Campaign Operative Tied to Paul, McConnell Indicted
This story has been updated.
A political operative linked to Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell is under federal indictment on allegations stemming from his work on the 2012 presidential campaign of Sen. Paul's father, Ron Paul.
The federal grand jury late last month accused Jesse Benton of conspiracy, causing false records, causing false campaign contribution reports and making false statements to law enforcement.
Benton, who is married to Rand Paul's niece, has multiple ties to Kentucky Republican politicians. He is a consultant to America's Liberty PAC—a super PAC supporting Rand Paul—and also manages Republican Mike Harmon's campaign for state auditor.
Benton was McConnell's campaign manager for part of the senator's 2014 re-election campaign. He also worked on the 2012 presidential campaign of Sen. Paul's father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
The allegations against Benton stem from the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign.
Benton and two other former aides on Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign are accused of bribing an Iowa state senator in exchange for a campaign endorsement prior to the caucus that year, according to the indictment. One of the other men indicted, John Tate, also works for America's Liberty PAC.
Benton’s attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., told CN2 Pure Politics that he and his client are “deeply disappointed to learn of today’s indictment by the Department of Justice.”
“Jesse Benton, a prominent conservative Republican, has cooperated with the government during its multi-year investigation,” Howard told the news outlet. “That this indictment is now suddenly announced on the eve of the first Republican presidential debate strongly supports our belief that this is a politically motivated prosecution designed to serve a political agenda, not to achieve justice.”
A Rand Paul campaign spokesman struck a similar tone.
"Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama Justice Department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate; it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated," the Paul spokesman said.
"Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign."
Harmon is running against incumbent Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen — who has also been touted as a possible challenger to Rand Paul's Senate re-election campaign next year. On Wednesday, Edelen criticized Harmon via Twitter following news of the indictment.
CN2’s Nick Storm spoke to Harmon, who said “he was going to take 24 hours and ‘take it all in’ before determining if he will keep Benton as his campaign manager.”