August 8th, 2013
04:15 PM ET
10 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. Larry in Houston

    doesn't matter . . . 'ol mitch is a "lifer" & he already knows it . . . . he's still a pathetic guy

    August 8, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  2. AZ Girl

    I don't know about everyone else but I am SO tired of blatantly being lied to by people who are supposed to represent ME! Can't we find just one HONEST person in politics these days? Someone who cares about the "people" they represent? Who cares about what we ALL want or should want? Fair and decent jobs, quality affordable education for our kids, quality healthcare, a pension I can live in my old age, streets that are safe to walk. I guess I'll need my lamp a little longer for that honest man.

    August 8, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  3. the hippies were right

    Good-bye Mitch, I hear the Ninja Turtles are looking for someone to play their great grandfather to start in their 2015 episodes. I'd rather you experience what unemployment feels like first, but your just too perfect for the part. You'll get to wear a cape and you can continue with your make believe reality.

    August 8, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  4. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Even after all the truth comes out about this pathetic, little man, people will still vote for him. Good Ole Kentucky!

    August 8, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  5. Liz the First

    As long as McConnell is in the senate, the whole country has to hold its nose. he needs to go. let's hope the state wises up and elects the Dem.

    August 8, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  6. Just a thought

    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
    Come on tom I....what is this constant barrage of "whining about the size of gubmit under pres. Obama"? Its stale and faux newsy. You do know that "gubmit" has shrunk dramatically under the current Pres. You want proof, just google it. The fact that the employment rate would be near 6.3% if Pres. Obama just maintained the same level of Federal employees as the previous administration. So can you come up with something that makes you sound almost credible in your complaining?

    August 8, 2013 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  7. ja

    It's time Mitch to go home, can we have a change of guard

    August 8, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  8. Kinard

    If you think he's horrible, think about those that voted for him to begin with. What insane asylum did they escape from?

    August 9, 2013 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  9. THomas

    TeamMitch looks like as much fun as being in a coma !

    August 9, 2013 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  10. Dixie

    Just another reason for new faces all around. If they hold an office now ... NO VOTES FOR YOU!!! We need term limits. Two terms and your out. No lifers allowed.

    August 9, 2013 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
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