Politics

Update 6:22 p.m.: Benton Resigns

Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, resigned this afternoon. He issued the following statement Friday evening:

“There is no more important cause for both Kentucky, my new home I have come to love, and our country than electing Mitch McConnell Majority Leader of the United States Senate. I believe this deep in my bones, and I would never allow anything or anyone to get in the way.

That includes myself.

“Recently, there have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue. I hope those who know me recognize that I strive to be a man of integrity. 

“The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false.  

However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign. 

“Working for Mitch McConnell is one of the great honors of my life. He is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs. I cannot, and will not, allow any possibility that my circumstances will effect the voters’ ability to hear his message and assess his record. This election is far too important and the stakes way too high.

“With a heavy heart, I offered Sen. McConnell my resignation this afternoon and he reluctantly accepted. Effective Saturday, August 30th, I will no longer be the “Team Mitch” campaign manager.

“The good news is that most of my work has been done. We have built a top flight team of incredible people that are working tirelessly to ensure Mitch’s re-election. They are a finely oiled machine and will not skip a beat without me.

“This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country.

“James 16:33

“‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'”

WFPL will have more soon on this developing story.

Earlier:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager and a former consultant are emerging as key figures in a federal investigation of an Iowa legislator who switched his 2012 presidential endorsement for money.

The McConnell campaign said Friday it has “nothing to do” with the probe surrounding former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who pleaded guilty this week in federal court to receiving $73,000 in wire transfers from Congressman Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

The Washington Post, however, reports the Sorenson case is ongoing and federal prosecutors appear to be looking at former Paul campaign staffers.

Political observers have said that could embroil the McConnell team, including its top aide, Jesse Benton, who ran Paul’s 2012 presidential bid.

Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, did not respond to WFPL’s requests for comment.

Asked if federal authorities have contacted Benton or if he has retained legal counsel, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore sidestepped those questions.

“Senator McConnell obviously has nothing to do with the Iowa presidential caucus or this investigation so it would be inappropriate for his campaign to comment on this situation,” Moore told WFPL in a statement Friday morning.

Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, is considered a top Republican strategist. He is expected to play a role in Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 likely presidential bid as well.

The McConnell campaign had also hired Dimitri Kesari, who served as Paul’s campaign deputy two years ago, as a paid consultant through the Hyllus Corporation last year.

Federal court documents show that in December 2011, Kesari provided Sorenson’s wife a $25,000 check to secure his endorsement.

Kesari’s company was paid approximately $62,000 by the McConnell campaign, according to FEC records. He is no longer involved with McConnell’s re-election effort, said Moore.

FEC records also show Hyllus Corp. received approximately 10,100 from Bluegrass Committee, which is McConnell’s leadership PAC

“Hyllus was contracted in early 2013 for a specific project, which was accomplished that spring, well before the campaign was made aware of any previous alleged impropriety,” Moore said. “The campaign has had no further dealings with Hyllus since the completion of the project.”

This story first surfaced in Kentucky’s closely watched Senate race when a secretly taped telephone conversation between Benton and a former Paul campaign aide, Dennis Fusaro, was made public.

In that phone conversation, Benton characterized working for McConnell as “holding his nose.” He repeatedly denied knowledge of Sorenson being paid during that recorded conversation, however.

At the time it was a political bombshell when Sorenson dropped his support for Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann to back Ron Paul in 2012.

Sorenson, who initially denied early reports of receiving payments to switch sides, has implicated Benton in past conversations.

In a separate taped telephone call, also recorded by Fusaro, the former Iowa lawmaker said Benton knew about the payments.

“Oh, I know Jesse knows,” Sorenson said. “I know Jesse knows.”