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Jesse Benton. Source: AP Photo/David Pitt.
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  • US prosecutors accuse two Republican Party operatives of illegally funnelling a foreign contribution to former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016
  • Jesse Benton and Doug Wead are accused of working together to accept US$100,000 (A$137,800) from an unidentified Russian national
  • US law bans foreign nationals from donating money to presidential campaigns
  • There is no indication in the indictment that Trump or his campaign aides were aware that the money originated with the Russian donor

US prosecutors unsealed criminal charges on Monday against two long-time Republican Party operatives, accusing them of illegally funnelling a foreign contribution to former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.

According to the indictment, Jesse Benton, 43, and Doug Wead, 75, “conspired to illegally funnel thousands of dollars of foreign money from a Russian foreign national into an election for the Office of President of the United States of America.”

US law bans foreign nationals from donating money to presidential campaigns.

Benton and Wead are accused of working together to accept US$100,000 (A$137,800) from an unidentified Russian national in order to get the foreigner a meeting and photograph with then-candidate Trump at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on September 22, 2016.

“Foreign National 1 ultimately wired $100,000 to Company A, a political consulting firm owned by Benton,” the indictment said. “To disguise the true purpose of the transfer of funds, Wead and Benton created a fake invoice for ‘consulting services’ and invented a cover story.”

At the event, and having repeatedly claimed the donation had already been sent, Benton filled out a contributor form himself and used a personal credit card to make a US$25,000 (A$34,450) contribution in his name, retaining the remaining $75,000 (A$103,360).

“Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the FEC that inaccurately reported Benton, rather than Foreign National 1, as the source of the funds,” the indictment said.

Benton previously managed campaigns for Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky before he was convicted for his role in a political endorsement scheme. He managed to avoid jail time and received a presidential pardon in December 2020 from Trump.

Wead, on the other hand, worked as a senior adviser on multiple presidential campaigns and ran for Congress as a Republican in 1992.

There is no indication in the indictment that Trump or his campaign aides were aware that the money originated with the Russian donor.

The case against Benton and Wead has been assigned to Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee.

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