert who was part of the team that founded Cambridge Analytica. “We definitely told them about how we were doing it. We talked about it in conference calls, in meetings.” [..]

“The Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues,” Mr. Wylie said.

“That really meant making people more militaristic in their worldview,” he added. “That’s what they said they wanted, anyway.”

Using the psychographic models, Cambridge helped design concepts for advertisements for candidates supported by Mr. Bolton’s PAC, including the 2014 campaign of Thom Tillis, the Republican senator from North Carolina, according to Mr. Wylie and another former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being dragged into the investigations that now appear to be engulfing Cambridge. [..]

Months later, the relationship between Cambridge and the Bolton PAC had grown so close that the firm was writing up talking points for Mr. Bolton. In an email dated Oct. 1, 2014, Cambridge staff outlined a few sentences that Mr. Bolton could use to describe the work the new firm was doing for his super PAC.

“It’s not just about how much you spend. It’s also about how smart you spend,” the email advised Mr. Bolton to say. [..]

The subject line of the email: “Did Bannon come back to you on this?”

Conservative columnist at the Washington Post Jennifer Rubin writes:

Trump sprung Bolton’s appointment on his staff, so it’s likely no vetting was done before the announcement. Some of this can be mitigated by closing down the PACs. However, the degree to which Bolton is connected to and benefited from an association with Cambridge Analytica at the heart of “collusion” allegations currently under investigation by the special counsel is not remediable. It happened; it cannot be erased. And since the topic of Russia and Russian interference is central to the role of the national security adviser, it’s hard to see how Bolton could cordon off this portion of his job. He cannot very well recuse himself from matters concerning Russian interference with our election.

Last night MSNBC host Rachel Maddow examined Bolton’s legal and ethical problems over the connections between his PAC and Super PAC and Cambridge Analytica.