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Two Longtime GOP Operatives Charged With Illegally Contributing to Trump Campaign By Funneling Cash From a Russian National

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By Joe DePaolo Sep 20th, 2021, 7:58 pm

Two longtime Republican operatives have been charged with illegally contributing to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign by funneling cash from a Russian national.

According to a press release put out by the DOJ Monday, the operatives — Jesse Benton and Doug Wead — have been indicted on conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution and cause false records to be filed with the Federal Election Commission, among other offenses. The newly unsealed indictment from the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. accused Benton and Wead of having “conspired together to solicit a political contribution from a Russian foreign national.”

The DOJ release spells out the alleged plot:

Wead conveyed to Foreign National 1 that he could meet Political Candidate 1, a candidate for president during the 2016 election cycle, in exchange for a payment. Shortly after Foreign National 1 committed to transfer the funds, Benton reached out to individuals at Political Committee B, the national party committee for Political Candidate 1’s political party. He then arranged for Foreign National 1 to attend a political fundraising event and get a photograph with Political Candidate 1, in exchange for a political contribution to Political Committee C, a joint fundraising committee comprised of the campaign committee for Political Candidate 1, Political Committee B, and related state committees. Foreign National 1 ultimately wired $100,000 to Company A, a political consulting firm owned by Benton. To disguise the true purpose of the transfer of funds, Wead and Benton created a fake invoice for “consulting services” and invented a cover story.

Wead and Foreign National 1 attended the political fundraising event for Political Candidate 1 on Sept. 22, 2016. Foreign National 2, who worked as a Russian/English translator for Wead, also attended. All three individuals had photographs taken at the event with Political Candidate 1. Following the event, Benton repeatedly represented to a consultant working for Political Committee B and Political Committee C that he had already sent the promised contribution for the event, but in actuality he delayed sending the contribution. Benton ultimately filled out a contributor form, indicated that he was the contributor, and used a personal credit card to make a $25,000 contribution. Benton retained the remaining $75,000 of Foreign National 1’s money. Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the FEC that inaccurately reported Benton, rather than Foreign National 1, as the source of the funds.

Benton previously served as an aide to Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rand Paul (R-KY). He received a pardon from Trump in 2020 on a separate public corruption conviction. Wead is a longtime conservative commentator who wrote a book published in 2019 called Game of Thorns for which he received a great deal of access to the White House. Trump subsequently plugged the tome on Twitter.

“A great new book just out, ‘Game of Thorns,’ by Doug Wead, Presidential Historian and best selling author,” Trump wrote. “The book covers the campaign of 2016, and what could be more exciting than that?”


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