November 19, 2022

On Thursday, a Republican operative -- known for his work on campaigns for GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul -- was convicted of facilitating an illegal campaign contribution from a Russian national to the Trump campaign in 2016. Imagine that. The 44-year-old Republican strategist was pardoned by Trump in 2020, but not for the same crime.

Jesse Benton was indicted again on six counts related to facilitating an illegal foreign campaign donation. On Thursday, Benton was found guilty on all six counts.

Via The Washington Post:

Elections "reflect the values and the priorities and the beliefs of American citizens," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Parikh said in her closing argument this week. "Jesse Benton by his actions did damage to those principles."

The evidence at trial showed that Benton bought a $25,000 ticket to a September 2016 Republican National Committee (RNC) event on behalf of Roman Vasilenko, a Russian naval officer turned multilevel marketer. (Vasilenko is under investigation in Russia for allegedly running a pyramid scheme, according to the Kommersant newspaper; he could not be reached for comment.) The donation got Vasilenko a picture with Trump and entrance to a "business roundtable" with the future president.

Vasilenko connected with Benton through Doug Wead, an evangelical ally of the Bush family who was also involved in multilevel marketing. Vasilenko sent $100,000 to Benton, who was working for a pro-Trump super PAC at the time, supposedly for consulting services. Benton subsequently donated $25,000 to the RNC by credit card to cover the ticket.

Witnesses from the RNC and the firm hired to organize the event said they weren't told Vasilenko was a Russian citizen. Benton said in an email to his RNC contact that Vasilenko was "a friend who spends most of his time in the Caribbean"; he described Vasilenko's interpreter as "a body gal." In fact, according to the testimony, Benton and Vasilenko had never met.

Benton was previously a key aide on Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign and served on Mitch McConnell's 2014 reelection campaign as manager. He's also Ron Paul's granddaughter's husband.

This story reads like a poorly scripted Mexican soap opera. Their telenovelas are incredibly insane and filled with dubious characters doing extremely shady things. Maybe they've been writing them about Republicans.

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