Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) campaign manager, Jesse Benton, resigned over the weekend amid questions regarding his role in a 2012 Iowa bribery scandal.
Benton was the political director for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) during the 2012 presidential campaign. Last Wednesday, Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson (R) pleaded guilty in a federal court to trading $73,000 from Paul’s campaign for his endorsement and to obstruction of justice for lying about his involvement.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Benton gave McConnell his letter of resignation on Friday afternoon, which McConnell “reluctantly accepted.”
“This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country,” Benton told the Herald-Leader. He also said in a statement that “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.”
So far, Benton, who is married to one of Paul’s granddaughters, has not been accused of any illegal activity and maintains that he had no knowledge of the bribe or its cover up. But leaked emails and audio recordings from a former Paul aid imply that Benton might have known about the campaign’s deal with Sorenson. “I know Jesse knows,” Sorenson can be heard saying on one clip.
This is not the first time Benton has caused controversy in the McConnell camp. Last year, audio surfaced of Benton saying that by working with McConnell, he was “holding his nose for two years.” Benton was explaining to a libertarian-leaning backer that he was mainly working for McConnell as a means to boost Rand Paul’s chances in his expected run for president in 2016.
The timing of this scandal could not be worse for McConnell or better for his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. The polls show an incredibly tight race between the two, and this scandal, combined with recently leaked audio of McConnell speaking at a secret Koch Brothers conference, should help out Grimes come November.
“Senator McConnell owes the people of Kentucky a full account of what he knew and when he knew it,” said Grimes’ spokesperson Charly Norton.
Bill Londrigan, president of the AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Grimes, said in a statement that “McConnell owes the voters of Kentucky an explanation for hiring Benton and paying him thousands of dollars while knowing about his tainted past,” the Herald-Leader reported. Londrigan also said that Benton’s resignation serves as proof that McConnell’s campaign is “self-destructing from within.”