The head of Rand Paul's super PAC was charged Wednesday for concealing payments to an Iowa lawmaker in 2011.
The Department of Justice charged Benton and two other aides with conspiracy, causing false records to obstruct a contemplated investigation, causing the submission of false campaign expenditure reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and engaging in a scheme to make false statements to the FEC. Benton is additionally charged with making false statements to the FBI.
"I am extremely disappointed in the government's decision," Ron Paul said in a statement Wednesday responding to the indictment. "I think the timing of this indictment is highly suspicious given the fact that the first primary debate is tomorrow. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved. I will not be commenting further on this matter at this time."
"Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama justice department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate; it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated. Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign," a spokesperson for Rand Paul said in a statement.
Benton, who was Ron Paul's 2012 campaign manager and later Mitch McConnell's 2014 campaign chief, is currently running Rand Paul's Super PAC, America's Liberty PAC.
The Iowa lawmaker who allegedly received the payments, former State Sen. Kent Sorenson, backed Michele Bachmann but abruptly switched his support to Ron Paul one week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
At the time, Bachmann alleged that her former Iowa co-chair admitted he was paid to switch sides.
“Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Ron Paul campaign,” Bachman alleged.
“Kent campaigned with us earlier this afternoon in Indianola, Iowa, and then he went immediately afterward to a Ron Paul event and announced that he is changing teams. Kent said to me yesterday that everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn`t I?”
Confronted at a Paul campaign event on the night he switched his allegiance -- December 28, 2011 -- Sorenson told NBC News' Anthony Terrell that the allegations were "absurd.”
“No, that`s not true,” he continued. Asked if he was offered any money, Sorenson responded “Absolutely not.”
But in August, Sorenson pleaded guilty on charges related to receiving over $70,000 in secret payments from Paul’s campaign in exchange for his support. He hasn’t been sentenced yet.
From the DOJ release: "The payments to Sorenson were allegedly made in monthly installments of approximately $8,000 each and ultimately amounted to over $70,000. The indictment alleges that the defendants concealed the payments by causing them to be recorded -- both in campaign accounting records and in FEC filings -- as campaign-related audio-visual expenditures, and by causing them to be transmitted to a film production company and then to a second company that was controlled by Sorenson. According to the indictment, the conspirators concealed their campaign's payments to Sorenson from their candidate and also from the FEC, the FBI and the public."
Sources with knowledge of the charges say the former Paul aides deny any wrongdoing and look forward to speaking out. According to the source, they are under a gag order and are not allowed to talk to media.
The next court date is scheduled for September 3 at a hearing in Des Moines.
Late last year, in an interview an ABC affiliate in Kentucky, Rand Paul defended making Jesse Benton a part of his campaign: "Jesse is married to my niece and was a big help in the Kentucky election here in 2010 and a big help for Sen. McConnell. And, yes he'll help us," he said.
Benton himself issued a statement after he resigned from the McConnell campaign, following the endorsement-pay-scheme allegations, which said in part: "Inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue. The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false. However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign."
Of the heels Benton's indictment and the eve of the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential campaign, Rand Paul sent a seven-tweet message asking supporters to sign a "Republican Debate Mandate" pledging to support him during Thursday's debate.
Additional reporting by Jacob Rascon and James Novogrod.
Correction: The article originally attributed the statement in response to Wednesday's indictments to Rand Paul. The statement is from Ron Paul, Rand's father.