Jesse Benton, others indicted on corruption charges relating to Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign
08/05/2015 02:29 PM
UPDATED: Jesse Benton and two other former Ron Paul campaign staffers have been indicted on corruption charges.
The allegations date back to a bribery scandal of former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who pleaded guilty to receiving thousands for switching his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the early primary state’s 2012 presidential election.
The indictment, which was unsealed on Wednesday, charges Benton with five counts ranging from conspiracy, causing false records and campaign expenditure reports, false statements scheme and false statements.
The indictment comes down from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa and says Benton, John Tate, who alongside with Benton runs the pro-Rand Paul PAC, and Dimitrios Kesari “conspired and agreed with each other, with Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson, and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to: knowingly defraud the United States,” and to conceal, cover-up and falsify records to obstruct the investigation.
The court documents say the group paid Sorenson $73,000 to pull his political support from Bachmann to Ron Paul, using false invoices from a film production company and Grassroots Strategy group to conceal candidate committee payments.
Documents also say Benton emailed Sorenson offering to pay for his withdrawal of support from Bachmann to Paul on Oct. 31, 2011.
Court documents cited in the indictment account for a month-by-month and in some cases day by day account of the conspiracy from Oct. 31, 2011 through Aug. 19, 2014.
Read the full indictment here.
Benton is the former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2014 Senate campaign, though he stepped down as bribery allegations became public on Aug. 29, 2014.
Benton did not respond to a request for comment from Pure Politics, but a lawyer representing Benton sent an email to Pure Politics questioning the motive of the indictment.
“We are deeply disappointed to learn of today’s indictment by the Department of Justice,” said Washington, D.C., attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. “Jesse Benton, a prominent conservative Republican, has cooperated with the government during its multi-year investigation.
“That this indictment is now suddenly announced on the eve of the first Republican Presidential debate strongly supports our belief that this is a politically motivated prosecution designed to serve a political agenda, not to achieve justice. Mr. Benton is eager to get before an impartial judge and jury who will quickly recognize this for what he believes it is: Character assassination for political gain.”
Benton is currently running America’s Liberty Political Action Committee, a super PAC supporting Rand Paul’s presidential bid, and he is running the campaign of GOP state auditor candidate Mike Harmon.
Harmon spoke to Pure Politics on Wednesday “about 10 minutes” after he spoke with Benton. The candidate for auditor of public accounts said he was going to take 24 hours and “take it all in” before determining if he will keep Benton as his campaign manager.
Harmon said that Benton did “plead his innocence” in the phone call with him and that Benton was going to move for a speedy hearing, hoping for a resolution in 30 or 60 days. Harmon also said other candidates are sticking with him, including Sen. Rand Paul.
For Harmon, who faces Democratic incumbent Auditor Adam Edelen in the fall campaign, he said that he does “wonder about” why the government might go after Benton, but ignore issues like “IRS, Planned Parenthood, [Hillary] Clinton emails.”
In a phone interview with Pure Politics, Edelen took Harmon to task on needing time to think over his next step.
“The fact that a candidate for taxpayer watchdog needs 24 hours” to think on his campaign manager’s federal indictment “means not only does he lack the judgement to be the state auditor, but he lacks judgement to hold any office,” Edelen said.
In a statement, Edelen said he’d “feign surprise” on Benton’s indictment, “but that would be disingenuous.”
“It was well known from the first day Mike Harmon hired Jesse Benton last winter that Rand Paul’s henchman was under investigation for his potential role in bribing an elected official in Iowa,” Edelen said in a statement. “I said then that those who wish to be the taxpayer watchdog ought to have a record of ferreting out those linked to bribery, rather than employing them.
“Voters ought to question the judgment of a candidate for state Auditor who ignored these allegations and allowed Jesse Benton to run a campaign that was based solely on personally attacking me and smearing my track record as one of Kentucky’s most accomplished Auditors in recent history.”
Benton, who is married to the granddaughter of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, served as the elder Paul’s political director during his last presidential race and took over Rand Paul’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010.
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