A federal grand jury indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry on Tuesday, alleging that the Nebraska GOP congressman concealed information and made false statements to authorities.
The Justice Department said that Fortenberry repeatedly lied to and misled authorities during an investigation into illegal contributions to his re-election campaign that were made by a Nigerian-born billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury. He is charged with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
Just hours before, Fortenberry made a move rarely seen in Washington, pre-emptively warning his supporters he would be facing charges in the FBI campaign finance probe — and trying to raise money off of it. In a fundraising email sent Tuesday on behalf of the GOP lawmaker, co-signed by both Fortenberry and his wife, they told constituents and donors that an unnamed California prosecutor was expected to move to indict him on charges that he lied to federal agents.
“[T]his accusation is entirely false. Jeff did not lie to the FBI. This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out,” reads the email, reported earlier by the Omaha World-Herald.
Fortenberry, whose three felony charges each carry a maximum of five years in federal prison, has agreed to appear in court for his arraignment on Wednesday.
Fortenberry says he first became involved in the FBI investigation when a foreign national tried to funnel $30,000 to him during a fundraiser in 2016, during which he raised a total of roughly $37,000. And he denied knowing about the origins of the majority of the cash, while claiming the FBI “assured and reassured” him that he was not a target.
“They knew he had no knowledge of the illegal donations, and was in fact a victim of that crime,” the Fortenberrys’ joint email reads.
Fortenberry called former Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a former federal prosecutor, to seek his “advice and legal representation” after the first interview with investigators, according to the email. However, a campaign spokesperson told POLITICO that Gowdy is not currently providing legal counsel to the GOP congressman.
The Nebraska Republican ultimately interviewed with authorities twice in 2019, but the Fortenberrys’ joint email says it wasn’t until this year that the lawmaker heard they were moving on the case.
A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not immediately respond when asked for comment about how the indictment will impact Fortenberry’s role on the House Appropriations Committee, where he serves as a top Republican for its subpanel on food and agriculture. According to a provision in House GOP conference rules, members facing federal charges must “step aside” from their committee leadership roles as the legal process plays out.