GOP operative convicted of facilitating foreign contribution to 2016 Trump campaign – CNN

CNN  — 

A Republican operative was convicted on Thursday of facilitating an illegal campaign contribution from a Russian national to the Trump campaign in 2016.

The Justice Department touted the jury conviction of Jesse Benton, known for his work on campaigns for GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, in a press release Thursday. The department said 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.”

Benton concealed the nationality of the donor from the campaign, according to prosecutors. He will be sentenced in February, according to the DOJ’s press release.

Benton’s attorney Brian Stolarz told CNN in a statement that they will appeal the verdict.

“We thank the jury for their service but they got it wrong. This was not some grand conspiracy to get $25,000 of Russian money into the Trump campaign, rather it was for a multi-level marketer and Instagram influencer to get a picture with a celebrity to enhance his image,” the statement said.

Benton was previously a key aide on Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and served on McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign as manager.

In 2016, he was convicted for falsifying campaign records in a 2012 scheme to pay for a presidential endorsement.

That conviction stemmed from charges related to his work on the Paul presidential campaign, and Benton was accused of conspiring to steer $73,000 to an Iowa state senator in an effort to get him to switch his support to Paul over Michele Bachmann ahead of the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He was sentenced to probation, and then-President Donald Trump pardoned him in 2020.

This story has been updated to include additional reaction and background information.

CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.

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