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Ex-Rand Paul aide pardoned by Trump is charged with funneling Russian money into 2016 election

Jesse Benton faces between 5 and 20 years in prison if convicted

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 08 March 2022 18:14 GMT
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A former campaign staffer and the grandson-in-law of US Senator Rand Paul who received a presidential pardon from former President Donald Trump has been charged with directing Russian money into the 2016 presidential election, according to the US Department of Justice.

The announcement came on Monday via an unseal indictment from 9 September.

Business Insider reports that Jesse Benton, Mr Paul's former aide, "conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national" into the 2016 campaign.

He also managed Senator Mitch McConnell's 2014 campaign.

Mr Benton received a $100,000 wire transfer from an unnamed Russian national in October of 2016, according to the indictment. He was allegedly promised that he would get to "meet a celebrity" at a Philadelphia fundraiser a month earlier.

Though prosecutors did not name the candidate involved in the memo, Insider confirmed that Mr Trump was hosting a fundraiser in Philadelphia the night of the fundraiser mentioned by the Russian national.

That individual was present at the fundraiser, according to prosecutors. His travel to the US was allegedly made possible by a co-conspirator in the case, conservative author Roy Douglas Wead. According to prosecutors, all three had taken officials with "Political Candidate 1," who is believed to be Mr Trump.

Both men are accused of passing off the donations as payments for "consulting work." Mr Benton reportedly kept $75,000 of the donation, while the rest was given to the candidate.

Mr Benton was previously convicted of campaign finance fraud relating to Mr Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. He was sentenced just says before the Philadelphia fundraiser and was sentenced to two years of probation and a $10,000 fine.

After his conviction, Mr Trump pardoned Mr Benton.

Prior to the Iowa caucus in 2011, three of Mr Paul's top staffers - including Mr Benton - arranged for a $73,000 payout to the then-Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson, according to The Daily Beast.

Mr Sorenson then immediately quit as the state chair for former Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman's presidential campaign and switched to work on Mr Paul's campaign.

Ultimately Mr Benton, along with senior aides John Tate and Demetri Kesari, were all convicted on campaign finance charges. Mr Kesari was the only one to serve prison time, and the only one not to receive a presidential pardon from Mr Trump.

His current charges are much more serious, and could land him and Mr Wead in prison for between five and 20 years.

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