Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican Congressman from Nebraska who has served since 2005, was accused of lying to and purposefully misleading federal investigators in two 2019 interviews.
At the time, Fortenberry was questioned about a sum of $30,000 he received as contribution to his campaign from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire, in 2016. By federal law, foreign nationals are barred from donating to federal election campaigns.
In his defense, Fortenberry’s lawyers argued that he did not intentionally mislead FBI agents, and instead that he was simply unprepared and knocked off kilter by their request for an interview.
His lawyers also set forth the argument that Fortenberry, as an older man, was suffering from a faulty, fallible memory, as comes naturally with age.
In return, prosecutors alleged that a colleague who hosted a fundraiser for Fortenberry and his campaign in 2016 told him in 2018 via telephone that the donations “probably did come from Gilbert Chagoury,” but were supposedly routed through intermediaries to loophole their way through the individual donor limits.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, when Fortenberry was asked by FBI personnel about the donations to his campaign, he told them he was completely unaware of any illegal contributions.
However, on Thursday, a U.S. jury convicted Jeff Fortenberry of lying to FBI investigators about said illegal donations.
After a trial held in Los Angeles federal court, the members of the jury came to the conclusion that Fortenberry was guilty of scheming to falsify and cover up material facts. The jury also found Fortenberry guilty of two other counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
While speaking to the media outside the courthouse following the announcement of the verdict, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins said: “If we want to expect anyone to follow the law, ultimately it starts with the law-makers.”
“I think that’s even more paramount when the investigation itself goes into election integrity,” he added.
Fortenberry has been found guilty of three felony charges, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ incarceration. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 28 before U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld in Los Angeles.
The day following Fortenberry being found guilty, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy called for the Congressman’s resignation.
“I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign,” McCarthy said on Friday morning at an event.
He also mentioned that he has plans to meet and speak with not only Fortenberry himself, but with other lawmakers from Nebraska, on Friday before going on to say that if Fortenberry is seeking to appeal his conviction, he should do so as a private citizen.
McCarthy was not the only figure to come out and call for Fortenberry’s resignation, however.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also shared that sentiment, saying in a Friday statement that Fortenberry’s conviction “represents a breach of public trust and confidence in his ability to serve.”