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Bolton faces White House questions about ethics, possible conflicts

The obvious problem with John Bolton becoming White House national security advisor is his radicalism. But there's also a less obvious problem.
Image: John Bolton
(FILES) This file photo taken on February 24, 2017 shows former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference ...

It wasn't long after Donald Trump became president that his first White House national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was caught up in a scandal and was forced to resign in disgrace. His third national security adviser hasn't even started yet, but there's already reason to wonder about the significance of the controversies facing John Bolton.

In general, most of the questions surrounding Bolton have focused on his radicalism, his record of failures, his thirst for war, and his bullying. But as you probably saw Rachel explain at the top of last night's show, CNBC ran a report yesterday on Bolton, who has not yet started in his new role, meeting with White House attorneys "about possible conflicts of interest."

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.White House lawyers and Bolton continue to discuss and review any potential conflicts of interests for the former U.N. ambassador, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNBC on the condition of anonymity. A spokesman for Bolton, however, said that there haven't been any issues.

It's worth pausing on that point about Bolton's PAC and super PAC, because there are some questions surrounding the incoming White House national security adviser that deserve answers.

We know, for example, that Bolton intends to shut down these campaign entities, which certainly makes sense in light of the position he's poised to assume, but which isn't as straightforward as it probably sounds. After all, Bolton's committees have raised and invested quite a bit of money for this year's midterm elections, so the wind-down is probably going to be tricky.

But as Rachel explained on the show, the more interesting story is Bolton's political operation's recent past.

Cambridge Analytica, funded by Trump megadonor Robert Mercer, and its campaign activities have become the basis for an international controversy, but one of the things we've learned about the firm's efforts is that Cambridge Analytica also worked closely with Bolton's outfit -- also closely tied to Mercer -- as it tried to help elect Republican candidates. Indeed, Bolton's operation benefited from the firm's highly problematic work with Facebook data.

This is the same Cambridge Analytica that's currently facing scrutiny from, among others, Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Or put another way, federal investigators are taking a look at the data firm that's partnered with the incoming White House national security advisor.

Making matters slightly worse, Bolton has worked with a Russian gun-rights organization that's reportedly under investigation for potentially funneling Russian money into pro-Trump efforts.

It's against this backdrop that White House lawyers have some "questions" for Bolton? Yeah, I bet they do.