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McConnell campaign manager resigns amid bribery scandal

Jesse Benton announced late Friday that he would step down from McConnell's team, fearful of "becoming a distraction" from the Republican campaign.
Jesse Benton, arrives at a campaign event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 28, 2011.
Jesse Benton, arrives at a campaign event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 28, 2011.
The controversy started, oddly enough, six days before the 2012 Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa.
In a development that was simply unheard of, state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R), the chair of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign in Iowa, announced just six days before the caucuses that he was quitting Team Bachmann to support Ron Paul's presidential campaign.
At the time, the move seemed inexplicable, but this week we learned that the Ron Paul campaign paid Sorenson a $73,000 bribe to switch teams. Following a federal investigation into the incident, Sorenson pleaded guilty to two criminal counts associated with the bribe and the lies told to cover it up.
But the broader effects of the scandal didn't end with Sorenson's guilty plea. We know who received the bribe, but there's the unresolved matter of who paid the bribe.
The investigation remains ongoing and its effects have now reached Kentucky, where Jesse Benton resigned late yesterday as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign manager, after Benton "emerged as a figure" in the controversy.

In an emailed statement Friday evening, Benton denied any involvement in the scandal.... Benton was Paul's political director at the time. [...] Benton as well as former McConnell campaign consultant Dimitri Kesari -- who also worked for Paul -- were mentioned in documents gathered during an Iowa state ethics probe of Sorenson, a complaint to the Federal Election Commission and emails purported to be from the Paul campaign obtained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors federal campaign finance issues.

For his part, Benton blasted "unsubstantiated media rumors" and insisted that the allegations surrounding his role in the Sorenson bribery scandal are "false."
If Benton is guilty of no wrongdoing, why resign late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend? The Republican operative's statement added he feared "becoming a distraction" to Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign.
Benton's sudden resignation from the Senate Minority Leader's campaign, however, does not mark the end of the controversy.
We don't yet know, for example, exactly what role, if any, Benton played in the bribery scandal. That said, we know the Ron Paul campaign paid bribes to at least one Iowa politician, that Benton was the Ron Paul campaign's political director at the time, and there are emails that indicate Benton "was involved in efforts to get [Sorenson] to defect from the Bachmann campaign" in early 2012.
We also know that Benton chose to resign just two days after Sorenson's guilty plea.
As for Mitch McConnell, in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign, the Kentucky Republican has said very little about his campaign aides caught up in this mess, though that's probably an unsustainable posture.
What's more, as a general rule, when an incumbent is forced to change campaign managers nine weeks before Election Day, that campaign has a bit of a problem.
We'll have much more of this on Tuesday -- including a look at the possible 2016 implications -- but in the meantime, here's Rachel's segment from Thursday night.