Jesse Benton, a member of Rand Paul’s family and the head of a super PAC that is championing his candidacy for the Republican nomination, was indicted on Wednesday afternoon.
This is not the kind of news a candidate wants to receive 24 hours before the first primary debate.
But the Paul family, being the Paul family, blamed a government conspiracy, designed by Villain-in-Chief President Obama to derail Rand’s presidential ambitions. Naturally.
“Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama justice department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate; it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign.”
So this is all a plot to destroy Rand Paul but also this has nothing to do with Rand Paul. Got it?
Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter (Rand’s niece) and in 2012 served as his campaign chairman, is charged with concealing $70,000 worth of payments made to Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa state senator, in exchange for him switching his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul.
Sorenson formally declared his newfound love for the elder Paul in Des Moines on December 28, 2011, just days before the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.
The indictment alleges that when public suspicion about Sorenson’s change of heart began to mount, and people started to question if he had been compensated by the campaign, “the conspirators arranged for Sorenson to issue public statements denying allegations that he was offered money for his endorsement and noting that the campaign committee’s FEC filings would show that it made no payments to Sorenson.”
Sorenson was indicted in August 2014.
Benton is additionally charged with lying to the FBI. Two other operatives from the 2012 campaign, John Tate and Dimitrios Kesari, were also indicted Wednesday.
“Federal campaign finance laws are intended to ensure the integrity and transparency of the federal election process,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. “When political operatives make under-the-table payments to buy an elected official’s political support, it undermines public confidence in our entire political system.”
The elder Paul is also sticking by Benton, and even, true to form, alleging that there is a conspiracy at play to undermine his son’s presidential aspirations.
“I am extremely disappointed in the government’s decision. I think the timing of this indictment is highly suspicious given the fact that the first primary debate is tomorrow,” Paul said in a statement.
Paul the elder also offered his Thoughts and Prayers to those affected by the indictment. Asked if he knew of the payments to Sorenson, a spokesman for Paul did not respond.
Benton’s lawyer, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., echoed Ron Paul’s belief that the indictment is part of a conspiracy.
“That this indictment is now suddenly announced on the eve of the first Republican Presidential debate strongly supports our belief that this is a politically motivated prosecution designed to serve a political agenda, not to achieve justice,” Howard said. “Mr. Benton is eager to get before an impartial judge and jury who will quickly recognize this for what he believes it is: Character assassination for political gain.”
This is a stupid theory for a few reasons but mostly because the case is being prosecuted under the nonpartisan Public Integrity Section, which was assembled in the aftermath of Watergate. It is responsible for everything from Abscam to the criminal charges against former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and current United States Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
The conspiracy theories do not specify why anyone would think Rand Paul, who is polling at 6 percent, is enough of a threat that they would need to manufacture a criminal case against one of his associates in order to take him out at the knees.
Kentucky State Representative Mike Harmon told Politico that he spoke with Benton after the indictment came down, and Benton assured him he still had the presidential candidate’s support.
“He said Rand is standing with him and some of his other clients would be standing with him,” Harmon told the publication.
Since Benton does not work for the campaign, but is merely affiliated with it through the Super PAC, they cannot technically fire him. Benton’s mailbox was full when I called. He did not respond to a text message asking if he would step down.
Benton had been expected to play a prominent role on Rand Paul’s presidential campaign. He had served as his campaign manager for his 2010 Senate race, helping him to defeat the establishment GOP favorite, and Mitch McConnell protege, Trey Grayson. McConnell seemed to think the defeat signaled a changing of the tides in the Kentucky GOP, because in 2013, he hired Benton to run his own campaign. Benton took the job, according to a leaked recording, to benefit Rand Paul, who needs the establishment GOP to win the primary. On the recording, Benton could be heard saying he was “holdin’ my nose” while working with McConnell, “because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision.”
It didn’t quite work out that way, of course. When Sorenson was indicted last year, Benton was forced to step down as McConnell’s campaign manager—a move which suggested the future might be bleak for him, too.