GOP operative’s conviction over illegal Russian contributions to Trump campaign upheld

A GOP political operative’s conviction over steering illegal Russian contributions to former President Trump’s 2016 campaign was upheld by a federal appeals court on Friday.

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Jesse Benton, a veteran political operative.

Benton was convicted in late 2022. He had been charged with helping to orchestrate an illegal donation to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) for a Russian national, Roman Vasilenko.

Benton’s consulting firm received $100,000. The operative created a fake invoice on which he said the fee was for consulting. He then arranged for Vasilenko to meet with Trump at a fundraiser without revealing his nationality to the campaign or the former president, according to court documents.

Benton kept $75,000 for himself and used the remaining $25,000 to contribute to the campaign, according to a Justice Department release. He listed himself as a contributor for the donation, concealing the actual source of the funds when filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Benton had been pardoned in an unrelated case by Trump, and argued that pardon should have prohibited the jury from hearing about his previous election crimes before deciding to convict him with new ones. The court rejected that. Benton also argued that he was improperly charged, saying it should be under campaign finance laws, not falsifying records statutes.

This argument was also rejected by Judge Karen Henderson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, one judge on the three-judge panel.

“The government is free to exercise its discretion to prosecute under either or both statutes,” Henderson wrote.

Benton worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He was previously convicted in 2016 for paying an Iowa state senator to support Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential election. He was then sentenced to two years in prison.

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