GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said he expects the federal government to charge him for lying to the FBI about campaign funds from a Nigerian billionaire but says the accusations aren’t true and that he plans to fight them.
In a video statement first obtained by the Omaha World-Herald, Fortenberry said, “We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them.”
“This is wrong on so many levels,” he added.
The Herald reported that the FBI is investigating $180,000 in illegal “conduit” campaign contributions from Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. The funds were funneled into campaigns for four lawmakers through a group of individuals in California from 2012 and 2016.
According to the newspaper, $30,200 was of this money was contributed to Fortenberry’s campaign in 2016. U.S. political campaigns are forbidden from soliciting or accepting contributions from foreign nationals.
“About 5 1/2 years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign — I didn’t know anything about this — and used some other Americans to do so they were all caught and punished thankfully,” Fortenberry says in a video with his wife Celeste Fortenberry and his dog.
Celeste Fortenberry told the Herald in a statement that the illicit funds had been given to her husband’s campaign when they had gone to California to accept an award from the Lebanese community of Los Angeles.
Fortenberry is not facing legal trouble for receiving the funds, as his campaign has maintained that he was unaware of their origins, but rather is facing potential charges for what he said to the FBI.
According to the Nebraska congressman, the FBI contacted him 2 1/2 years ago and questioned him about the campaign contributions. As the congressman put it, he invited FBI agents into his home and answered their questions.
“They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this. We’re shocked, we’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help and so now we will have to fight,” said Fortenberry. “To be accused of this is extremely painful and we are suffering greatly. We will fight these charges. [I] did not lie to them, I told them what I knew.”
In March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced that Chagoury, who currently lives in Paris, and two of his associates had agreed to settle the campaign violations, paying $1.8 million. The Herald noted that Chagoury is a well-known philanthropist who has ties to former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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