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Lawyers: Indicted GOP lawmaker was confused, did not lie to FBI agents

Lawyers for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), who was indicted for allegedly hiding information and making false statements to authorities regarding illegal campaign contributions, are arguing that their client was confused and did not lie to FBI agents when questioned at his home in 2019.

Fortenberry’s defense team is asking that the lawmaker’s statement to the FBI be played in full for jurors, according to the Omaha World-Herald. They reportedly want to illustrate the repetitive questions Fortenberry was asked to answer, and show that he was confused and did not lie to authorities.

“This includes Fortenberry’s statements about the startling timing and manner in which [FBI] Special Agent [Todd] Carter approached him at his home on a Saturday night,” the defense said on Friday, according to the World-Herald, adding that the agent asked the congressman “confusing and repetitive questions.” 

The defense team said Fortenberry said on a number of occasions that he “did not have a clear recollection of the events.”

“You’re forcing my memory,” Fortenberry said at one point in the conversation, according to the newspaper.

The congressman’s attorneys also want an expert to testify on the imperfection of memory, especially in older adults, according to the World-Herald. 

The prosecution, however, is staunchly opposed to all requests from the defense. They are arguing that a memory expert from the defense would not add anything that jurors don’t already know, according to the World-Herald.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. of Los Angeles is set to preside over a hearing on Tuesday. Fortenberry’s trial is scheduled to begin this year, though a date has not yet been set. Attorneys think proceedings could start in mid-March.

Fortenberry was indicted in October on accusations that he concealed information and made false statements to authorities during an investigation into contributions made to his 2016 campaign. He was charged with one count of scheming to conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.

The FBI was investigating $180,000 Fortenberry received in campaign contributions from Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. The funds were reportedly transferred through a group of Californians between 2012 and 2016 to four American politicians.

Authorities say Fortenberry “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme, and device material facts” about the campaign contributions and told federal investigators in a number of interviews in 2019 that he did not know about any fundraising from a foreign national.

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