Who Are Doug Wead and Jesse Benton? Former GOP Operatives Indicted

Two longtime GOP political operatives, including one who was pardoned by Donald Trump, have been charged with conspiring to solicit a campaign contribution from a Russian national during the 2016 election.

Jesse Benton, 43, of Louisville, Kentucky, who previously campaigned for former congressman Ron Paul and his son Senator Rand Paul as well as spearheading the 2014 reelection bid of Mitch McConnell, has been charged along with Roy Douglas "Doug" Wead, 75, of Bonita Springs, Florida, who worked as an adviser for George H.W. Bush.

Benton, who was the former chief strategist for the pro-Trump Great America PAC, was previously convicted in 2016 for attempting to hide $73,000 in payments to an Iowa state senator, Kent Sorenson, in exchange for his endorsement of Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.

Benton was pardoned by Trump in December 2020, just weeks before he was due to leave office.

As well as serving in the White House under the first Bush administration, Wead has also written several books. In 2019, he released Inside Trump's White House: The Real Story of His Presidency, which was described as a "sweeping, eloquent history" of Trump's first years in office.

According to court documents, Wead told a Russian national that he could meet an unnamed presidential candidate during the 2016 election cycle in exchange for money on September 22, 2016.

While the presidential candidate is not named, The Associated Press notes that Trump and Hillary Clinton were the only two candidates by that point and Trump had a fundraiser in Pittsburgh on September 22.

Shortly after the foreign national committed to transfer the funds, Benton allegedly arranged for the Russian to attend a political fundraising event and get a photograph with the presidential candidate, in exchange for a political contribution of $100,000.

According to the indictment, the money was wired to a political consulting firm owned by Benton. In order to disguise what the money was for, Wead and Benton are alleged to have created a fake invoice for "consulting services" and invented a cover story.

After the event, Benton told a consultant working for political action committees that he already sent the agreed-upon contribution. However, he was delayed in sending the money, according to the Department of Justice.

Benton eventually filled out a contributor form, indicating that he was the contributor, and used a personal credit card to make a $25,000 contribution and kept the remaining $75,000.

"Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the Federal Election Committee that inaccurately reported Benton, rather than [the Russian national] as the source of the funds," the indictment states.

Benton and Wead are both charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution, and cause false records to be filed with the FEC, one count of contribution by a foreign national, one count of contribution in the name of another and three counts of making false entries in an official record.

Following the pair's initial appearance at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Wead's attorney Jay Sekulow told The Washington Post: "Doug Wead is a respected author and supporter of charitable causes.

"He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and will continue to respond appropriately in court."

Legal representatives for Benton could not be reached for comment.

Trump and the RNC have been contacted for comment.

jesse benton doug wead
Jesse Benton (L) speaking to reporters in the spin room after the CNN Debate on January 1, 2012. Author and longtime confidant of the Bush family, Doug Wead, poses at his home on February 25, 2005, in Haymarket, Virginia. The pair have both been charged soliciting an illegal campaign contribution from a Russian national in 2016. Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/ Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis/Getty Images