UPDATE: The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced on Tuesday that Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) is indeed being charged with with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators, in connection to his campaign receiving illegal foreign campaign contributions in 2016.
The indictment alleges Fortenberry “repeatedly lied to and misled” authorities about receiving $30,000 in illegal foreign campaign cash from Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, and that Fortenberry “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts” about the illicit activity.
Original story below.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has some big news and he wants you to hear it from him first.
He’s with his wife, Celeste, and their dog, Pippen, in the cab of his 1963 Ford F-100 pickup. They’re parked in front of a cornfield. They’re smiling. Maybe he’s running for higher office?
“About five and a half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money into my campaign.”
OK, this doesn’t sound so good.
“About two and a half years ago, I had a knock on my door on a weekend. I had been dealing with the effects of the bomb cyclone that had hit us, which was so devastatingly harsh on our communities. They were FBI agents from California.”
OK, this really doesn’t sound good.
“They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this.”
Fortenberry’s indictment was a long time coming. The nine-term representative was one of several congressional Republicans who in 2016 received illegal campaign contributions as part of a scheme for a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire to funnel money to, according to Justice Department documents, “U.S. politicians from less-populous states because the contribution would be more noticeable to the politician and thereby would promote increased donor access to the politician.”
Gilbert Chagoury, the Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire in question, reached a settlement with the Justice Department earlier this year to pay a fine for his role in the scheme, which was carried out with the assistance of associates in the United States.
One of those associates, who also reached a settlement with the DOJ, was a Washington, D.C., businessman named Toufic Baaklini. In January 2016, Baaklini gave $30,000 of Chagoury’s money to an individual who arranged a Los Angeles fundraiser to funnel that money to Fortenberry’s campaign through several individuals, or “conduits.”
In 2018, Fortenberry called the individual who arranged the fundraiser to ask him about arranging another one. The individual allegedly then told Fortenberry that the $30,000 from 2016 “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury.” Fortenberry neglected to file an amended report with the Federal Election Commission. When investigators started asking him about the money on multiple occasions in 2019, he lied. As the indictment puts it, he “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts” about the source of the $30,000.
Fortenberry said in the cornfield video released Tuesday, however, that he “didn’t know anything about” the illegal contributions and that he feels “personally betrayed” by the FBI. “I thought we were trying to help,” he said. “Now, we will have to fight.”
Fortenberry already has been fighting, with the help of his constituents. Axios reported earlier this month that Fortenberry was fundraising off of “Biden’s FBI” trying to prosecute him on a “bogus charge.”
“Right now I’m facing the Deep State’s bottomless pockets,” the fundraising page, which has since been taken down, read. “So, please chip in a generous gift today to help me win this major fight!”
Axios noted that Fortenberry’s campaign in June paid $25,000 to Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, a law firm specializing in white-collar criminal defense, and that the campaign also brought on Kash Patel, an attorney and former Trump aide who helped set up a “Legal Offense Trust” for the former president.
“To be accused of this is extremely painful and we are suffering greatly,” Fortenberry said in the video. “We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew. … Hopefully this all ends happily, for the sake of justice, for the sake of my integrity, and for the sake of the American system. This is wrong on so many levels.”
Fortenberry campaign spokesperson Chad Kolton declined Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.