On Friday, a Republican political operative was sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally channeling tens of thousands of dollars from a Russian businessman to Trump's campaign in 2016.
Jesse Benton, 45, was convicted in November of six charges stemming from a scheme to link a Russian businessman with then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Millionaire Roman Vasilenko, a Russian, wanted to take a selfie with Trump to post on social media, according to The Daily Wire.
“Benton arranged for the Russian national – whose nationality Benton concealed from the campaign and the candidate – to attend a campaign fundraising event and to take a picture with the candidate,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release.
Vasilenko paid Benton's consulting firm $100,000 with the understanding that Benton and another political operative would get the Russian into a fundraising dinner with Trump. Benton took the money on the basis of a forged invoice for consulting services.
“Benton acted as a straw donor and contributed $25,000 of the Russian national’s money to the campaign, falsely identified himself as the contributor, and pocketed the remaining $75,000,” the DOJ said.
“Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, the relevant campaign entities unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that inaccurately reported Benton – instead of the Russian national – as the source of the funds.”
Vasilenko attended the fundraiser and later posted a selfie with Trump with the caption "Two Presidents."
Benton previously worked as an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and former Representative Ron Paul (R-KY) (R-TX). Benton is married to Rand Paul's niece, Ron Paul's granddaughter.
Benton was convicted of bribing an Iowa state senator in 2012 to endorse Ron Paul ahead of the state's Republican caucus in 2016.
During sentencing, Benton pleaded with the judge for leniency, requesting a sentence of home confinement. Benton told the judge that he had changed his ways and that being separated from his family would be difficult for him. According to Mother Jones, the judge granted Benton's request.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden was not as accommodating. Benton pleaded for leniency with McFadden ahead of the sentencing hearing in a letter claiming that he had suffered under federal investigation, that he no longer worked in politics, and that he drove for DoorDash to support his family.
“Sir, I will tell you, frankly, it’s difficult for me to read your letter talking about your integrity and faith with this pattern of deception,” McFadden told Benton in court.
“I cannot ignore you were engaging in this incident here while you were facing sentencing in another case for political conspiracy. The judge in that case gave you a real break, it’s shocking to me you would take that break and the mercy you sought from him and only six days later mail in this false contribution.”