With John Bolton set to officially become President Donald Trump’s national security adviser in just over a week, two government watchdog groups filed a criminal complaint late Thursday demanding an investigation into whether Bolton’s super PAC wittingly conspired with the scandal-ridden British data firm Cambridge Analytica to commit “very serious” violations of U.S. election laws.
“If Bolton knew or should have known that his super PAC received illegal foreign support, that is highly relevant to the new position he will assume next month as national security adviser.”
—Norm Eisen and Fred Wertheimer
The complaint (pdf)—which also calls for a Justice Department probe into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon—was spearheaded by Democracy 21 and Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), and it argues that Bolton’s PAC violated federal laws prohibiting foreign nationals from “directly or indirectly” participating in the decision-making processes of American political campaigns.
“What’s worse than the fact that it apparently happened in this case is that the people involved apparently knew they were breaking the law and continued to do so anyway,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director at CREW, said in a statement on Thursday.
News that Bolton’s PAC was an “early beneficiary” of Cambridge Analytica’s vast Facebook data-harvesting effort was first reported by the New York Times last week.
Based on the accounts of former Cambridge Analytica employees as well as a trove of company documents, the Times reported that between 2014 and 2016, Bolton’s super PAC “spent nearly $1.2 million primarily for ‘survey research'” and “behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging”—services that relied on the personal data of Facebook users.
“These are very serious apparent violations of federal law. The Justice Department and the FBI should immediately commence an investigation into this matter and take appropriate action.”
—Noah Bookbinder, CREW
According to Cambridge whistleblower and former employee Christopher Wylie, the Bolton PAC’s messaging was aimed at “making people more militaristic in their worldview.”
The filing by CREW and Democracy 21 alleges that this coordination between Cambridge and Bolton’s super PAC violates federal laws barring foreign nationals assisting U.S. political campaigns with strategic decision-making.
“These are very serious apparent violations of federal law,” Bookbinder of CREW said. “The Justice Department and the FBI should immediately commence an investigation into this matter and take appropriate action.”
In a statement, Bolton spokesman Garrett Marquis denied that any Cambridge employees made strategic decisions in election-related matters and insisted that “the John Bolton Super PAC no longer uses any of the data provided by Cambridge Analytica.”
The complaint against Bolton’s super PAC and the Trump campaign comes as new reporting from Bloomberg shows that that internal documents from Cambridge Analytica, unsealed as part of a parliamentary inquiry in the U.K., indicate that the firm did in fact provide Bolton’s group with data obtained from Facebook users, confirming the Times report.
In an op-ed for CNN earlier this week, former White House ethics czar and CREW board chair Norm Eisen and Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer argued that both the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and special counsel Robert Mueller should immediately launch an investigation into the John Bolton Super PAC’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica.
“If Bolton knew or should have known that his super PAC received illegal foreign support, that is highly relevant to the new position he will assume next month as national security adviser,” Eisen and Wertheimer argued. “If an appointee has benefited from illegal foreign support, this creates the risk of more revelations that could worsen that person’s exposure.”