Jurors are set to begin deliberating on Tuesday in the federal trial of two former Ron Paul presidential campaign staffers accused in a plot to secretly pay $73,000 to a former Iowa state senator for his endorsement.
The separate defense teams for former campaign chair Jesse Benton and deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari took less than six hours to present their cases Monday, following more than three days of testimony from prosecution witnesses. A prosecutor and defense lawyers are expected to make closing arguments Tuesday morning
before jurors begin deliberating.
Benton who faces charges of lying to FBI officials during interview in July 2014, Kesari however faces multiple charges, including conspiracy.
Prosecutors claim both were involved in a plan to pay former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson for switching his support to Paul from former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann just days ahead of the 2012 Iowa Republican caucus.
The US department of Justice Over four days last week presented realms of emails and invoice building their case that Sorenson paid the two operatives through a third party audio/video production company to keep payments off the public campaign expense reports.
Sorenson testified about a $25,000 check that Kesari gave to his wife in an Altoona restaurant, as well as a promise he got from Benton that he’d be “taken care of” for making the switch.
A total of six witnesses were called upon by the two defense teams to counter prosecutors’ claims that a criminal plot unfolded in the campaign’s rank.
Neither operative took the stand in his own defense. But in Benton’s case, his former personal assistant and the campaign’s former security chief testified he was constantly traveling with Paul in 2011 and 2012, receiving hundreds of emails per day related to campaign business.
“It was a very, very hectic, chaotic schedule we all had,” said John Baeza, the former security chief. “I was impressed that he was able to delegate and not micromanage everything.”
Tonya Hester who was his former assistant on the campaign, testified that Benton was constantly on the go, visiting at least five different states over 15 days in December 2011, according to a personal calendar she kept. Sorenson made his defection from the Bachmann campaign Dec. 28, 2011.
Benton was hospitalized at one point that month before Christmas, partly due to the exhaustion of constantly being on the road, Hester said.
“Jesse became very ill and he was in the hospital,” she said. “To be honest, he just over exerted himself.”
The testimony bolstered defense lawyer Meena Sinfelt’s portrayal of Benton in her opening statement as a busy manager who wasn’t necessarily aware of every detail of the campaign’s operations. Prosecutors have shown jurors emails to prove that Benton was involved in attempts at wooing Sorenson into the Paul camp and that
he approved invoices for payments to Sorenson. It’s proof that he lied to FBI agents when he claimed to know nothing about such payments, the prosecutors have said.
But Sinfelt told jurors last week that Benton shouldn’t be expected to remember every matter he signed off on in the midst of a busy presidential campaign.
Mason’s testimony was key, as Kesari’s defense attorney has argued that even though payments made to Sorenson were concealed, the practice isn’t necessarily illegal and is actually widespread in political circles. That argument was the crux of an unsuccessful argument for dismissing the charges that the lawyer, Jesse Binnall, made after prosecutors finished with their last witness Monday morning.
“There’s a real danger that if we start criminalizing politics,” Binnall said. “And sometimes in politics, it’s important to keep things quiet.”
During direct examination from Binnall, Mason told jurors that it’s increasingly common for presidential campaigns to contract with businesses for things like advertising and other services. Those businesses then enlist other companies, known as sub-vendors, to do the work.
Mason said he believes federal law on whether campaigns must report the ultimate payee of every expense is still an “open question,” though the FEC issued an interpretive rule on the issue in 2013. Binnall has argued that Sorenson was essentially an employee of the Paul campaign, attending events with the Texas congressman in the days after his endorsement and recording a robocall for the campaign.
Prosecutors, however, have said Sorenson was not a legitimate employee and that payments to the former state senator misrepresented campaign expenditures in a deliberate attempt to mislead journalists
and the public.
Sorenson faces 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to two charges last year, including obstruction of justice. He testified against the two former operatives in the bid of getting a lighter sentence.
Source : USA Today</