FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to media at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
September 21, 2021
By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Monday unsealed criminal charges against two longtime Republican Party operatives, accusing them of illegally funneling a foreign campaign contribution to former President Donald Trump in 2016.
According to an indictment unsealed in federal court in the District of Columbia, Jesse Benton and Doug Wead “conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national into an election for the Office of President of the United States of America.”
U.S. law bans foreign nationals from donating money to presidential campaigns.
According to the indictment, Benton and Wead helped a Russian national get a ticket to a fundraiser with Trump in Pennsylvania in September 2016.
The Russian, who was not identified in the indictment, donated $25,000 to political action committees associated with Trump in order to attend the event, according to prosecutors.
But the true source of the donation was concealed from the Trump campaign, the indictment said, because the payment was secretly funneled through Benton, who acted as a “straw donor.”
Benton, 43, previously managed campaigns for Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky before he was convicted for his role in a political endorsement scheme. Benton avoided jail time and received a presidential pardon in December 2020 from Trump.
Wead, 75, worked as a senior adviser on multiple presidential campaigns and ran for Congress as a Republican in 1992.
It was not yet clear if the two had engaged legal counsel.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Peter Cooneyand Peter Cooney)