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GOP activists accused of 'straw donor' conspiracy to funnel Russian donation in 2016 election

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Republican activists and allies of Republican Sen. Rand Paul are charged with conspiring to use a “straw donation” to funnel a $25,000 donation illegally from a Russian national to then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential victory fund during the 2016 election.

The Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Monday that accuses Jesse Benton, 43, and Roy Douglas “Doug” Wead, 75, of a “conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution, and cause false records to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.” The duo “conspired together to solicit a political contribution from a Russian foreign national” known in the court records only as "Foreign National 1," according to federal prosecutors.

The 19-page indictment said the men “conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national into an election for the Office of President of the United States of America” and “concealed the scheme from the candidate, federal regulators, and the public by secretly funneling foreign money from the Russian foreign national through Benton, who acted as a straw donor.”

Wead “conveyed to Foreign National 1 that he could meet Political Candidate 1, a candidate for president during the 2016 election cycle, in exchange for a payment," the Justice Department said. The unnamed candidate is identifiable as then-candidate Trump.

Prosecutors said after the Russian agreed to make the payment, Benton reached out to the Republican National Committee and “arranged for Foreign National 1 to attend a political fundraising event and get a photograph” with Trump “in exchange for a political contribution to … a joint fundraising committee comprised of the campaign committee” for Trump, the Republican Party, and related GOP state committees. DOJ said, “Foreign National 1 ultimately wired $100,000” to a political consulting firm owned by Benton and “to disguise the true purpose of the transfer of funds, Wead and Benton created a fake invoice for ‘consulting services’ and invented a cover story.”

FEC records show a $25,000 donation to the “Trump Victory” fund from a “Jesse Bentor” [sic] on Oct. 27, 2016 — the same day mentioned in the indictment.

Benton was Paul’s campaign manager for his successful Senate bid in 2010, and he worked on the unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign for Rand Paul’s father, former GOP Rep. Rand Paul.

Benton was convicted, along with others, in 2016 on charges of allegedly funneling $73,000 to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to change his endorsement to Ron Paul before the Iowa caucuses. Benton denied wrongdoing, though the Supreme Court declined to hear Benton’s conviction appeal in 2019. Trump pardoned Benton in December after urging from Rand Paul and former Federal Election Commission Chair Lee Goodman.

Benton was hired as the campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign but resigned in August 2014 when the 2012 scandal began to make news. He was hired by the pro-Trump Great America Super PAC in 2016.

Wead failed as a candidate for Congress in 1992, helped former President George W. Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, and advised former GOP Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign. He penned Inside Trump’s White House in 2019 and appears on right-wing media outlets such as One America News Network and Newsmax.

The Justice Department said Wead and Foreign National 1 “attended the political fundraising event” for Trump on Sept. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia, and were accompanied by “Foreign National 2,” who was working as a Russian-to-English translator for Wead. DOJ said, “All three individuals had photographs taken at the event” with Trump. The future president had a fundraiser at the Ritz Carlton that day.

After the event, prosecutors say Benton “repeatedly represented to a consultant working for” the Republican Party “that he had already sent the promised contribution for the event, but in actuality he delayed sending the contribution.”

DOJ said Benton “ultimately filled out a contributor form, indicated that he was the contributor, and used a personal credit card to make a $25,000 contribution” and then “retained the remaining $75,000 of Foreign National 1’s money.” Because of Benton’s straw donation, DOJ said that “three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the FEC that inaccurately reported Benton, rather than Foreign National 1, as the source of the funds.”

Benton and Wead were also hit with “one count of contribution by a foreign national, one count of contribution in the name of another, and three counts of making false entries in an official record.”

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If convicted, Benton and Wead face a range of maximum penalties from five to 20 years in prison, per count, the DOJ said.

Prosecutors did not accuse Trump nor the Republican Party of knowingly committing any wrongdoing or having any knowledge the donation came from a Russian rather than from Benton.

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Tags: News, Rand Paul, President Trump, Campaign Finance, Russia investigation

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: GOP activists accused of 'straw donor' conspiracy to funnel Russian donation in 2016 election

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