As Donald Trump was putting an end to the primary phase of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign this week, a federal court concluded its criminal trial against three Republican campaign operatives for their underhanded and shady dealings in the previous presidential contest.
Jurors found Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign chairman, John Tate, Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign manager, and Dimitri Kesari, Paul’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, guilty of charges ranging for conspiracy to causing false records and campaign expenditures. The trio of national political operatives who once made up Paul’s inner political circle was tried in federal court in Iowa and is now awaiting sentencing.
The scheme involved paying Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa legislator and chairman of Michelle Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, more than $73,000 to switch his allegiance to Ron Paul just days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. As a State Senator, Sorenson would be in violation of Iowa Senate rules if he accepted financial compensation from the Paul campaign, so the high-ranking Paul operatives concocted a scheme that paid Sorenson through vendors who did no work for the Paul campaign.
Sorenson resigned from the Iowa Senate in the fall of 2013. The following August, he pled guilty to one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report expenditures and one count of obstruction of justice for concealing. Sorenson is still awaiting sentencing for his part of the scheme, but his cooperation with federal prosecutors will now likely get him a more lenient sentence. Sorenson faces up to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the cover up.
The entire ordeal spans parts of two presidential campaigns and lasted almost six years. TheIowaRepublican.com was the first to break the details of Sorenson’s involvement with the three senior members of Ron Paul’s campaign. While Sorenson was already dealing with an Iowa Senate Ethics complaint stemming from his financial compensation from the Bachmann campaign and the theft of a database belonging to an Iowa Homeschool organization, it was his involvement with the Paul campaign that ultimately brought him down.
The scandal has been national news and has even caused problems in the 2016 Republican race for president. Benton and Tate led a Super PAC that was supportive of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s bid before he dropped out of the race. Benton is also currently involved in a pro-Trump Super PAC. Needless to say, being convicted of multiple crimes will make it impossible to maintain his involvement in any political committee.
While TheIowaRepublican.com was responsible for shedding light on this scandal, justice would have never been served, and thus the credibility of our political process would not have been preserved, had it not been for Dennis Fusaro, the primary source of all the evidence the entire case was built upon.
Fusaro was Ron Paul’s national field director in 2008. He was also the former Executive Director of Iowans for Right to Work Committee and the National Right to Work Committee. He had worked with all those involved in the cover-up, including Sorenson, from his time working in Iowa politics.
“This is not a happy moment for me or anyone concerned with true Liberty,” Fusaro said after being reached for comment after the guilty verdict. “I tried to get Jesse Benton to come clean on his own and clean it up internally, but instead I was mocked and insulted by him.”
“The cover-up is always worse than the crime,” Fusaro added. “They could have told the truth to the voters of Iowa that Kent Sorenson had been paid or offered payment to endorse Ron Paul. They could have thumbed their noses at the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee and made a First Amendment stand over the right to associate for Kent Sorenson. Instead they chose to take on the federal government.”
Another integral figure in exposing this scheme was former State Senator Sandy Greiner. While Republican leaders in the Iowa Senate wished to quietly sweep Sorenson’s transgressions under the rug, it was Greiner who stood alone against her own party and provided the critical fourth vote on the Senate Ethics Committee to appoint an independent investigator to look into Sorenson’s dealings with both presidential campaigns.
On Facebook on Thursday afternoon, Greiner referred to the situation as, “The darkest days of my entire Legislative career.” Greiner added, “I really felt an investigation by Independent Counsel was the only way to clear the air. I take no joy in the outcome.”
After the Senate Ethics Committee voted in favor of appointing independent counsel who would have subpoena power, the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court appointed Des Moines attorney Mark E. Weinhardt to investigate. It was his 556-page report that came out in October of 2013, just two months after TheIowaRepublican.com broke the story, that lead forced Sorenson to resign. Soon after, federal authorities charged those involved with scheme for their involvement.
For many Iowans, this story began and ended with Kent Sorenson. While the this entire case involved him, Thursday’s guilty verdicts prove that the scandal was much bigger than just a State Senator getting paid under the table for an endorsement. While it may have seemed at times that there was an effort to “get” Sorenson, the truth of the matter is that he was the only way expose the corruption in at the highest levels of a presidential campaign.
Not only has justice been served, but hopefully the integrity of the political process has also been preserved.