A Republican political strategist was convicted of illegally helping a Russian businessman contribute to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Jesse Benton, 44, was pardoned by Trump in 2020 for a different campaign finance crime, months before he was indicted again on six counts related to facilitating an illegal foreign campaign donation. He was found guilty Thursday on all six counts.
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. [Continue reading…]