When news broke yesterday that the Justice Department had indicted several Rand Paul associates, including one of Paul’s top lieutenants, for their alleged role in a hilariously stupid political payola scheme (more on that in a bit), there was really only one way the Paul campaign could respond: they played the conspiracy card.
“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 a statement from Rand HQ, “it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated.” So, according to Paul World, the president and DOJ are out to sabotage Rand Paul’s presidential campaign just before the first primary debate of the 2016 election cycle. How deviously Machiavellian.
It’s not surprising that Rand went this route – he is, after all, an accomplished conspiracy theorist. Unfortunately for him, these complaints about the politicization of the indictment process are undermined by a bit of basic logic and the fact that Rand Paul brought this on himself.
This all goes back 2012 Republican presidential primary. In December 2011, as the Republican candidates were scrambling to win the Iowa caucuses, then-Iowa state senator and Tea Party darling Kent Sorenson made a dramatic announcement: he was rescinding his endorsement of Michele Bachmann and was instead lining up behind Ron Paul. As it turns out, Sorenson had demanded several thousand dollars from both campaigns in exchange for his endorsement. Payments were made, the endorsement was secured, and, after whistleblowers within both campaigns went public, criminal investigations were launched. Sorenson ended up pleading guilty last August.
The indictments released yesterday allege that Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s campaign manager in 2012 and the current head of the pro-Rand Paul super PAC America’s Liberty, knew about the payments to Sorenson and attempted to conceal them from federal investigators. Benton, a longtime Paul family ally and a relative of Rand Paul by marriage, has been laboring under the threat of indictment for some time now – he resigned as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign manager in 2014 after Sorenson pleaded guilty, maintaining his innocence but also saying he didn’t want to be a “distraction.” It was known at the time that Benton had been involved in efforts to secure Sorenson’s endorsement, and news reports made clear that the federal investigation was focusing on the actions of Ron Paul 2012 staffers. This past February, sentencing for Sorenson was delayed because the Justice Department said it was “making progress” on the larger investigation into the 2012 campaigns. There were red flags everywhere.
But Rand Paul put loyalty above common sense. He stuck by his scandal-plagued associate and vowed to make him an integral part of his future political plans. In April 2015 he tapped Benton to lead his super PAC, even with all of his highly suspicious links to an as-yet unresolved criminal investigation. That lack of judgment has now blown up in Paul’s face.
And that’s what makes these allegations of a government conspiracy against Rand Paul so ridiculous. He invited this scandal-plagued political operative to play a critical role in his presidential campaign. Remember, Benton had already resigned from a political campaign because his connection to this 2012 payola scandal was too toxic to the candidate he represented. Rand made the decision to bring this shady character back into the fold, and now that it’s all-too-predictably causing him problems, he’s claiming that someone is out to get him?
As for the issue of the timing of the indictments, that’s a red herring. When you’re running for the presidency, there is no “good” or “better” time for the Justice Department to announce that they’re bringing charges against one of your closest political associates. It has the same impact regardless of the calendar date or the campaign schedule. But, again, claiming the existence of an anti-Rand conspiracy is the best option available to the Paul campaign because literally everything about this looks terrible for Rand Paul’s political future.