By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A longtime conservative political commentator and author under federal indictment for conspiring to illegally funnel Russian money to the Trump campaign in 2016 has died.
Roy Douglas “Doug” Wead, 75, of Bonita Springs, died Dec. 10 after suffering a stroke and heart failure, according to his Twitter account.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden of the District of Columbia was notified of Wead’s death Friday by his attorneys, Jane Serene Raskin of Coral Gables and Washington, D.C.’s Jay Sekulow. Sekulow was one of President Donald Trump’s lead attorneys during his first impeachment trial in 2020.
Wead, a former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush who served as an advisor to multiple presidential campaigns, and co-defendant Jesse R. Benton of Louisville, KY, pleaded not guilty in September. Wead was released on his own recognizance, Benton on a $25,000 bond.
No trial date has been set. If convicted, the men each faced a range of maximum penalties from five to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts against them.
CONSERVATIVE ‘NEWS’ ABOUT WEAD’S DEATH
Benton, 43, ran the pro-Trump Great America super PAC and got a December 2020 pardon from Trump for his 2016 conviction on conspiracy and other charges arising from a 2012 campaign scheme to buy a political endorsement in the 2012 Iowa caucuses for ex-congressman Ron Paul. Benton worked on two of Paul’s failed presidential campaigns, and also on the Senate campaigns of Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell.
Notably, conservative media “news” stories about Wead’s death put out by Boca Raton-based Newsmax, One America News and the evangelical news outlet Charisma News neglected to mention his pending criminal case.
Federal prosecutors said Wead and Benton “conspired together to solicit a political contribution from a Russian foreign national,” then later filed false campaign finance reports to make it appear as if Benton made the contribution. It is illegal for foreign nationals to donate to U.S. campaigns.
The Russian is not named in the indictment but is described as a business associate of Wead who wired $100,000 from a bank in Vienna, Austria to a political consulting business owned by Benton. Wead had told his Russian friend that in exchange for the payment he could meet Trump.
Shortly after the Russian “committed to transfer the funds, Benton reached out” to his contacts at the Republican National Committee and arranged for both the Russian and another foreign national who worked as a Russian/English translator for Wead to attend and get a picture taken with Trump at a Sept. 22, 2016 fundraiser in Pennsylvania. Benton even used his personal credit card to pay the $25,000 cost of the Russian’s ticket to the event.
Wead and Benton later created a “fake invoice for ‘consulting services’ and invented a cover story” to disguise the true purpose of the funds transfer, according to a Department of Justice press release that accompanied the indictment’s release.
Benton filled out a contributor form that he – not the Russian – contributed the $25,000, but paid off his credit card using the Russian’s money. The release notes dryly, “Benton retained the remaining $75,000 of Foreign National 1’s money.
FEDS KEEP LID ON DETAILS
“Because Benton falsely claimed to have given the contribution himself, three different political committees unwittingly filed reports with the FEC [Federal Elections Commission] that inaccurately reported Benton” as the source of the funds.
The 20-page grand jury indictment does not name Trump, and Department of Justice prosecutors have taken unusual precautions to prevent public disclosure of “confidential and law enforcement-sensitive information” in the case. A court protective order now veils documents disclosed to the defense as part of the government’s pre-trial discovery obligations.
Still, the Washington Post reported shortly after the indictment’s release that the account of Benton’s $25,000 contribution in support of “political candidate 1, a candidate for president during the 2016 election cycle,” matches a donation in public records that Benton made to Trump Victory. Trump Victory raised money for both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Wead and Benton were both charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit and cause an illegal campaign contribution by a foreign national, effect a conduit contribution and cause false records to be filed with the FEC, one count of contribution in the name of another and three counts of making false entries in an official record.
Wead was the author of the 2019 book Inside Trump’s White House: The Real Story of his Presidency. An obituary on Charisma News called him a Bush family “insider” who is credited with coining the phrase “compassionate conservative.”
According to Wead’s Twitter feed, a celebration of his life will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 3 at Orlando’s Greeneway Church. The service will be livestreamed on Wead’s Facebook page.