Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) was indicted in October on three felony charges relating to illegal campaign contributions and lying to federal investigators. As he faced charges, Fortenberry denied ever knowing the contributions were illegal, despite records indicating he did receive a warning about them. His lawyers reportedly are now claiming the 60-year-old incumbent simply couldn't remember what had happened in 2018 — as he runs for reelection on a platform of "personal responsibility."
The Omaha World-Herald reported on Friday that attorneys defending the nine-term representative are seeking to call a memory expert to suggest that Fortenberry is at an age where his memory might be failing and that he simply could not recall the events of 2018 when interviewed by federal prosecutors the following year.
They argued that Fortenberry was forced to answer “confusing and repetitive questions" and said at the time that he "did not have a clear recollection of the events." The attorneys said their expert witness would testify that "memory fidelity and accuracy tend to decline" as people age and that absent such testimony, jurors might assume "Fortenberry must have lied to the government."
According to the Department of Justice, in 2016 a foreign national illegally arranged for $30,000 of his own money to be donated to Fortenberry's reelection campaign through conduits at a fundraising event.
Two years later, the indictment alleges, Fortenberry was told by the event co-host that the donations were probably illegal — but did not amend his campaign finance filings and "knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts" about the donations.
In 2019, he repeatedly told federal investigators that he had never been informed that the donations were improper.
A spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story, but Fortenberry has previously denied all wrongdoing.
Shortly after the indictment, Fortenberry began raising funds for his legal defense by falsely claiming the crimes he was accused of were "fake" and that he was only being prosecuted because of his political views.
"Politically motivated FBI agents can and do lie in order to manufacture fake crimes against patriots," wrote Fortenberry's wife Celeste in a solicitation email on his behalf. "I'm writing you today because this has become my family's story."
Though the federal investigation began in 2018 under Republican former President Donald Trump, Celeste Fortenberry claimed prosecutors were only after her spouse to "stop his work and flip his seat." Nebraska's First Congressional District is solidly red and votes more than 10 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, making it an unlikely focus of purported illegal interference.
It is a common legal tactic to claim that the defendant does not recall details or events. Indeed, Trump famously claimed dozens of times during special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation that he did not "remember" or "recall" what had happened. He also claimed lapses in memory 59 times during a 2015 deposition about his now-defunct Trump University.
Despite his alleged fallible memory and ongoing legal issues, Fortenberry announced in January that he would seek reelection in November.
In his kickoff video message, he bragged that "in spite of the difficulties of this year, we've been able to achieve some major accomplishments," including passage of a noncontroversial ALS therapy bill he co-sponsored with 330 colleagues.
Fortenberry's campaign site welcome page notes his belief that "Nebraska, with our unique cultural heritage of personal responsibility, hard work, and commitment to family and community, has much to give our country by way of example."
Reprinted with permission from American Independent