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A GOP operative’s conviction for illegal Russian contributions to the Trump campaign is upheld

A GOP politician’s conviction for sending illegal Russian contributions to former President Trump’s 2016 campaign was upheld by a federal appeals court on Friday.

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Jesse Benton, a veteran political operative.

Benton was sentenced in late 2022. He had been accused of helping organize an illegal donation to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) for a Russian citizen, Roman Vasilenko.

Benton’s Consulting Firm received $100,000. The employee created a false invoice stating that the fee was for advice. He then arranged for Vasilenko to meet Trump at a fundraiser without disclosing his nationality to the campaign or the former president, court documents show.

Benton kept $75,000 for himself and used the remaining $25,000 to contribute to the campaign, according to a Department of Justice news release. He listed himself as a contributor for the donation, concealing the actual source of the money when he filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Benton had been pardoned by Trump in an unrelated case, and argued that pardon should have barred the jury from hearing about his past election crimes before deciding to condemn him with new ones. The court rejected that. Benton also argued that he was wrongfully charged, saying this should fall under campaign finance laws, not falsifying statutes.

This argument was also rejected by Judge Karen Henderson, a George HW Bush appointee, one judge on the three-judge panel.

“The government is free to exercise its discretion to prosecute under either or both laws,” Henderson wrote.

Benton worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He was previously convicted in 2016 of paying an Iowa state senator to support Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential election. He was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison.

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