According to the official indictment, presidential contender Rand Paul had no idea about the arrangement. A spokesperson for Paul's presidential campaign said that the indictment has nothing to do with Paul's campaign, but the indictment was politically motivated.
"Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama justice department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate," read the statement. "It certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated. Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign."
After allegations swirled that Sorenson had engaged in a pay-for-endorsement scheme, the DOJ accuses staffers of seeking to keep Sorenson quiet.
"The conspirators arranged for Sorenson to issue public statements denying allegations that he was offered money for his endorsement and noting that the campaign committee's FEC filings would show that it made no payments to Sorenson," court documents show.
In September 2013, media outlets began reporting on an ongoing investigation into the alleged incident. At that point, according to documents, Kesari flew to Omaha, Nebraska and then made his way to Sorenson's house to discuss the best way to reduce the paper trail of the transactions.
After verifying that "neither was wearing a recording device," Kesari asked Sorenson to either "return" or "alter" the initial $25,000 check. According to the indictment, Sorenson would not agree to do that.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Kesari told National Journal: "Can't talk. There's a gag order on it. I can't talk." When asked what he meant by a gag order, Kesari said, "It's an Iowa thing, I guess. I don't know."
The DOJ alleges that Benton first lied under oath to the FBI in July of 2014. In a subsequent session a day later, Benton said "I'm not splitting hairs, Sorenson was not getting paid."
Benton has worked for both sitting Kentucky senators. He managed Rand Paul's 2010 campaign for Senate, and in 2014, Benton signed on as campaign manager for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Benton received $500,000 — more than twice McConnell's Senate salary — for his work on the campaign. But shortly before the election, Benton resigned from the campaign because of the ongoing investigation into the pay-for-endorsement scheme from 2012.
In a 2014 interview with a Kentucky news station, Rand Paul defended Benton's record. "I think Jesse is honest, he's good at politics and I don't think he's done anything wrong," Paul said at the time.
The younger Paul noted that Benton, who is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter, is close to his family. "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," Rand Paul said in the same interview. "And, yes he'll help us."