Former GOP Senate staffer convicted of funneling Russian donation to Trump campaign

Republicans were rocked last week by news that a former GOP Senate aide has been convicted of helping to funnel money from a Russian donor to former President Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

According to the Daily Caller, 45-year-old Jessie Benton is facing up to two decades in prison after he was found guilty last week of violating federal election law.

A press release put out by the Department of Justice asserted that Benton conspired to solicit an illegal campaign contribution, illegally edited a conduit contribution, and caused false records to be filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

The scheme

“According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Jessie R. Benton, 45, of The Woodlands, Texas, schemed with another political advisor to funnel political contributions to a 2016 presidential campaign from a Russian foreign national seeking to support, meet, and take a picture with the presidential candidate,” the press release read.

“Benton arranged for the Russian foreign national – whose nationality Benton concealed from the campaign and the candidate – to attend a political fundraising event for the campaign and to take a picture with the candidate,” it continued.

“To disguise the scheme, Benton created a fake invoice, which falsely identified the funds as payment for consulting services,” the press release explained.

“Benton acted as a straw donor and contributed $25,000 of the Russian foreign national’s money to the campaign, falsely identified himself as the contributor, and pocketed the remaining $75,000,” it added.

The press release went on to state that “the relevant campaign entities unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that inaccurately reported Benton – instead of the Russian foreign national – as the source of the funds.”

Previous convictions

The Daily Caller noted how this was not Benton’s first brush with the law, as in 2012 he was convicted of illegally diverting funds from former Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Benton then went on to work for Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul as well as Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell.

The Daily Caller ran a story in 2014 about Benton’s decision to step down from his role in McConnell’s re-election campaign after reports of his 2012 conviction surfaced.