Updated Oct 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congressman criminally charged with lying to feds

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry speaks at a committee hearing.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has been indicted on charges he falsified records and lied to federal investigators probing an illegal foreign donation scheme, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Driving the news: DOJ says a Fortenberry associate, who later cooperated with investigators, informed him he'd likely received illegal donations from an intermediary for a foreign national, but that Fortenberry denied any knowledge of such a scheme when contacted by the FBI.

  • "We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them," Fortenberry said in a video uploaded to YouTube on Monday.
  • A spokesperson referred to the video when Axios called for comment.

The backstory: Fortenberry was one of a number of congressional Republicans who received what authorities said were illegal contributions in 2016 from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.

  • He said in his video that FBI agents approached him in 2019 to ask about the donations, and that he ended up sitting for multiple interviews.
  • DOJ claims it had already enlisted the cooperation of a Fortenberry associate, who informed the congressman the year before that the contributions to his campaign were likely illegally provided by the foreign national.
  • Prosecutors say Fortenberry nonetheless denied any knowledge of such a scheme during his interviews with law enforcement.
  • In his video on Monday, Fortenberry said he "thought we were trying to help" by agreeing to FBI interviews, and that he "feel[s] so personally betrayed."

Catch up quick: Axios reported this month that Fortenberry was soliciting funds for a new legal defense fund with warnings he was under FBI investigation.

  • He's hired attorneys with Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, according to campaign finance disclosure forms. The firm is based in California, where Fortenberry said he is being charged.
  • His campaign sent an email Tuesday morning alerting supporters to the impending indictment.
  • "This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out," it said.

Editors note: This post has been updated with the news that the Justice Department indicted Fortenberry.

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