The Courier-Journal reports:
An undercover sting by British newspaper journalists could be serious trouble for a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul campaign operative who's on probation after being convicted in an Iowa caucus payola scandal.
Prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section want to bring Republican operative Jesse Benton back to court after a news report in October accused him of trying to win foreign donations for a super PAC supporting President-elect Donald Trump.
The report from the Telegraph newspaper detailed how its journalists posed as associates of a Chinese benefactor to entice PACs to accept money, allegedly in violation of laws that prohibit foreign donations in elections.
The journalists captured Benton in emails and on video in a New York hotel suggesting that he could funnel $2 million toward a pro-Trump PAC through his own public affairs company to hide its origin, according to the report. That Oct. 13 meeting in New York came less than a month after Benton was sentenced in a Des Moines courtroom to two years probation for convictions stemming from his work as chairman of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. Paul is the grandfather of Benton's wife.
Benton managed the 2010 general election campaign of Rand Paul, the uncle of Benton's wife, and McConnell's 2014 re-election campaign. He resigned from McConnell's campaign once allegations about his role in Ron Paul's presidential race came to light.
In that case, Benton and two other operatives were convicted of conspiracy and other charges for a scheme to secretly pay former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson $73,000 in exchange for his endorsement of Paul just days ahead of the Iowa caucus...
Federal prosecutors wanted Benton to serve more than two years in prison for the convictions, but Chief U.S. District Judge John Jarvey opted for probation and a fine.
But a report filed Dec. 12 accused Benton of violating the terms of his probation when he traveled to New York for the meeting with the undercover journalists. The listed violations are for failure to follow instructions of the probation office and unauthorized travel.
But the report also notes that federal prosecutors informed Benton's probation officer of the allegations in the Telegraph newspaper.
"While in New York, Mr. Benton met with reporters posing as undercover foreign representatives of a wealthy Chinese businessman," the report said. "Media reports, along with video clips, alleged Mr. Benton attempted to gain funding from foreign entities for President Elect Donald Trump's campaign."
Probation officer Wesley Lane wrote that Benton was "verbally admonished for noncompliance" and was reminded of his probation conditions.
The officer recommended that no further action be taken, but prosecutor Richard Pilger indicated that he did not agree and would seek a formal hearing to discuss the violations.
No date has been set.