August 8th, 2013
04:15 PM ET
5 years ago

Secret telephone recording roils McConnell campaign

Washington (CNN) – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, stressed his loyalty to the Kentucky Republican Thursday just hours after a recording surfaced of Benton expressing half-hearted support for McConnell.

Benton made the off-message comments in a January telephone conversation with conservative activist Dennis Fusaro, a former colleague from Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign.

"Between you and me I'm sort of holding my nose for two years, because what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit for Rand [Paul] in '16," Benton said in the recording. "That's my long vision."

Benton did not know Fusaro was recording the conversation, which was posted on the libertarian website CNN has authenticated the recording.

"It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me," Benton said in a statement released by the McConnell campaign. "I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014."

The recording was one of several documents and audio files released by Fusaro this week suggesting that Paul staffers, including Benton, bribed Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to defect from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign in the run-up to the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

In the call released Thursday, Fusaro is heard asking Benton if he had any knowledge of a $30,000 check provided to Sorenson by Paul's deputy campaign manager in return for the legislator's endorsement.

Benton, who managed Paul's campaign in 2012, denied the accusation.

"I don't know anything about that," he told Fusaro.

Benton, a top political aide to Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, was hired by McConnell in September 2012 to lead his Senate campaign.

Benton's hire was considered a shrewd move by the Senate minority leader, who is trying to court tea party activists in Kentucky who supported Rand Paul's candidacy in 2010.

McConnell had backed Rand Paul's opponent in the 2010 GOP primary, and relations between the two men were strained.

But Paul, who is considering a presidential bid and is trying to build bridges with the Republican establishment, has since endorsed McConnell's re-election bid.

The endorsement, though, did not prevent McConnell from getting a primary challenge. Businessman Matt Bevin has announced he is running against McConnell and bills himself as the conservative alternative to the minority leader.

UPDATE 5:32 p.m. ET: McConnell's official campaign Twitter account send a photo later Thursday afternoon picturing Benton alongside the senator, with Benton holding his nose.

Filed under: Kentucky • Mitch McConnell
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Data Driven

    "holding my nose for two years"

    PHENOMENAL. The one guy/gal you should be able to count on ad your most indefatigable.supporter is your campaign manager. When you can't, you're in very serious trouble.

    August 8, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  2. EDDIE

    Que the "Lamestream Media" blame game.You can hear it on tape his voice and you can catch them on video and the repubs look at you will say it's not me or I didn't say that.Yet jaut another example of a repub talking out of both sides of his mouth.

    August 8, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  3. Wake up People!

    Love it!!! Keep up the good work republikkkans!

    August 8, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. demogoat

    Monkey see, monkey do. How could anyone support anyone in the Tea Party.

    August 8, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    Haha. Too good for words. The guy is on to something though...


    Screw the bucket...I'm gonna need a kiddie pool to catch all the tears from this one.

    August 8, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  6. Winston Smith

    It'd be a blessing if he roiled on home, never to be seen or heard from again. The creep needs replacing.

    August 8, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  7. The Real Tom Paine

    "....a conversation I had out of kindness": what a patronising comment for him to make. Caught red-handed in the act of stating that McConnell's campaign is nothing more thanan exercise in killing time, he goes out and attacks his former colleague for recording him. These are the people who want to call the shots for you: they blow each other in, all in the name of ideological purity and blind ambition, or they eat they own at the first available opportunity.

    August 8, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  8. Alan S.

    When your own Campaign Manager has doubts about you and may not be willing to back your play, you are in serious trouble. Time maybe to leave while your behind and not look like a fool for staying late at a party where you are not invited to attend any longer. Aloha

    August 8, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  9. Tom

    Those wacky Republicans and their recordings. The best way to avoid having embarrassing recordings come to light is to not say embarrassing things. Let's call that the Mitt Romney rule. Or maybe the Richard Nixon rule. Or maybe the Mitch McConnell rule.

    August 8, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. Gurgyl

    This guy is so pathetic. Enough of this idiot and his contenkerous brain.

    August 8, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  11. Lynda/Minnesota

    Sweet dreams, McConnell ... he's one of your own. Oops - strike that - he's one of Rand's own.

    August 8, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  12. Romney is STILL NOT My Hero

    McKKKonnell and Bland Paul will be the undoing of the whole GOP. I love it! Keep up the good work. I look forward to more of this as 2014 gets closer.

    August 8, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  13. Wake up People!

    I guess we'll be hearing how the liberal media twisted his words. How everything was taken out of context. You know, like Willard and his 47% speech where he felt so comfortable around his klan spewing his hateful words. They cry and cry about their words being taken out of context, yet we hear constantly, You didn't build that and What difference does it make, two phrases that definitely taken out of context.

    But once again I ask....How does Rand Paul have the experience to be POTUS but a Harvard Law grad doesn't???

    August 8, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  14. rs

    Republicans and their recordings.... you'd think they had never experienced technology before!

    August 8, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  15. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    The GOP is the best soap opera on tv,McConnell will go down in flames just like Romney the tax cheat did!!!!

    August 8, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  16. NC

    They really do eat their own.

    August 8, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  17. Lynda/Minnesota

    "But once again I ask....How does Rand Paul have the experience to be POTUS but a Harvard Law grad doesn't???

    Well, I did try to reply to Scott who brought up to me some such similar nonsense on this very subject, Wake up.

    "Try" being the key word. After the third attempt, I took the moderators hint and decided Scott's snark wasn't all that important to begin with.

    August 8, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  18. Wake up People!

    Lynda, I know the feeling.....all to well! I also know the answer but I love hearing their BS lies... I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

    August 8, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  19. rs

    The underlying thing about this story that is significant is that once again, the immaturity and amateurish nature of the GOP is on display. Over-reach is one thing (and they certainly have been guilty of that), but the clunky idiocy of this sort of thing is what really drives home the fact the GOP simply isn't ready for prime time.
    Sure, they might try to blame the media, or deflect back to their factless IRS/Benghazi claims (a whole other problem), but they need to look at this for what it is- grade school playground politics in action, and stop it. We are a two-party nation, and right now the GOP is working hard to ensure they are the un-electable party.

    August 8, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  20. Wake up People!

    Oops Lynda that was all too well!

    August 8, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "They really do eat their own."


    August 8, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  22. tom l

    I must say I thought it was funny how he embraced this and showed his human side with the tweet. So many of us know that voting today is merely the lesser of two evils. Well, at least those of us that have our eyes opened to the tyranny of big govt and realization that the politicians don't care about us and only want to get re-elected.

    August 8, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    "Republicans and their recordings"

    Indeed...karma apparently has a long memory.

    August 8, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  24. PJ

    I would be holding my nose too if I were standing beside McConnell.

    August 8, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  25. rs

    at least those of us that have our eyes opened to the tyranny of big govt and realization that the politicians don't care about us
    Amen to that, but has it not occured to you that the Republicans are the ones trying to take rights away, and create "big government" solutions?

    August 8, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
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