Federal prosecutors have charged two longtime Republican operatives with helping a Russian national illegally contribute $25,000 to former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, keeping another $75,000 for themselves, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The two men, Jesse Benton, 43, and Doug Wead, 75, pleaded not guilty to six felony counts in a remote hearing Monday.
"The grand jury indictment alleges that Benton and Wead worked together to accept $100,000 from an unidentified Russian national in order to get the foreigner a meeting with then-candidate Trump at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, 2016," Politico reports. "There is no indication in the indictment that Trump or his campaign aides were aware that the money originated with the Russian donor." The indictment says the Russian was photographed with Trump at the event, a Sept. 22, 2016, fundraiser in Philadelphia.
Benton received a presidential pardon from Trump last December for a separate campaign finance conviction related to paying an Iowa lawmaker to switch endorsements from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 GOP primary campaign. Benton was Paul's campaign manager and is an in-law of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and he also ran Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) 2014 re-election campaign before stepping down amid the Ron Paul Iowa scandal. The indictment alleges he was working to funnel the Russian's money to Trump's campaign in the days before and after he was sentenced in the Iowa case.
Wead is a conservative pundit and longtime GOP activist.
Legal observers see the indictments as part of a final push to prosecute any remaining cases from the 2016 election before the statute of limitations run out. "The case against Benton and Wead has been assigned to Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee," Politico notes.