GOP Rep Said He Would Be Indicted for Lying to the FBI. He Was Right.

·3 min read
REUTERS
REUTERS

In a video posted to his YouTube channel Tuesday morning, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) warned he was about to be indicted for lying to the FBI about a scheme to funnel foreign donations to his campaign.

And he was right.

“The indictment alleges that Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during a federal investigation into illegal contributions to Fortenberry’s re-election campaign made by a foreign billionaire in early 2016,” said a press release from the Department of Justice hours later.

The DOJ alleges Fortenberry received $30,000 from a foreign national through straw donations at a fundraiser in Los Angeles. When informed of this fact two years later by a co-host of the event, Fortenberry, according to DOJ, did nothing to disclose it and then later lied about his knowledge of the donation’s origins to federal investigators.

“The indictment alleges a scheme in which Fortenberry, after learning this information, ‘knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts’ about the illegal campaign contributions,” the DOJ release said.

Gilbert Chagoury, the foreign national, “entered into a deferred prosecution agreement” in 2019 for giving $180,000 in donations to several different political campaigns and was fined $1.8 million, the release notes.

It is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. elections. Fortenberry eventually unloaded the illicit donations, but only after his July 2019 interview with the FBI and U.S. Attorneys, according to the charging document.

“The indictment alleges a scheme in which Fortenberry, after learning this information, ‘knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts’ about the illegal campaign contributions,” the DOJ release said.

In his video message, Fortenberry attempted to get ahead of his indictment by offering his side of the encounter with federal agents.

“About five-and-a-half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign—I didn’t know anything about this—and used some other Americans to do so. They were all caught and punished, thankfully, ” Fortenberry explained in the video, which he recorded in his pickup truck, with his wife and dog in the frame. After a 2019 interview with the FBI, he said, “they’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this.”

“We’re shocked. We’re stunned,” said Fortenberry, who denied the allegations in the video and said he feels “personally betrayed” by the agents.

In an email to supporters Tuesday, Fortenberry said he will be indicted in California. His latest campaign-finance filing shows $55,000 in legal fees paid in July and August to California law firm Beinert Katzman, whose website spotlights its trial experience. He will be represented in his personal capacity by former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), according to a report from his district's local ABC station.

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The email blasts a California prosecutor who “was in the running for a big promotion,” and hints at a conspiracy surrounding “the midterm elections right around the corner for control of the House.”

Fortenberry, who has served in Congress since 2005, recently amended campaign-finance reports from 2016, updating tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

In 2018, Fortenberry’s chief of staff was referred to the House Ethics Committee after allegedly threatening a Nebraska professor who had “liked” a Facebook photo of a campaign sign where the congressman’s name had been changed to “Fartenberry.”

“Hopefully this all ends happily,” Fortenberry said in the video.

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