GOP operative pardoned by Trump convicted of funneling Russian money to Trump campaign

Jessie Benton in 2012

Jessie Benton in 2012 Robert Demrich Photography Inc / Corbis via Getty Images

Jesse Benton, a former top aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Q.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Q.), and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), pleaded guilty Thursday to helping a Russian went. Citizens illegally make political donations to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Benton, 44, bought a $25,000 ticket to a September 2016 Republican National Committee event for Trump and Russian multilevel marketer Roman Vasilenko. Vasilenko then gave $100,000 to Benton.

“Elections reflect the values ​​and priorities and beliefs of American citizens,” Assistant US Attorney Michelle Parikh said at Benton’s trial this week. “Jesse Benton harmed those principles by his actions.”

This is Benton’s second conviction for campaign finance violations. In May 2016, he was found guilty of illegally facilitating the transfer of $73,000 to the Iowa state senator in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul during his 2012 presidential bid. Trump pardoned Benton in December 2020, just before leaving office.

Prosecutors indicted Benton and Doug Weed, a conservative evangelical pundit involved in multilevel marketing, in September 2021. Weed, who died later that year at the age of 75, was accused of connecting Vasilenko to Benton.

Benton’s attorney, Brian Stollerg, argued during the trial that Vasilenko was just a self-promoter willing to pay to have pictures of himself taken with celebrities, and that he and Weid had appeared with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Stephen After seeing the photo ops, settled on Trump. seagull, Washington Post Report. “If Oprah had been available,” he said in his closing argument, “we wouldn’t be here.” Stolarz said that Vasilenko was interested in “a picture with the guy who used to be on The Apprentice,” not the future president, and that Trump only appeared at the fundraiser and “just talked about the election.”

Prosecutors disputed the idea that Vasilenko was not interested in Trump’s political catch, noting that he was running for a seat in Russia’s parliament at the time, and that his photo with Trump had featured him on Russian television. helped bring And Benton, they said, clearly should have known he was violating federal campaign finance laws following his 2016 conviction.

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