In a story initially and doggedly pursued by former Breitbart News reporter Lee Stranahan, Jesse Benton has resigned as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, “citing potential distractions over renewed attention to a scandal from the Iowa 2012 caucuses.”
At issue is Benton’s possible involvement in a vote buying scandal dating back to the 2012 Iowa Caucus during which Benton, a long-time Paul family associate, ran Ron Paul’s campaign. Days ago, former Iowa GOP state lawmaker Kent Sorenson “pleaded guilty to charges of accepting money to change his endorsement in 2012 from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul.”
In the Iowa case, then-state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who was a paid operative on Bachmann’s campaign, accepted tens of thousands of dollars from people connected to the elder Paul’s campaign — payments that were not disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.
Benton released a full statement, at bottom here, regarding today’s resignation.
“The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false,” Benton said. “However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign.”
Benton has deep ties to the Paul family. At age 30, he began dating Ron Paul’s granddaughter Valori Pyeatt while running the elder Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. She was 22 at the time, and the two subsequently married. He then went on to run Rand Paul’s successful 2010 Senate primary campaign.
Benton, who had recently broken up with his girlfriend when he met Pyeatt, described the campaign-trail romance to the Wall Street Journal in 2008: “It’s uncentering to have no real routine, but it’s also liberating. It lets your passions out.”
Benton ended today’s resignation with a bit of New Testament verse.
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.”
Meanwhile, Democrats anxious to beat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky are already beginning to attack the Minority Leader over the resignation.
Emails and private conversations leaked over the past year have not provided a “smoking gun” that shows Benton’s involvement, though they have raised questions about what he knew and when.
Democrats are salivating at the prospect that the scandal could be tied to their top Republican target this cycle.
For now, Team McConnell isn’t commenting beyond Benton’s resignation.
Sorenson now faces up to 25 years in prison after his guilty plea to one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures to the FEC and one count of obstruction of justice.
In a statement published in POLITICO Campaign Pro’s Morning Score Friday morning, before news of the resignation, a McConnell spokesperson said in a statement that “Sen. 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.”