Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska Indicted in Campaign Finance Case

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Politics|Nebraska Congressman Indicted successful Campaign Finance Case

Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, was accused of lying to F.B.I. agents investigating amerciable overseas donations. He said helium would combat the charges.

Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, successful  2019. He released a video connection    earlier  the indictment connected  Tuesday saying helium  had done thing  wrong.
Credit...Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Katie Benner

Oct. 19, 2021, 6:36 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department connected Tuesday charged a Republican subordinate of Congress from Nebraska with lying to the F.B.I. during a run concern investigation, an allegation that the lawmaker vowed to fight.

The Justice Department accused the lawmaker, Representative Jeff Fortenberry, of lying to the F.B.I. doubly astir whether helium knew that helium had received amerciable run donations, including during an interrogation with the authorities that his lawyer attended, according to the national indictment.

Anticipating that the section intended to complaint him, Mr. Fortenberry said successful a video posted online connected Tuesday greeting that F.B.I. agents unexpectedly came to his location 2 years agone to question him astir the anticipation that helium had received amerciable run donations.

“I told them what I knew and what I understood,” Mr. Fortenberry said. “They’ve accused maine of lying to them and are charging maine with this.” He called the anticipation of transgression charges shocking and stunning.

The indictment stems from a abstracted national probe into Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese Nigerian billionaire who was accused of conspiring to marque amerciable run contributions to American politicians successful speech for entree to them.

Foreign citizens are prohibited by national instrumentality from contributing to U.S. predetermination campaigns. Mr. Chagoury admitted this twelvemonth to providing astir $180,000 to 4 candidates from June 2012 to March 2016. He said helium had utilized others, including Toufic Joseph Baaklini, a Washington lobbyist, to disguise his donations.

Mr. Fortenberry, who has served successful Congress for 15 years, was 1 of those politicians. He is not disputing the information that the donations, yet from Mr. Chagoury, were illegal.

“Five and a fractional years ago, a idiosyncratic from overseas illegally moved wealth to my campaign,” Mr. Fortenberry said successful his video. “I didn’t cognize thing astir this.”


Credit...Alexandra Wyman/WireImage, via Getty Images

Mr. Fortenberry is not being accused of helping Mr. Chagoury successful his scheme. Rather, prosecutors are looking astatine whether the congressman lied erstwhile they asked him successful 2019 whether helium was alert that immoderate contributions were illegally made to his run successful 2016.

The authorities said successful tribunal filings that successful outpouring 2018, 1 of Mr. Fortenberry’s fund-raisers told the congressman that helium had funneled $30,000 from Mr. Baaklini to the 2016 re-election event, but that the wealth “probably did travel from Gilbert Chagoury.”

The fund-raiser, referred to arsenic Individual H successful the indictment, was cooperating with instrumentality enforcement erstwhile helium spoke with Mr. Fortenberry, according to the indictment.

Despite the information that the donations were astir apt illegal, Mr. Fortenberry did not instrumentality due action, specified arsenic filing an amended study with the Federal Election Commission oregon returning the contributions, the indictment said. It was not until aft the Justice Department contacted him successful July 2019 that Mr. Fortenberrry returned the contributions, according to the document.

In his archetypal interrogation with the F.B.I. successful 2019, Mr. Fortenberry said that the radical who had contributed during his fund-raising lawsuit successful 2016 were each publically disclosed, and that helium was unaware of immoderate contributions made by overseas citizens, according to the indictment.

During a consequent interrogation astatine the bureau of Mr. Fortenberry’s lawyer, the Justice Department alleged that Mr. Fortenberry “falsely stated that helium had not been told by Individual H during the 2018 telephone that Baaklini had fixed Individual H $30,000 cash” to funnel into his campaign, and that “he was not alert of immoderate illicit donation made” during the fund-raising event.

Mr. Fortenberry told investigators that helium had ended the 2018 telephone with the government’s cooperating witnesser aft that idiosyncratic had made a “concerning comment,” adjacent though the indictment alleged that the witnesser went connected to “repeatedly and explicitly” picture amerciable contributions and referred to an amerciable publication from a overseas national.

“We volition combat these charges,” Mr. Fortenberry said successful his video. “I told them what I knew.”

He has known astir the imaginable charges for astatine slightest the past fewer weeks; helium utilized the beingness of the probe successful an effort this period to rise wealth for a legal-defense fund. That run was archetypal reported by Axios.

Prosecutors said successful tribunal documents that Mr. Chagoury was advised to donate to “politicians from less-populous states due to the fact that the publication would beryllium much noticeable to the person and thereby would beforehand accrued donor access.”

Mr. Chagoury entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department successful 2019. Under that agreement, helium admitted to wrongdoing. The section tin usage those admissions successful different matters. He besides agreed to cooperate with prosecutors successful their investigation. In return, the U.S. authorities agreed to driblet the charges. The substance was yet resolved this year, erstwhile Mr. Chagoury paid a $1.8 cardinal fine.

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