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Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture panel raised money for a legal defense fund with claims he’s facing federal prosecution that a spokesperson later disavowed.

Driving the news: On a fundraising page for a new legal expense fund — which was later taken off-line — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) wrote: "[President] Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge."

  • Neither Fortenberry nor the FBI responded immediately to requests for comments, but a Fortenberry spokesperson later said the congressman "never saw or approved that language."
  • The investigation in question, the spokesperson said, had to do with illegal campaign contributions by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire to a number of congressional Republicans.
  • “It’s been previously reported that the FBI investigated an effort by a foreign national to illegally funnel money to U.S. political campaigns, including Rep. Fortenberry’s," he wrote.
  • "The people involved in that scheme were prosecuted and no charges were filed against him. This legal expense trust was established in part to address costs associated with that investigation.”

Between the lines: Fortenberry's present-tense appeal was made after his campaign committee paid a new law firm over the summer, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Until Axios posted a story Monday morning, Fortenberry's legal expense fund was soliciting contributions of up to $5,000 per donor per year. Under House rules, the fund may accept donations from individuals, corporations and political action committees but not registered lobbyists.

  • Records on file with the House clerk showed Fortenberry established the legal expense fund on August 27.
  • "Unlike Swamp Creature Nancy Pelosi, I’m a principled conservative who has NEVER abused my seat in Congress to get wealthy," its fundraising page said. "And right now I'm facing the Deep State's bottomless pockets."

Records show he also has enlisted a digital consultant who helped launch a legal expense fund for former Trump administration official Kash Patel.

  • Web domain registration records show the firm Believe Media registered websites for both Patel's "Legal Offense Trust" and the Jeff Fortenberry Legal Expense Trust.

Fortenberry, 60, is a former local economist and Lincoln City Council member who's represented Nebraska's 1st District since 2005.

  • He's currently the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Editors note: This post and its headline have been updated to show that Fortenberry's fundraising page was quickly taken down, and to add comments from a Fortenberry spokesperson.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

2 hours ago - World

Brazil senators vote to recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro

Brazilian senators vote on probe into President Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic. Photo: Gustavo Minas/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate committee Tuesday voted to approve a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with a raft of criminal indictments, including crimes against humanity over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, per AP.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro has become the face of a right-wing approach to the pandemic that includes repudiating vaccines and masks and resisting lockdowns and other mitigation measures. The Senate report holds him personally responsible for half of the country's 600,000 deaths.

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, outside a courthouse in Boston in 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.