Prosecutors reportedly have tapes of indicted GOP congressman

Prosecutors reportedly have tapes of indicted GOP congressman

It’s been about a month since Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was charged with lying to the FBI about campaign contributions from a foreign billionaire. In the process, he became the third sitting federal lawmaker to be indicted in the last five years.

Complicating matters for the congressman, prosecutors reportedly have tapes to be used against Fortenberry as part of the legal proceedings. The Daily Beast reported that the recordings “are just a fraction of the government’s evidence against the nine-term congressman.”

The prosecution said in a filing that the recordings in question — a 2018 conversation with a government informant, and a 2019 interview with an agent in Fortenberry’s Nebraska home — are only two among more than 50 audio and video recordings they have turned over to the defense team. And those dozens of recordings are supplemented by more than 11,600 pages of “written communications, reports, transcripts, articles, and other records,” the federal attorneys said.

For those who may need a refresher, the case stems from an FBI investigation into illegal campaign contributions from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent. His donations were reportedly funneled through a group of Californians from 2012 through 2016, and went to several politicians, including Fortenberry.

Members of Congress cannot, of course, accept foreign funds for their campaigns, but in this case, that’s not the principal problem: The Nebraskan and his team have said they didn’t realize the $30,200 in contributions he received at a Los Angeles fundraiser in 2016 came from a Nigerian billionaire. The congressman later donated the money to local charities.

Rather, according to federal prosecutors, Fortenberry “repeatedly lied to and misled authorities” as part of the investigation into Chagoury’s scheme.

The Justice Department’s statement on the charges also pointed to an alleged 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 best as I can tell, there’s been no discussion about Fortenberry resigning — on the contrary, the lawmaker has vowed to fight the charges — but under House rules, the criminal allegations have forced the congressman to step down as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee’s agriculture panel.

GOP leaders could take additional steps, but they’ve given no indications that they plan to do so.

For his part, Donald Trump recently issued a statement of support for the Nebraskan, saying, “Isn’t it terrible that a Republican Congressman from Nebraska just got indicted for possibly telling some lies to investigators about campaign contributions, when half of the United States Congress lied about made up scams.”

That’s probably not the message Fortenberry and his defense attorneys will be pushing as the legal process unfolds.

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