Politics - News Analysis

Rand Paul Aide Pardoned by Trump Charged With Funneling Russian Money into 2016 Election

Well, whaddya know?

On Monday, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment from last September that showed Jesse Benton, a former aide to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, has been charged with conspiring to illegally funnel foreign money from a Russian foreign national into the 2016 campaign.

Benton had been previously convicted of campaign finance fraud in connection with Senator Paul’s 2012 run at the presidency. In that case, he was sentenced to probation and a fine. Depending on the length of that probation — some are indefinite order to never commit the same kind of crime again — the rest of whatever suspended sentence he got in the 2012 case could come tumbling down on him now, and possibly even work against his defense on this case.

United States Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky at a book signing at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, along with Jesse Benton. Photo: April 2011 | Gage Skidmore(WKYT)

According to the indictment, Benton got a $100,000 wire transfer from an “unnamed Russian national” in October of 2016. He was promised he would get to “meet a celebrity” at a fundraiser in Philadelphia that year in exchange for funneling the money.

Although the indictment refers to the candidate that the fundraiser was held for as “Political Candidate 1,” the only candidate for president who was at the Philadelphia fundraiser that night was Donald Trump, so the math isn’t terribly difficult. Also, the fact that Benton was personally pardoned by Trump lends even more credence to the idea that it was Trump’s campaign that Benton was funneling money for.

Benton also managed Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2014 reelection bid. McConnell, Paul, Trump, Senator Lindsay Graham, and many others are no strangers to Russian money flowing into their campaigns. Over the course of Trump’s term, I wrote countless articles connecting the dots between US Republicans and Russian oligarchs and oil magnates.

Mr. Benton may face more intense scrutiny just as a matter of public sentiment right now, however. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is little sympathy for Moscow in the US these days.

Andrew Simpson
meet the author

Andrew is a dark blue speck in deep red Southwestern Arizona, writing with the conviction of 17 years at the keyboard and too much politics to even stand. When not furiously stabbing the keys on breaking news stories, he writes poetry, prose, essays, haiku, lectures, stories for grief therapy, wedding ceremonies, detailed instructions on making doughnuts from canned biscuit dough (more sugar than cinnamon — duh), and equations to determine the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. A wife, three kids, and a grandson round out the story, and in his spare time, Andrew loves to think about how nice it would be to have spare time.

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