Secret telephone recording roils McConnell campaign
POSTED: Thursday, August 8, 2013 - 6:44pm
UPDATED: Friday, August 9, 2013 - 10:08am
(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 EconomicPolicyJournal.com. 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.