Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry indicted in campaign finance case

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Tuesday accused a Republican congressman from Nebraska of lying to the FBI during an election cam...


WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Tuesday accused a Republican congressman from Nebraska of lying to the FBI during an election campaign finance investigation, an allegation that lawmakers have vowed to fight.

The Justice Department accused lawmaker Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of lying to the FBI twice about whether he knew he had received illegal campaign donations, including during an interview with the FBI. government attended by his lawyer, according to the federal indictment.

Anticipating that the department intended to indict him, Fortenberry said in a video posted online Tuesday morning that FBI agents had come to his home two years ago to question him about the possibility that he received illegal campaign donations.

“I told them what I knew and what I understood,” Mr. Fortenberry said. “They accused me of lying to them and accuse me of that.” He called the possibility of criminal charges shocking and overwhelming.

The indictment stems from a separate federal investigation into Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian Lebanese billionaire who has been accused of conspiring to make illegal election contributions to US politicians in exchange for access to them.

Federal law prohibits foreign citizens from contributing to US election campaigns. Mr Chagoury admitted this year that he provided about $ 180,000 to four candidates from June 2012 to March 2016. He said he used others, including Toufic Joseph Baaklini, a Washington lobbyist, to hide his donations. .

One such politician was Mr. Fortenberry, who served in Congress for 15 years. He does not dispute the fact that the donations, ultimately from Mr. Chagoury, were illegal.

“Five and a half years ago, someone from overseas illegally transferred money to my campaign,” Mr. Fortenberry said in his video. “I didn’t know anything about it.”

Mr. Fortenberry is not accused of aiding Mr. Chagoury in his scheme. Instead, prosecutors are looking to see if the congressman lied when asked in 2019 if he was aware that certain contributions were illegally made to his campaign in 2016.

The government said in court documents that in the spring of 2018, one of Mr. Fortenberry’s fundraisers told the congressman that he had funneled $ 30,000 from Mr. Baaklini to the re-election event of 2016, but that the money “probably came from Gilbert Chagoury.”

The fundraiser, referred to as Individual H in the indictment, was cooperating with law enforcement when he spoke to Mr. Fortenberry, according to the indictment.

Despite the fact that the donations were most likely illegal, Mr. Fortenberry did not take appropriate action, such as filing an amended report with the Federal Election Commission or returning contributions, according to the deed. charge. It was only after the Justice Department contacted him in July 2019 that Mr Fortenberrry returned the contributions, according to the document.

In his first interview with the FBI in 2019, Mr Fortenberry said that the people who contributed during his fundraising event in 2016 had all been made public and that he was not aware of any contributions made. by foreign citizens, according to the indictment. .

In a subsequent interview at Mr. Fortenberry’s attorney’s office, the Justice Department alleged that Mr. Fortenberry “falsely stated that he was not informed by Individual H during the 2018 appeal that Baaklini had given individual H $ 30,000 in cash “to channel into his campaign, and that” he was “not aware of any illicit donations made” during the fundraiser.

Mr Fortenberry told investigators he ended the 2018 call with the government cooperating witness after that person made a ‘comment regarding’, even though the indictment alleged that the witness had then described “repeatedly and explicitly” illegal contributions and referred to an illegal contribution by a foreign national.

“We will fight against these accusations,” Fortenberry said in his video. “I told them what I knew.

He has been aware of the possible charges for at least a few weeks; he used the existence of the investigation in an effort this month to raise money for a legal defense fund. This campaign was the first reported by Axios.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Mr. Chagoury had been advised to donate to “politicians in less populous states, as the contribution would be more visible to the politician and thus promote increased access. to donors “.

Mr. Chagoury concluded a deferred prosecution agreement with the Ministry of Justice in 2019. Under that agreement, he admitted to committing wrongdoing. The department can use these admissions in other areas. He also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation. In return, the US government agreed to drop the charges. The case was ultimately resolved this year, when Mr. Chagoury paid a fine of $ 1.8 million.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry indicted in campaign finance case
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry indicted in campaign finance case
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