DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge dismissed charges Friday against Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign manager, leaving two other campaign operatives to stand trial on charges alleging they secretly paid an influential Iowa politician for his endorsement.
Prosecutors say the three men broke several federal campaign laws when they concealed payments of $73,000 to former Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson after he jumped from the Michele Bachmann campaign to the Paul campaign a few days before the Jan. 3, 2012, Iowa caucuses. They're also accused of lying to cover up the payments.
U.S. District Judge John Jarvey dismissed John Tate from the federal case, saying the charges against him were based on information the government obtained during FBI interviews last year. Tate consented to the interviews but only after signing a document known as a proffer agreement, in which prosecutors agreed that if charges were brought they would not offer in evidence any statements made by him "except in a prosecution for false statements, obstruction of justice in the current investigation, or perjury ..."
During the interviews Tate, a longtime aide to the former Texas congressman, said he was unaware of any payments to Sorenson and stated there were no payments from the Paul campaign. Tate claimed the government breached the agreement by charging him with conspiracy, causing false records, causing false campaign expenditure reports and a false statements scheme, using his statements in the FBI interview as evidence before the grand jury which indicted him.
Tate's attorney did not immediately reply to a message.
Indictments remain standing against Jesse Benton and Dimitri Kesari. Both have pleaded not guilty. The government plans to present evidence of email correspondence prosecutors say shows the men recruited Sorenson, offering payment then hid the payments by recording them as campaign "audio/visual expenses," from a film production company.
Jarvey said prior courts have ruled proffer agreements are part of constitutional due process protections that must be upheld. His ruling allows the government to refile the dismissed charges separately but prosecutors can't use the proffer statements in bringing the charges.
"The decision regarding the dismissed counts will be made at a later date post trial," said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice which is prosecuting the case.
Since Benton signed a similar proffer agreement four charges against him also were dismissed. Benton now faces one count of lying to the FBI. His attorney declined to comment.
Kesari remains charged with five counts, the conspiracy charge and those related to false records in addition to one count of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors say he attempted to persuade Sorenson to hide evidence of payment from investigators. His attorney did not immediately respond to a message.
Sorensen, 43, entered a plea deal with the government in August to obstruction of justice and causing a campaign to falsely report expenditures. He awaits sentencing. Prosecutors plan to call him as a cooperating witness.
Attorneys for the former Paul campaign staffers argued in a hearing Thursday that Sorenson's job as a subcontractor is common in campaigns and the law doesn't require disclosure of payments to subcontractors. They claim the government is targeting them only, pointing out that Sorenson also was secretly paid by Bachmann's campaign yet none of those staffers face prosecution.