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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.

Go deeper

The defy-default

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Political figures are exploiting the slowness of the U.S. justice system, Donald Trump's attacks on its integrity and divisions in society to defy the law.

Why it matters: As polarization intensifies, it's placing tribalism above a shared national code of conduct. Increasingly, accountability rests not on the ballot box but with the nine-member, lifetime-appointed and currently conservative-majority Supreme Court.

60 mins ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

6 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.