DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The government purposely announced charges against Ron Paul’s ex-aides shortly before his son, Rand Paul, was scheduled to appear in a national debate for the Republican presidential nomination, the former Texas congressman asserted in testimony Wednesday in federal court in Iowa.
Ron Paul told jurors in Des Moines he was suspicious of the timing of the indictment’s unsealing of charges against Jesse Benton and Dimitri Kesari, two aides who worked for his 2012 presidential campaign. It was unsealed in August, one day before Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was set to appear onstage at the Republican Party’s first debate of the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t consider that a coincidence,” Ron Paul said.
The Associated Press sought reaction to Paul’s testimony from prosecutors representing the Justice Department but the messages were not immediately returned Wednesday night.
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Prosecutors say Benton and Kesari concealed payments totaling $73,000 to former Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson after the lawmaker jumped from the Michele Bachmann campaign to the Ron Paul campaign just days before the January 2012 Iowa caucuses. Paul finished third in the Iowa caucuses behind former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and the eventual Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Kesari faces five charges, including conspiracy and obstruction. Benton faces one count of making false statements. They have pleaded not guilty.
Ron Paul told jurors during the second day of the trial that he didn’t know anything about the alleged secret payments to Sorenson. He said his staff also knew he was the type of candidate who didn’t believe in paying for endorsements.
“I just don’t think people are supposed to do that,” he said.
Ron Paul said he didn’t feel “victimized” by his ex-aides, but he was concerned about the trial’s effect on his family. He appeared distressed as he explained he was required to testify for federal prosecutors through a subpoena, and the process has been “a real burden” for them. Benton is married to his granddaughter and she’s also Rand Paul’s niece.
“As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed,” he said about Benton.
Jurors heard testimony on Wednesday from Lori Pyeatt, Ron Paul’s daughter. Pyeatt served as treasurer for her father’s 2012 presidential run and was in charge of filing campaign reports to the Federal Election Commission. She said neither Benton nor Kesari were involved in filing that paperwork, a point that defense attorneys tried to emphasize during testimony from other former campaign staffers.
Prosecutors tried to show both Benton and Kesari were in positions within the campaign that authorized them to approve campaign expenses.
Other testimony Wednesday came from a special FBI agent who previously interviewed Benton about emails presented during the trial. Prosecutors say the emails show Benton lied to federal authorities on his knowledge of the payments. They contend the emails show Kesari purposely tried to hide the payments through a company.
Attorneys for both men attempted to question the authenticity of the emails.
The judge overseeing the trial recently dismissed charges against John Tate, a third aide, after defense attorneys argued they stemmed from FBI interviews that could not be used. The move also led to some dismissed charges for Benton. The government may refile some of them separately.
The trial is expected to resume Thursday.