Former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson on Wednesday pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of support for Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota), whose state campaign he led in 2011, to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in the 2012 caucuses.
Sorenson admitted to Justice Department prosecutors that he accepted a total of $73,000 in bribes from Paul's campaign and lied about it to investigators. In the plea agreement, Sorenson said he received the money in large checks and $8,000 monthly installments from October to December 2011, when he was still named Bachmann's state chairman. Before joining Paul’s team, Sorenson was receiving a monthly paycheck between $7,000 and $7,500 from Bachmann’s PAC. Bachmann accused Sorenson of taking bribes when he announced his support of Paul six days before the primaries, which Sorenson, Paul, and his campaign officials all denied at the time.
Justice Department officials would not disclose who specifically had paid Sorenson, who at the time was seen as a key endorsement for Republicans and a rising star of the Tea Party, but said that his deception would not be tolerated.
"An elected official admitted that he accepted under-the-table payments from a campaign committee to secure his support and services for a candidate in the 2012 presidential election," Leslie R. Caldwell, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said in a statement. "Campaign finance reports should be accurate and transparent, not tools for concealing campaign expenditures. Lying by public officials — whether intended to obstruct the FEC or federal investigators — violates the public trust and the law, and the Department of Justice does not tolerate it."
The Washington Post reports:
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The court filings did not identify the Paul operative, but in a recording of a phone call posted last year by TheIowaRepublican.com, Sorenson identified him as Dimitri Kesari, then Paul’s deputy national campaign manager. TheIowaRepublican.com and OpenSecrets.org, the Web site of the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, also reported last year on emails in which representatives of Paul and Sorenson allegedly discussed his demands for payment.
Paul’s campaign chairman at the time was Jesse Benton, who is now running the re-election bid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Paul campaign allegedly routed money to Sorenson through a film production company to conceal the fact that a sitting senator was the recipient of campaign payments, which is against the law in Iowa.
Sorenson faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the first count and up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the second count.