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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.

2 mins ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."