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Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is raising money for his legal defense fund by falsely claiming that he has been charged with "fake crimes" and that federal agents are targeting him because of his politics.

Fortenberry is facing a federal indictment on accepting a large campaign donation from a foreign national in violation of federal law, and for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Politically motivated FBI agents can and do lie in order to manufacture fake crimes against patriots," Fortenberry's wife, Celeste, wrote a fundraising email for her husband. "I'm writing you today because this has become my family's story."

The investigation stems from a $30,000 donation to Fortenberry's 2016 re-election campaign from a billionaire who is not American. Under U.S. federal law, candidates for political office are prohibited from accepting campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

On October 19, a federal grand jury charged Fortenberry with "concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions made by a foreign national to the congressman's 2016 re-election campaign."

Fortenberry has resigned from his House committee roles as a result of the indictment.

On the day Fortenberry was indicted, he and his wife released a letter saying that the investigation had been going on since 2018 when former President Donald Trump was in office.

Now, however, Fortenberry's wife says the investigation is an effort to "stop his work and flip his seat."

Fortenberry represents a safe Republican seat in Nebraska, despite his wife's claims that the charges are an attempt to "flip his seat." In 2020, Trump carried Fortenberry's district by a 15-point margin, according to Daily Kos Elections.

"They can't call him crazy, so they're accusing him of a fake crime," Celeste Fortenberry wrote in the fundraising appeal.

The charges Fortenberry is facing are very real.

Federal law (18 U.S. Code § 1001) holds that it is a crime to lie to, conceal information from, or otherwise mislead federal investigators. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Department of Justice claims to have evidence that Fortenberry not only knew about the illegal contributions but orchestrated a "scheme" to conceal his guilt from investigators.

From the agency's October 19 press release:

The indictment alleges a scheme in which Fortenberry, after learning this information, "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" about the illegal campaign contributions.
As part of the scheme, Fortenberry allegedly made false and misleading statements during a March 23, 2019 interview with investigators who specifically told him it was a crime to lie to the federal government. The indictment alleges that Fortenberry falsely told investigators that he was not aware of Baaklini ever being involved in illegal campaign contributions, that the individuals who made contributions at the 2016 fundraiser were all publicly disclosed, and that he was not aware of any contributions to his campaign from a foreign national.

Fortenberry is not the first member of Congress to face such charges.

In January 2020, a federal judge in New York sentenced former Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) to 26 months in prison and fined him $200,000 for insider trading and lying to federal investigators.

Collins had served just over two months of his two-year sentence at a federal minimum-security prison when Trump pardoned him, allowing him to walk free.

If convicted, Fortenberry is unlikely to enjoy a similar pardon from President Joe Biden.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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