Who is Jesse Benton?

The US Department of Justice criminally charged Jesse Benton with directing known Russian financial donations into the 2016 presidential election. Benton funneled tens of thousands of dollars from a Russian oligarch to Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. The Russian wired $100,000 to Benton’s consulting firm.

Benton is a long-time Republican operative. Last year Trump granted him a presidential pardon to at the urging of Rand Paul. Benton is a campaign staffer and the grandson-in-law of US Senator Rand Paul. 

Prosecutors say Benton solicited an illegal campaign donation with Doug Wead, another campaign adviser to Rand Paul. They took the money and then falsified campaign finance filings under oath. The indictment alleges that Benton arranged for the Russian oligarch to attend a Trump campaign fundraiser in Philadelphia “in exchange for a political contribution.” Benton used $25,000 to buy a ticket for the Russian national to attend the fundraiser and kept the other $75,000 for himself.

Benton was caught on video by The Telegraph in 2016 offering to launder a $2 million contribution to Trump from reporters posing as representatives of a Chinese national while working for the super PAC. Benton offered to funnel the money through his own PR firm and into nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors, which would then donate to the super PAC, according to the report. The investigation triggered a federal complaint against Benton and the Trump campaign for soliciting money from foreign nationals.

Benton was previously convicted of campaign finance fraud relating to Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. He was sentenced just days before the Philadelphia fundraiser to two years of probation and a $10,000 fine. However, Trump pardoned Benton.