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Ron Paul Staffers Split The Verdict: One Conviction, One Acquittal

Jesse Benton got off scot-free.
Ron Paul Staffers Split The Verdict: One Conviction, One Acquittal

Regardless of what the jury said, they're still crooks, liars and thugs.

The high-profile trial of two former Ron Paul presidential campaign staffers accused of buying an Iowa senator's endorsement and then lying about it ended Thursday with a muddled verdict from a jury stuck at an impasse.

The jury acquitted Jesse Benton, Paul's former campaign chair, of lying to FBI agents and convicted deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari of a charge of causing false records.

They also acquitted him of an obstruction of justice charge. But the jury was hung on three additional charges against Kesari — conspiracy, causing false campaign expenditures and false statements scheme — holding open the possibility of a retrial. The judge gave federal prosecutors 10 days to decide whether they’ll seek to retry Kesari.

“God is great,” a jubilant Benton told reporters as he left the courthouse with his wife, Valori Pyeatt, Paul's granddaughter. “It feels good.”

Kesari said nothing to reporters as he left the courthouse, though his attorney said they would be “evaluating” options on how to move forward.

The case probably won't leave more than a slight stain on the reputation of the Iowa caucuses, said Drake University professor of political science Dennis Goldford.

“I think this is a relatively minor factor in how to consider the caucuses,” he said.

Benton and Kesari stood accused of orchestrating a plot to secretly pay former state Sen. Kent Sorenson $73,000 for his endorsement of Paul just days ahead of the 2012 Iowa Republican caucus.

Prosecutors argued that both broke the law by paying Sorenson through a video production company so that his name would be kept off public campaign expenditure reports, a calculated political move after Sorenson publicly denied being paid for his support of the campaign.

But over five days of witness testimony, Benton’s defense team portrayed Benton as a harried campaign operative who wasn’t involved in every detail of the campaign. Kesari’s lawyer argued to jurors that the pay arrangement with Sorenson wasn’t necessarily illegal, even if it was perhaps unseemly.

A little plausible deniability blended with family connections guarantees a pass for Benton. As for Kasari, perhaps he could throw himself on the mercy of the court and tell us the whole story about how they bought endorsements for Ron Paul in 2012 rather than play by the rules.

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