A Republican lawmaker is facing charges of lying to the FBI, but he claims he was set up by investigators.
According to reports, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is accused of misleading agents in his statements about campaign donations from a Nigerian billionaire in 2016.
Details of the indictment
Specifically, he is facing one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
Fortenberry has represented Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District since 2005 and reportedly received a $30,000 campaign contribution from Gilbert Chagoury in 2016.
The Department of Justice has accused the lawmaker of misleading investigators about his knowledge of those donations. It is illegal for foreign nationals to donate to a federal election campaign.
As for the donation itself, the money was apparently diverted through a California fundraiser operated by someone identified only as “Individual H” in the FBI indictment. That individual is said to have begun cooperating with investigators in 2016.
Two years later, Fortenberry reportedly reached out to another fundraiser with Individual H, who told him over the phone that the $30,000 contribution “probably did” come from the Nigerian national and was disbursed to individual donors to obscure its source and evade donation limits.
“We will fight these charges”
For his part, Chagoury reached a deferred prosecution agreement in 2019 and agreed to pay $1.5 million in fines after admitting to providing a total of $180,000 in donations to four different political candidates.
Despite being told about the problematic donation, Fortenberry allegedly attempted to obfuscate the facts in his conversations with FBI agents. Authorities say he denied any knowledge of the foreign contribution and told agents he would have been “horrified” if he had heard about it.
The indictment asserts that he hung up the phone after a “concerning comment” from Individual H, though he “continued to ask” that individual to host another campaign fundraiser on his behalf.
In a video released on Tuesday, the congressman railed against the FBI and dismissed the charges as politically motivated, declaring: “We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them. This is wrong on so many levels.”
Fortenberry was scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday and faces up to five years behind bars on each felony count if convicted.