By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — The campaign manager for Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a taped phone conversation earlier this year that he is “sort of holding my nose for two years” as he works for McConnell’s 2014 re-election bid.
Jesse Benton said working for McConnell now would help a possible presidential bid by Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2016.
“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 in 2016,” Benton said on the recording. “That’s my long vision.”
The recording was published by the Economic Policy Journal, which said it was made in January 2013 when Dennis Fusaro of the Reformed Theological Seminary called Benton to ask a question about the presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who is Rand Paul’s father.
Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, was spokesman for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.
In an e-mail Tuesday, Benton called the recording “truly sick” and said he is “100 percent committed” to McConnell’s re-election.
“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. “I believe in Sen. 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 2014.”
The campaign of McConnell’s opponent in next May’s Republican primary election, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, immediately seized on the Benton recording.
“Even Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign,” said Bevin campaign spokeswoman Sarah Durand. “His admission that he is ‘holding (his) nose for two years’ while he works for McConnell shows that even McConnell’s top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative, and after nearly 30 years of voting for big government and big spending bills does not deserve to be re-elected.”
The campaign of McConnell’s chief Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, declined to comment.
The Weekly Standard reported that Fusaro, a former Ron Paul campaign aide, confirmed the authenticity of the call.
Fusaro told the publication that Benton and he were in “one-party consent” states in which only one person on the phone is required to know a conversation is being recorded.
Fusaro initiated the call to ask Benton about allegations that Ron Paul’s deputy campaign manager had paid an Iowa state legislators to support Paul for president.
Benton denies on the recording being involved in any such payment and asked Fusaro to provide proof of the allegation.
Fusaro told The Weekly Standard that he waited until now to release the audio because he wanted Benton to “do the right thing” concerning the allegations that the Ron Paul campaign paid an Iowa lawmaker.
“He’s incapable of doing the right thing,” Fusaro said.
McConnell’s hiring of Benton last September as his campaign manager was seen by some as a move for McConnell to try to endear himself with the Tea Party and avoid a Tea Party opponent in 2014.
Benton led the 2010 general election campaign of Rand Paul, who rode the Tea Party wave to defeat Attorney General Jack Conway in the general election and the McConnell-backed candidacy of then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Republican primary election.