After McConnell declines, top adviser addresses Benton saga


by Joe Arnold

Posted on September 3, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 3 at 10:48 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A senior adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's reelection effort said Wednesday that the campaign is "absolutely, 100 percent confident" that the campaign has not participated in any illegal activity akin to the Iowa Caucus bribery scandal which led indirectly to the resignation of McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton.

Before joining the McConnell campaign in 2012, Benton had served as chairman of the Ron Paul presidential campaign, but denies he was involved in an endorsement scandal involving the Paul campaign. 

A former Iowa state senator pleaded guilty last week to federal charges stemming from his admitted acceptance of $73,000 from the Ron Paul presidential campaign in exchange for his endorsement.  Though Benton has not been accused of any wrongdoing, he resigned his post in the McConnell campaign on Saturday, citing concerns the story would become a distraction to McConnell's campaign.  There are no indications that the federal investigation into the Iowa scandal involves the McConnell campaign.

"We know the same amount about all of this as you do," said Josh Holmes, McConnell's former chief of staff.

"When it first became revealed, I had a conversation with Jesse," Holmes recalled when the Iowa story broke in August, 2013.  Holmes said Benton told him that people who were linking Benton to the paid endorsement scheme were making "absolutely, totally unfounded accusations."
For a second day, when asked about Benton by reporters, McConnell declined, instead shifting the focus on what he said were the issues voters care about.

"You know, my opponent wants to talk about anything other than the issues in this race," McConnell said.  "She doesn't want to talk about what's happening in the coal industry.  She doesn't want to talk about her support for the President's administration.  She doesn't want to talk about anything that's what people of Kentucky have their minds on."

"And, so we are going to be talking for the next 60 days about the issues that are related to this race," McConnell continued, "how her replacing me would eliminate Kentucky from having the majority leader of the U.S. Senate setting the agenda for the country in the next year."
"That's what I think the people of this state are interested in," McConnell said.

McConnell was pressed on his judgment on hiring Benton and whether he now regards the hire as a mistake.

"Look as I said, I think we are going to be spending our time talking about the issues that are related to the election," McConnell said.  "If you guys want to talk about staff you can call Josh (Holmes), but we're going to be talking about the issues that are related to the election that are important."

"Trust has always been an issue for Mitch McConnell," Grimes told WHAS11 on Monday.  "And his campaign he has some serious questions regarding these charges that he and his campaign are going to have to respond to."

The Grimes campaign released a list of ten questions on Wednesday it says McConnell needs to answer related to Benton and the Iowa scandal.  Though most of the questions refer to "potential" illegal activity by Benton, the Grimes campaign does not accuse Benton of any criminal activity.

News Release from Grimes campaign (ten questions):


LOUISVILLE – Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton resigned late last week under a cloud of suspicion for his ties to an ongoing federal investigation into public corruption. The relationship between McConnell and the man he entrusted to run his reelection campaign raises serious questions for the Senator.

Senator McConnell:
1. When did you know that Benton was potentially tied to the federal criminal investigation of a bribery scandal?
2. What did Benton tell you his involvement was in paying off the former state senator in Iowa? Is Benton the subject of a federal investigation?
3. Are you certain none of your endorsers have been paid off to join your team?
4. Was Benton involved in dangling "shiny political prizes" to Matt Bevin to stay out of the primary? Did it have anything to do with the jewelry store listed in the ethics report?
5. Why did you pay nearly $500,000 to two people potentially involved in a federal criminal investigation?
6. What project did you pay Dimitri Kesari $70,000 to do for your campaign?
7. Do you own any responsibility for handpicking and keeping Benton on the payroll while he was potentially tied to this criminal federal investigation? Why did you keep Benton on your payroll months after news that he might be tied to this bribery scandal?
8. Did you discuss the campaign tactics of Ron Paul's campaign with Benton?
9. Will you use your influence to urge Benton to answer press inquiries on this subject?
10. Why did you reluctantly accept Benton's resignation, instead of calling for it?