Jesse Benton, manager of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign, told a conservative activist in a phone call early this year that he was “holdin’ my nose” to run the race to benefit Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in a 2016 run.
“Between you and me, I’m sort of holdin’ my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision,” Benton says, according to a recording of the call obtained by the blog EconomicPolicyJournal.com.
At the time, Benton was speaking with Dennis Fusaro, a onetime aide to former Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex), father of Sen. Rand Paul.
Fusaro told The Washington Post on Thursday that he made a recording of the phone call, which took place Jan. 9, 2013. He identified the other party as Benton.
"It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me," Benton said in a statement released by the McConnell campaign Thursday. "I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014."
Benton is married to a granddaughter of Ron Paul and served as chairman of his 2012 presidential campaign. His hiring by McConnell last fall was widely viewed as an effort by the Senate minority leader to buttress his standing with tea party activists in Kentucky.
The call surfaced Thursday amid a wave of material Fusaro has leaked to news organizations this week implicating Ron Paul’s campaign in an alleged attempt to pay Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to drop his support for then-Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 2012 race and endorse Paul.
In the phone call, Fusaro tells Benton he has evidence that a deputy campaign manager for Ron Paul gave Sorenson a check for $30,000. He asks the former campaign chairman if he knew of the alleged payoff.
“I don’t know anything about that,” says Benton, who asks Fusaro to mail him the evidence. “I’ve got shared responsibility, so if you’ve got proof, I’d like to take action.”
Update 6:05 p.m.: McConnell's campaign is making light of the situation, tweeting the following picture:
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) August 8, 2013