According to the indictment, in the months before the 2016 presidential election, Benton and Wead solicited a U.S. campaign donation from a Russian national in violation of federal law, then filed false campaign finance reports to make it seem that the donation was from Benton.
Federal disclosures from that period make clear the donation went to support Trump’s election, though the recipient is not named in the indictment. Authorities allege Benton arranged for the Russian national to attend a fundraiser “and get a photograph with” the candidate, “in exchange for a political contribution.”
Benton and Wead “concealed the scheme from the candidate, federal regulators, and the public,” according to the indictment.
The court filing does not name Trump, but details in the indictment match a $25,000 donation that Benton made in the fall of 2016 to a committee that jointly raised money for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, campaign finance records show.
The unnamed Russian national, who is described as a business associate of Wead, wired a total of $100,000 from a bank account in Vienna, Austria, to a political consulting firm owned by Benton, authorities allege.
In return, Benton and Wead allegedly arranged for the Russian national to attend a September fundraiser in Philadelphia. The following month, Benton used his credit card to pay the $25,000 cost of the Russian national’s ticket to the event and told a consultant for the related campaign committees that he had “bought the tickets and gifted them” to Wead and the individual.
Benton then paid off the $25,000 on his card using the funds wired by the individual to his consulting company. He kept the remaining $75,000, the indictment alleges.
Benton did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night. Wead referred questions to his attorneys, Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow.
“Doug Wead is a respected author and supporter of charitable causes,” Sekulow said in an email Monday night. “He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and will continue to respond appropriately in court.”
The $25,000 donation to the Trump Victory committee appears to have been Benton’s only contribution in federal races in the 2016 cycle, other than $5 to a pro-Trump super PAC earmarked for Trump’s campaign committee, according to campaign finance records.
Spokespeople for Trump and the RNC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Separately, Benton and two other Ron Paul aides were convicted in 2016 of an attempt to buy an endorsement for Paul’s 2012 presidential bid. The trio had been charged with concocting a plan to pay an Iowa state senator in exchange for his endorsing the campaign and helping it organize in early states.
Benton had spearheaded the 2014 reelection bid of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) but resigned in August that year after details about the investigation into his role in the Paul campaign plot were revealed.
Benton later worked for the Great America super PAC, which supported Trump, but resigned in 2016 after the charges were filed. Late last year, Trump pardoned Benton, with Rand Paul’s backing.
Benton also came under media scrutiny in the fall of 2016 after being accused of trying to use the Great America super PAC as a conduit for foreign donations. Posing as associates of a would-be Chinese donor, journalists with the Telegraph, a British newspaper, captured Benton in writing and on video claiming he could transfer millions of dollars through his company to the super PAC, in an elaborate bid to obscure the contribution’s foreign origins. The investigation led to a federal complaint against Benton.
Wead is a conservative author who previously served as an adviser to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He was also a Republican congressional candidate in Arizona in the early 1990s and earned notoriety in 2005 when he revealed that he had secretly taped the younger Bush over a two-year period. Wead released excerpts of the recordings, which were made legally, and the White House at the time did not deny their authenticity.
David Weigel contributed to this report.