Ron Paul Testifies at Former Aides' Campaign Finance Violation Trial

Paul says he and his family are "victimized" by opportunistic prosecution.


Two high-level campaign staffers for the Ron Paul 2012 presidential campaign, Dimitri Kesari and Jesse Benton, are on trial now in Iowa for violations of campaign finance law related to hidden, unreported payoffs to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, to get him to switch his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Paul right before the Iowa caucus. (This is a classic case of the potential crime actually being the alleged coverup; paying Sorenson not inherently illegal under federal law.)

I first reported about the payoff scandal back in August 2013, and before I or the law knew about the payoff, wrote in January 2012 about what a bad political move that endorsement switch likely ended up being for Paul. I reported on the indictments (which initially included another former Paul staffer, John Tate, against whom charges were dropped before trial) back in August.

This week Ron Paul himself was called as a witness by the government in the trial. Paul used the opportunity to in effect turn the tables on the prosecution, claiming the timing of the indictments (right before the first GOP debate) was designed to smear the larger Paul political operation and his son Rand. (Benton had been running a Rand Paul SuperPAC, America's Liberty, and Tate was running a Paul-founded grassroots group Campaign for Liberty.)

Paul insists he didn't know about the payoffs (no one involved provided proof he did, or even claimed he did) and doesn't think endorsements from other politicians are important or should be paid for. He also said this has not harmed his relationship with Benton, who is married to one of Paul's granddaughters.

As David Weigel reported from the trial in Washington Post, Paul said from the stand under cross-examination "The real victimization here is happening to me and my family. It's been a heavy burden. I didn't even know it was legal to make someone testify against a family member!"

The actual indictment. For more potential scandal surrounding Kesari, see Mother Jones noted further local police investigation of him over a mysterious theft of a laptop from a deceased former Paul campaign worker in Rhode Island back in 2014.