Jessie Benton, a Republican political operative, was sentenced on Friday to 18 months in prison after a conviction over criminal acts involving the facilitation of an illegal donation (eventually totaling $25,000) from a Russian national to Trump’s campaign in 2016.
There’s no apparent indication either the Trump operation or Trump himself were aware of the actual source of the funds, which were provided in Benton’s name but originated with the Russian. The $25,000, which was drawn from $100,000 that the Russian provided Benton, was meant for a ticket to a fundraising event ahead of that year’s election where the Russian, using the admission secured by the funds, could meet and pose for a photo with Trump, who obviously faced plenty of other accusations of corrupt ties to Russia. A lawsuit that Trump filed accusing Hillary Clinton and others of some kind of conspiracy to undercut his campaign with claims of those Russia ties culminated in a federal judge demanding Trump and his lawyer, Alina Habba, pay a grand total of nearly $1 million in financial penalties covering legal fees incurred by various defendants.
Benton created false records at his business claiming the $100,000 that came in from the Russian national, who it seems did actually attend the targeted event, was provided for consulting services. “To disguise the scheme, Benton created a fake invoice, which falsely identified the funds as payment for consulting services,” a press release from the Justice Department noted.
It is a crime to knowingly accept funds donated to a campaign with false personal details attached, so the distinction that Trump and his campaign operation weren’t aware of where the $25,000 actually came from, reporting it as a donation from Benton, is important. A failed Congressional candidate in North Carolina who Mark Meadows and Trump supported in her bid to take the seat Meadows vacated was recently revealed to have been charged for such an offense. It wasn’t immediately clear what personal details that candidate reported for the funds, but they originated with a family member.
In theory, George Santos, the infamous first-term Republican Congressman, could eventually face scrutiny on similar grounds, considering a recent report from Mother Jones outlining the money his 2020 campaign received from sources whose details couldn’t be confirmed. In one example of the questionable nature of what his campaign reported, maxed-out donations were claimed from two people ostensibly in New Jersey whose claimed address doesn’t exist and whose names don’t match anybody actually living in the United States, according to what the publication could find. Benton’s conviction at trial last November was on the specific charges of conspiring to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effecting a conduit contribution, and causing false records to be filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Image: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons