A former senior Republican operative was convicted of helping a Russian national funnel funds to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Jesse Benton, 45, was found guilty of helping concoct the scheme on behalf of Russian millionaire Roman Vasilenko, the Washington Post reported. Benton schemed with another political operative to funnel $25,000 from Vasilenko to Trump through himself while pocketing an additional $75,000 from the Russian businessman, the Justice Department wrote. With that money, Vasilenko was able to attend a Republican National Committee event where he met and got a picture with Trump.
Benton was able to hide Vasilenko’s contribution by having him wire the money to his political consulting firm, at which point Benton donated some of it to the Trump campaign under his own name.
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“To disguise the scheme, Benton created a fake invoice, which falsely identified the funds as payment for consulting services. Benton acted as a straw donor and contributed $25,000 of the Russian foreign national’s money to the campaign, falsely identified himself as the contributor, and pocketed the remaining $75,000,” a press release from the DOJ read. “Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, the relevant campaign entities unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that inaccurately reported Benton — instead of the Russian foreign national — as the source of the funds.”
On Thursday, Benton was convicted of “conspiring to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effecting a conduit contribution, and causing false records to be filed with the FEC,” which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His sentencing is set for Feb. 17.
Benton’s attorney told the Washington Post that he “maintains his innocence and plans to appeal.”
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Benton was previously convicted of filing false statements in a scheme to funnel money from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign to an Iowa politician who supported Paul, Axios reported but was pardoned by Trump in the final days of his presidency.
The veteran GOP operative previously worked as a senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). He is married to Paul’s niece.