Jesse Benton, campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is resigning his position, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Friday. The announcement comes as the McConnell campaign wrestles with Benton's possible ties to a bribery scandal when he was political director for then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) during the 2012 presidential election.
Benton told the Herald-Leader that rumors of his involvement in the scandal "risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this re-election campaign," referring to McConnell's bid for a sixth term in the Senate.
McConnell reluctantly accepted his departure, Benton told the Herald-Leader, adding, "This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country." The resignation was set to take effect Saturday.
As Paul's political director in 2012, Benton has been tied to a scandal that saw thousands of dollars exchanged for political endorsements prior to the Iowa caucuses. On Wednesday, former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to charges related to receiving under-the-table payments for switching his support from U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to Paul. Sorenson then lied to investigators about the payments, according to the Department of Justice. Sorenson's guilty plea was accompanied by two documents that could potentially implicate Benton, the Herald-Leader notes.
Earlier on Friday, the McConnell campaign said in a statement, "Sen. McConnell obviously has nothing to do with the Iowa Presidential Caucus or this investigation so it would be inappropriate for his campaign to comment on this situation," the Herald-Leader reports.
Benton maintained his innocence, giving a statement to the Herald-Leader that read, "There have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue."
"Working for Mitch McConnell is one of the great honors of my life," Benton said.
Benton was hired in 2012 to head McConnell's 2014 re-election campaign and boost the senator's credibility with libertarian factions of the Republican Party. It was seen as a surprising move, one that has caused other troubles for the McConnell campaign. In 2013, a phone recording surfaced in which Benton said that he was holding his nose while working for McConnell and thinking of the long-term best interests of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Lexington Herald-Leader as the Kentucky Herald-Leader. We regret the error.