McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton resigns amid federal probe into 2012 endorsement-for-pay deal

August 29, 2014

Jesse Benton, the GOP political strategist spearheading Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign, resigned from his post Friday amid new details about an ongoing federal investigation into an endorsement-pay-scheme involving a 2012 presidential campaign he oversaw.

In a statement issued Friday evening, Benton cited “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”

“The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false,” Benton wrote. “However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign.”

He said that “with a heavy heart” he offered his resignation to McConnell, who “reluctantly accepted.” His resignation was first reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Benton’s decision comes two days after former Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to two federal charges, admitting that he accepted concealed payments from the 2012 presidential campaigns of Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to secure his endorsement. A top Paul campaign official, Dimitri Kesari, was involved in efforts to pay Sorenson for his support, according a state independent counsel investigation.

Benton, who is married to Paul’s granddaughter, served as chairman of the campaign. It is unclear if he knew about payments made to Sorenson, but emails published last year indicate he was involved in efforts to get him to defect from the Bachmann campaign.

Benton’s full statement is below:

 

 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."

 

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.
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