After being indicted by a federal grand jury in Oct. 2021 for allegedly lying to the FBI, Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry now claims he didn’t lie—but he was confused during interrogations. According to new court documents filed Friday, attorneys representing the GOP official argue that Fortenberry was confused due to his age. His attorneys also plan to call on an expert who can speak to his failing memory and age.
According to the Omaha World-Herald, Fortenberry’s lawyers said they wanted his entire conversation with the FBI played for the jury to prove that the agents' questions were repetitive and Fortenberry was confused rather than lying. He “did not have a clear recollection of the events,” the defense team claimed. The point on Fortenberry’s aging is interesting since he is only 60-years-old.
Prosecutors have called the defense’s suggestions “nonsense,” the Associated Press reported. Fortenberry’s attorneys are also questioning the political position of lead prosecutor, Mack Jenkins. In response to their motion, prosecutors have noted that a memory expert would offer nothing more than common-sense observations that people already know about memory recall. Additionally, they noted that Fortenberry is an “obscure” politician whose campaign donor in question donated to both Democrats and Republicans alike, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
“While defendant tries hard to proclaim this case is infected by politics, it is he who keeps injecting it,” prosecutors said. “The defendant and his counsel continuously seek to charge his case with politics, make defendant’s political affiliation the focus, and otherwise attack the motives of the prosecution team—none of which are relevant to any legal or factual defense.”
The FBI questioned Fortenberry in connection to an investigation into potential campaign finance violations. A press release last year from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said that a federal grand jury was charging the congressman with “concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions made by a foreign national to the congressman's 2016 re-election campaign."
In October, Fortenberry denied all allegations of lying, he even went as far as to ask his supporters for thoughts and prayers as he faced the “bogus charge.” According to Daily Kos, his wife, Celeste, sent an email to supporters, which read, in part:
“Let me say it again: This accusation is entirely false. Jeff did not lie to the FBI. This has all the marks of being a political attack, a bogus charge manufactured to take him out.”
The charges include one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of knowingly and willingly making false statements and representations to federal investigators.
Fortenberry is among several lawmakers who investigators said received illegal campaign contributions from Lebanese Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. Accepting these contributions violated federal laws banning foreign nationals from donating to political candidates.
According to the Omaha World-Herald, Chagoury allegedly donated to Fortenberry because of a shared interest in protecting Christians from persecution in the Middle East.
During his interview in regards to the contributions, prosecutors believe Fortenberry lied. They claim that Fortenberry had been informed that the money “probably” came from Chagoury during a 2018 phone call from the organizer of the California fundraiser, even though he says he cannot recall the call and knew nothing about the contribution.
"A number of years ago, some very bad people illegally transferred money into my campaign, along with several other members of Congress," Fortenberry said in October in response to the accusations. "They were caught, they were punished and they've been held accountable, thankfully."
According to an FBI affidavit, the donations went to Fortenberry's campaign in March 2016.
"I answered their questions. Later, we went back and answered further questions," Fortenberry said in a YouTube video. "I told them what I knew and what I understood. 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."
Fortenberry has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. of Los Angeles. While a date has not been set, Fortenberry’s trial is scheduled to begin early this year, most likely in March.