Former Ron Paul Staffers Indicted in Connection with Payments to Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson [UPDATED with Statements from Ron Paul and Benton's Lawyer]
Jesse Benton, John Tate (now running a Rand Paul SuperPAC) charged with "knowingly caus[ing] the concealing, covering up" of campaign finance records.
The Justice Department announced this morning it is indicting three officials from Ron Paul's 2012 campaign in connection with alleged payoffs to an Iowa state senator, Kent Sorenson, to switch his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul.
I wrote about this ongoing investigation into possible payoffs from the campaign to Sorenson back in 2013 and again in 2014 as the story was predicted to possibly shadow Rand Paul's campaign. (No one involved, so far, had given any indication that Ron Paul himself knew of any of it.)
Two of the indicted, Jesse Benton and John Tate, are currently running an unaffiliated Rand Paul-supporting SuperPAC, America's Liberty. Tate also is boss at the Paul-affiliated grassroots advocacy group Campaign for Liberty. The third indicted is former Ron Paul staffer Dimitri Kesari.
Details from DOJ's news release:
"Federal campaign finance laws are intended to ensure the integrity and transparency of the federal election process," said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. "When political operatives make under-the-table payments to buy an elected official's political support, it undermines public confidence in our entire political system."
"Violating campaign finance laws by concealing payments to an elected official undermines our electoral system and deceives the public," said Special Agent in Charge LeValley. "The FBI will aggressively investigate those who corrupt the integrity of our democratic process."….
The payments to Sorenson were allegedly made in monthly installments of approximately $8,000 each and ultimately amounted to over $70,000. The indictment alleges that the defendants concealed the payments by causing them to be recorded – both in campaign accounting records and in FEC filings – as campaign-related audio-visual expenditures, and by causing them to be transmitted to a film production company and then to a second company that was controlled by Sorenson. According to the indictment, the conspirators concealed their campaign's payments to Sorenson from their candidate and also from the FEC, the FBI and the public…..
On Aug. 27, 2014, Sorenson pleaded guilty to causing a campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures to the FEC and to obstruction of justice. He has not yet been sentenced.
I was unable to reach Benton for comment yet this morning, or anyone with Campaign for Liberty. Will update if new things come in.
UPDATE: Campaign for Liberty emailed this statement from Ron Paul, whose campaign the indicted were working for: "I am extremely disappointed in the government's decision. I think the timing of this indictment is highly suspicious given the fact that the first primary debate is tomorrow. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved. I will not be commenting further on this matter at this time."
UPDATE II: Benton's lawyer Roscoe Howard emailed this statement, which strives to make something political about the indictment and questions its timing as an attempt to possibly smear Rand Paul by association: "We are deeply disappointed to learn of today's indictment by the Department of Justice. Jesse Benton, a prominent conservative Republican, has cooperated with the government during its multi-year investigation. That this indictment is now suddenly announced on the eve of the first Republican Presidential debate strongly supports our belief that this is a politically motivated prosecution designed to serve a political agenda, not to achieve justice. Mr. Benton is eager to get before an impartial judge and jury who will quickly recognize this for what he believes it is: Character assassination for political gain."