The government’s case against the trio of operatives for Ron and Rand Paul who attempted to buy the endorsement of an Iowa state senator just got a second life. A federal judge has set a new trial date for Dimitri Kesari, a longtime Paul family operative whom an Iowa jury found guilty last month of helping cover up the pay-for-endorsement scheme in Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. The same jury deadlocked on three more specific charges, including conspiracy. Prosecutors say Kesari and two others conspired to funnel more than $73,000 to then-Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson in exchange for switching his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the days before the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses.
Court filings also indicate that prosecutors might attempt to bring back similar charges against Jesse Benton, Rand Paul’s nephew-in-law, and John Tate, another Paul family ally, who were involved in the 2012 Ron Paul campaign and who, according to emails presented by prosecutors in the earlier trial, worked with with Kesari on the plan to pay Sorenson. Benton and Tate are running a super-PAC this election cycle to back the presidential campaign of Rand Paul. All three operatives were indicted in August, but the judge in the case threw out all of the charges against Tate and most of the charges against Benton, because prosecutors included improper information in the indictments against them. During the October trial at which Kesari was convicted, Benton faced one charge of lying to federal investigators about his knowledge of the plan, but was cleared by the jury.
Lawyers for Kesari and Benton did not deny that the Ron Paul campaign paid Sorenson the money, nor that it was funneled through a third party in an effort to obscure the money trail. Benton’s attorneys argued their client, who was chairman of Ron Paul’s national campaign, was largely unaware of what was happening and couldn’t be shown to have had an active role. They also worked to separate Benton from Kesari, who was the deputy campaign manager, suggesting he was largely responsible for the scheme. Kesari’s attorney took a different tack, trying to make the case that the pay-for-endorsement idea and the use of an intermediary were not crimes or particularly out of the ordinary.
Prosecutors presented hundreds of pages of emails showing the three men discussing payments to Sorenson, and both Benton and Tate seemingly approving the payments to a third party that Kesari had set up. Witnesses included Ron Paul himself and a number of current employees or consultants to Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign. Sorenson, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his role in the case, also testified, but jurors may not have found him particularly persuasive. The jury acquitted Kesari of one charge that he obstructed justice for allegedly trying to get Sorenson to alter a key piece of evidence once investigators began looking into the case. That accusation relied almost entirely on Sorenson’s testimony.
Because the jury deadlocked on the charges against Kesari, prosecutors were able to ask for a new trial for him, but must seek new indictments against Tate and Benton. In a filing today, the federal judge in the case set a new trial date for Kesari of December 14. However, the judge also noted that the government has the right to re-indict Tate and Benton, and if prosecutors do so, the judge ordered Benton and Tate’s new trial to be scheduled for February 14, two weeks after the Iowa caucuses.
For the one charge he was convicted of, Kesari already faces up to five years in federal prison.