McConnell campaign manager: 'I'm sorta holding my nose for two years'

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign manager, Jesse Benton, appears to have reluctantly signed on to the senator's campaign, as he characterized his work for the senator as "holding my nose" in a new phone recording obtained by EconomicPolicyJournal.com.

But the campaign manager, who was also recently implicated in an alleged bribe issued by another member of former Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) 2012 presidential campaign, walked back his comments on Thursday and said it was an "honor" to lead McConnell's campaign.

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Speaking to conservative activist and former Ron Paul staffer Dennis Fusaro in January of this year, Benton sounds less than enthused to be working for McConnell.

"Between you and me, I'm sorta holding my nose for two years," he says when asked by Fusaro about his future plans, noting that his work for McConnell is "going to be a big benefit to Rand [Paul] in 2016."

In the recording, Fusaro also asks Benton about allegations that he was aware of an alleged bribe given to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R) by Ron Paul's deputy national campaign manager, Dimitri Kesari, when Benton served as national campaign chairman for Paul's presidential run.

Fusaro previously recorded a conversation between himself and Sorenson in which Sorenson says Kesari approached him and his wife and gave them a check. The call took place shortly after Sorenson dropped his endorsement of Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) presidential campaign and endorsed Paul.

Sorenson says in the recording, "I know Jesse knows" about the check.

Benton, however, denies any knowledge of the check in the recording.

"I don't know anything about that," he says, adding that if there's proof he'd like to see it.

"If you've got proof of that, I'd like to take action," he adds.

Benton on Thursday called the recording "truly sick" and said in a statement that he's "100 percent committed" to McConnell's campaign.

"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. 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," he said.

Fusaro told The Hill that he had contacted Benton to urge him to induce Kesari to come clean about the alleged bribe, to keep others from becoming implicated and to prevent further injury to the Iowa political community or Ron Paul's cause.

"The truth needed to come out. This was illegal, and it's harmful to the political process," he said.

He said that he recorded his conversation with Benton entirely lawfully and out of "self-defense," and that Benton's assertion that the recording was "truly sick" was a distraction.

"Self-defense is a legitimate right. [Benton's comments are] exactly what I would expect from a professional PR guy to try to divert the issue away from his own personal failings," he said.

Fusaro said that while he didn't have further evidence that Benton was aware of an alleged $30,000 bribe given to Sorenson to secure his endorsement for Paul, he believed Benton knew about the bribe. He added, "If they think that they can get away with this, they'll do it again."

McConnell has given no indication he plans to replace Benton, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose possible 2016 presidential run Benton is expected to run, hasn't commented on the allegations.

Fusaro suggested, however, that if both decide to keep Benton on their staff, it could have repercussions among grassroots supporters.

"He's responsible" for Benton, Fusaro said of Rand Paul.

— This report was originally published at 1:39 p.m. and last updated at 4:00 with Fusaro's comments.