Starting with his 2015 campaign, Donald Trump has been hounded by allegations of his connections to Russia, and it looks like that’s not about to change anytime soon. A former GOP operative has been convicted of funneling funds from a Russian businessman into Trump’s first presidential campaign. Making matters more damning for Trump is the operative, Jesse Benton, had already been pardoned once by Trump for a different financial crime. However, after that pardon, he was charged with six counts “related to facilitating an illegal foreign campaign donation.” Whoops.
Via The Washington Post:
The evidence at trial showed that Benton bought a $25,000 ticket to a September 2016 Republican National Committee (RNC) event on behalf of Roman Vasilenko, a Russian naval officer turned multilevel marketer. (Vasilenko is under investigation in Russia for allegedly running a pyramid scheme, according to the Kommersant newspaper; he could not be reached for comment.) The donation got Vasilenko a picture with Trump and entrance to a “business roundtable” with the future president.
The problem is Benton never told the RNC or anyone organizing the event that Vasilenko is a Russian citizen. Benton simply told people that he was “a friend” even though they had never met before. Not great. Prosecutors also effectively argued that Vasilenko was attempting to work his way into Trump’s favor by donating to his campaign.
“He’s sophisticated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Wasserman told jurors. “He got access to someone he helped elect.”
Benton’s defense downplayed the $25,000 as “nothing” in an election that cost billions.
“This is not some nefarious backroom scheme to funnel millions of dollars from Russia,” he said.
Prosecutors argued that every dollar counted in a race where Democrat Hillary Clinton was far ahead in fundraising, and that Benton knew Trump needed money at the time.
The prosecution’s case worked and Benton was convicted of acting as a “straw donor” between Vasilenko and Trump’s campaign. He probably shouldn’t hold his breath for another pardon.
(Via The Washington Post)