GOP operative pardoned by Trump convicted of funneling Russian money to Trump campaign

Jesse Benton in 2012 Robert Daemmrich Pictures Inc/Corbis by way of Getty Photographs

Jesse Benton, a former high aide to Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), was convicted Thursday of serving to a Russian citizen illegally funnel a political donation to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential marketing campaign. Benton, 44, bought a $25,000 ticket to a September 2016 Republican Nationwide Committee occasion for Trump and gave the ticket to Russian multilevel marketer Roman Vasilenko. Vasilenko then gave Benton $100,000.

Elections “mirror the values and the priorities and the beliefs of Americans,” Assistant U.S. Lawyer Michelle Parikh stated at Benton’s trial this week. “Jesse Benton by his actions did injury to these rules.”

That is Benton’s second conviction for marketing campaign finance violations. In Might 2016, he was discovered responsible of illegally facilitating the switch of $73,000 to an Iowa state senator in change for endorsing Ron Paul throughout his 2012 presidential bid. Trump pardoned Benton in December 2020, quickly earlier than leaving workplace.

Prosecutors indicted Benton and Doug Wead, a conservative evangelical pundit concerned in multilevel advertising, in September 2021. Wead, who died later that yr at age 75, was accused of connecting Vasilenko to Benton.

Benton’s lawyer, Brian Stolarz, argued throughout the trial that Vasilenko was only a self-promoter prepared to pay to get photographs of himself with celebrities, and he and Wead settled on Trump after trying into picture ops with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Stephen Seagal, The Washington Submit studies. “If Oprah was obtainable,” he stated in his closing argument, “we would not even be right here.” Stolarz stated Vasilenko was desirous about a photograph with “the man who was once on The Apprentice,” not a future president, and Trump appeared solely briefly on the fundraiser and “simply talked about polls.”

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Prosecutors disputed the concept Vasilenko wasn’t desirous about Trump’s political cachet, noting he was operating for a seat in Russia’s parliament on the time, and his picture with Trump helped get him on Russian tv. And Benton, they stated, clearly ought to have recognized he was violating federal marketing campaign finance legal guidelines after his 2016 conviction.

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