GOP operatives charged with funneling $25,000 from Russian citizen to
The Justice Department on Monday charged two prominent Republican
operatives who allegedly helped a Russian citizen illegally donate $25,000
to the Trump campaign in 2016. Jesse Benton, 43, and Doug Wead, 75, were charged in a six-count indictment and made their first appearance in DC District Court. They're accused of conspiring to violate campaign finance
laws, making an illegal foreign contribution and helping submit false
records to the Federal Election Commission. Information about their
defense attorneys wasn't immediately available. Prosecutors said Benton
and Wead funneled $25,000 from the unnamed Russian donor to the Trump
Victory Committee, a joint fundraising venture between then-candidate
Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee. The Russian
then attended a September 2016 fundraiser in Philadelphia, where he met
Trump and took photos with the future President.
There is no indication in the court filings that the case is connected to
the special counsel investigation, which examined the many ties between
Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia. The indictment says Trump's campaign
wasn't aware that the money came from a foreign national.
According to the indictment, the Russian wired $100,000 to a company that Benton owned. Benton kept $75,000 and donated the remaining $25,000 to the Trump Victory Committee. The indictment doesn't name Trump or the
committee. However, the details in the court filings match Trump's travel schedule, and Federal Election Commission records confirm Benton's
The two defendants have worked in politics for decades and are well-known
in GOP circles. Benton worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's
2014 reelection campaign, Sen. Rand Paul's first campaign in 2010 and
former Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign in 2012. He was acquitted in
2015 of lying to the FBI about a donation-for-endorsement scheme, but was convicted in 2016 in a related case. He got probation, and Trump pardoned
him last December.
Wead was an aide to former President George H.W. Bush, served with Benton
on Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign and worked on Rand Paul's Senate reelection campaign in 2016. The Justice Department has cracked down in
recent years on foreign influence in American politics by bringing cases
about straw donations, undisclosed lobbying and election meddling.