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GOP operatives charged with funneling $25K from Russian citizen to Trump campaign in 2016

The Department of Justice seal is seen on a lectern ahead of a press conference announcing efforts against computer hacking and extortion at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC on November 28, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — The Justice Department on Monday charged two prominent Republican operatives who allegedly helped a Russian citizen illegally donate $25,000 to the Trump campaign in 2016.

Jesse Benton, 43, and Doug Wead, 75, were charged in a six-count indictment and made their first appearance in DC District Court. They’re accused of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws, making an illegal foreign contribution and helping submit false records to the Federal Election Commission. Information about their defense attorneys wasn’t immediately available.

Prosecutors said Benton and Wead funneled $25,000 from the unnamed Russian donor to the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fundraising venture between then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. The Russian then attended a September 2016 fundraiser in Philadelphia, where he met Trump and took photos with the future President.

There is no indication in the court filings that the case is connected to the special counsel investigation, which examined the many ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. The indictment says Trump’s campaign wasn’t aware that the money came from a foreign national.

According to the indictment, the Russian wired $100,000 to a company that Benton owned. Benton kept $75,000 and donated the remaining $25,000 to the Trump Victory Committee. The indictment doesn’t name Trump or the committee. However, the details in the court filings match Trump’s travel schedule, and Federal Election Commission records confirm Benton’s donation.

The two defendants have worked in politics for decades and are well-known in GOP circles.

Benton worked for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign, Sen. Rand Paul’s first campaign in 2010 and former Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012. He was acquitted in 2015 of lying to the FBI about a donation-for-endorsement scheme, but was convicted in 2016 in a related case. He got probation, and Trump pardoned him last December.

Wead was an aide to former President George H.W. Bush, served with Benton on Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and worked on Rand Paul’s Senate reelection campaign in 2016.

The Justice Department has cracked down in recent years on foreign influence in American politics by bringing cases about straw donations, undisclosed lobbying and election meddling.