On Friday, a federal judge in Washington, DC sentenced a veteran GOP operative to 18 months in prison for funneling $25,000 from a Russian businessman to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Jesse Benton, a longtime aide to both Ron and Rand Paul, was convicted in November on six related charges. The court found that he and another GOP operative accepted $100,000 from Roman Vasilenko, a St. Petersburg-based influencer who wanted photos with Trump to display on his social media accounts. Benton kept most of the money for himself but donated $25,000 to the Republican National Committee as part of a plan to secure two tickets to a fundraising event for Trump in Philadelphia. At the event, Vasilenko was allowed to sit close to Trump at a roundtable discussion and later took a photo with him. Foreign nationals, like Vasilenko, are not allowed to donate to US political campaigns or committees, and it is illegal to make a donation on behalf of someone else.
Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s grandaughter, was previously convicted in 2016 of a scheme to pay an Iowa state senator to switch his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul ahead of the state’s 2012 republican presidential caucus. In that case, Benton, after pleading that he had reformed and had a family to support, was sentenced to home confinement. Just six days later, the Trump fundraiser at which Vasilenko met Trump took place. A few weeks after that, Benton was caught in an undercover sting orchestrated by the British newspaper The Telegraph, whose reporters posed as representatives of a Chinese businessman who wanted to donate $2 million to Trump’s campaign. Benton told them he could arrange it. He apparently violated the terms of his home confinement in the Iowa case to meet with the undercover reporters. [Continue reading…]