Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mother Jones: Will Jesse Benton Get Caught Up in a Bribery Investigation?

Mother Jones has now picked up on the developing crisis at Ron Paul Inc:
An intriguing catfight has been brewing on the right—and it could possibly affect the reelection campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Republican Senate leader. A former aide to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has asked the Federal Elections Commission to investigate whether Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign violated federal law by bribing an Iowa state senator to win his endorsement. The complaint letter, sent by ex-Bachmanner Peter Waldron, charges that senior members of Paul's campaign—including Jesse Benton, who is now McConnell's campaign manager—were party to the bribe or knew about it. The role of specific Ron Paul aides in the scheme is unclear, but a 2013 Iowa Senate Ethics Committee report cited by Waldron states that the Paul campaign exchanged money to purchase the endorsement [of Kent Sorenson]...

Benton is a close ally of the Paul family. In addition to guiding Ron Paul's 2012 campaign, he's married to the former congressman's granddaughter. He also worked for Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign, living in the younger Paul's basement. In late 2012, Mitch McConnell brought Benton on board to manage his reelection in an attempt to assuage the Paulites and tea partiers in Kentucky.

Benton's involvement, if any, in the Sorenson affair is murky. In one of the leaked phone calls, Sorenson says, "Oh, I know Jesse knows. I know Jesse knows," while discussing the check he received from the Paul campaign. But in a leaked phone call between Benton and former Ron Paul aide Dennis Fusaro, Benton says, "I don't know anything about that," when Fusaro referenced the allegation that Sorenson had been bribed. During the call, Benton says, "I've got shared responsibility, so if you've got proof, I'd like to take action."...

Waldron's complaint mentioned several other Republicans who would probably participate in a Rand Paul presidential campaign, should the senator run for the White House in 2016. These include John Tate, Ron Paul's 2012 national campaign manager, and Drew Ivers, a longtime Paul organizer in Iowa.

Benton and the McConnell campaign did [not] respond to requests for comment.
I think the key to this story as it develops is going to be Ron Paul 2012 deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari. He was the one who allegedly passed a check to Sorenson, which would have been illegal under current camapign laws. There also may be campaign-related legal problems for Kesari from other directions. He is going to be under tremendous pressure to cooperate with the Feds. What he tells the Feds, if he does cooperate, will have a lot to do with whether Benton stays free of the developing scandal or gets caught up in it.

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