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Former McConnell and Rand Paul Staffer Charged With Funneling Russian Money to Trump

A former campaign manager for both of Kentucky’s U.S. senators, who was convicted on criminal charges in 2016 and pardoned by President Trump in late 2020, is facing more federal charges. Jesse Benton has been indicted on multiple counts, including conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, the Department of Justice said in a statement Monday.

Benton is accused of “conspiring” with Roy Douglas “Doug” Wead of Florida “to solicit a political contribution from a Russian foreign national.” The complaint doesn’t name the political candidate, but it’s clear who was the GOP nominee in 2016. The foreign national allegedly “wired $100,000” to a consulting company Benton owned. He is accused of then creating a “fake invoice” as a “cover story” for the payment.

Wead told the foreign national he could arrange for them to meet with a 2016 presidential candidate “in exchange for a payment,” the Justice Department says in court documents. Benton then arranged, according to the DoJ, for the foreign national to attend a fundraiser “and get a photograph with” the candidate if they gave a contribution to a “joint fundraising committee” that included the candidate’s campaign committee and national party committee.

“Benton ultimately filled out a contributor form, indicated that he was the contributor, and used a personal credit card to make a $25,000 contribution. Benton retained the remaining $75,000 of Foreign National 1’s money,” the Justice Department claims in their statement.

Benton was previously convicted in 2016 of criminal charges related to an endorsement scheme during the 2012 presidential primaries involving a plot to provide $73,000 in payments to a former Iowa state representative to secure his endorsement of Sen. Rand Paul’s father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Benton managed Rand Paul’s 2010 general election campaign and is married to Paul’s niece. He also managed Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2014 reelection bid but resigned that position amid the scandal over the 2012 incident.

Benton spent six months on home confinement and two years on probation before he received a full pardon from Trump in December. Another former Ron Paul campaign staffer was also pardoned in connection with the same case.

 

If convicted, Benton and Wead face “maximum penalties” of five to 20 years in prison, per count, the Justice Department said.



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