"God is great," Benton told Des Moines Register reporter Grant Rodgers as he left the Southern District of Iowa federal courthouse today. "It feels good." Asked for further reaction by The Washington Post, Benton repeated himself: "God is great."
Benton had been the chairman of Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. Like John Tate, who had been Paul's campaign manager, he succeeded in getting the court to drop most of the counts related to the payoff of former senator Kent Sorenson, a Republican who wanted a six-month salary in exchange for leaving another candidate's campaign. But like Tate, the charges forced him to step away from America's Liberty, the struggling super PAC created to help Rand Paul's presidential campaign. For more than two months, the senator maintained that Benton and Tate were innocent, and that the indictment may have been timed to hurt his own campaign.
"I am happy that justice has been served," Rand Paul said in a statement to The Post.
The legal situation was more complicated for Dimitri Kesari, Ron Paul's 2012 deputy campaign manager, and by all accounts the engineer of the Sorenson endorsement scheme. He entered the trial facing five separate counts; he was found not guilty of obstruction of justice and guilty of creating false records. The jury remained deadlocked on three other counts, giving federal prosecutors 10 days to determine whether to seek a new trial.
According to evidence offered in the trial, Kesari had approached Sorenson, who shared some political strategists, about the possibility of joining Paul's campaign. In October 2011, a Sorenson ally produced a detailed, three-page list of demands. Benton and Tate both balked, but Kesari kept the conversation going. It was not until December 26, days before the Iowa caucus, that Kesari offered Sorenson a $25,000 check, made from his wife's jewelry company, and started a process that ended in Sorenson's surprise Paul endorsement. Prosecutors revealed how Kesari went on to get monthly invoices from a Maryland video production company, billing the Paul campaign for services that only he and a few other people knew was actually just Sorenson's salary.
Kesari's attorney Jesse Binnall told the Washington Post that it "was a day of mixed emotions," and his client was waiting for the government to decide how to proceed, but was impressed by the jury's diligence. Benton's legal team had the same reaction.
"We are pleased to learn that Jesse Benton has been vindicated today of wrongdoing," said Benton's attorney Roscoe Howard in a statement. "The jury members worked diligently through the information presented to them and their decision reinforces that he was wrongly charged – and always has been."
Ron Paul's spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.