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● NE-01: Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said Saturday that he would resign from Congress on March 31, an announcement that came two days after he was convicted of concealing illegal campaign funds he received from a foreign national—Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury—and for lying to federal investigators about those funds. The nine-term congressman, who plans to appeal, is scheduled to be sentenced in June, and each of the three charges he was found guilty of carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Fortenberry had been seeking re-election to Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, a constituency in the Lincoln area that Donald Trump would have carried 54-43, and because candidate filing closed weeks ago, it's too late for anyone else to run. State Sen. Mike Flood, a former speaker of the state's unicameral legislature who is backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman, should now have no trouble winning the May GOP primary against Fortenberry, whose name will remain on the ballot. Democrats, meanwhile, are fielding state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks.
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen also says that a special election must take place before the end of June for the final months of Fortenberry’s current term. That contest would take place using the congressional map that has been in place since 2012, and Trump won the existing 1st District 56-41. State party leaders, rather than primary voters, will choose the nominees for the special election.
Fortenberry had always decisively won re-election, and he appeared to be on track for another easy victory until he was indicted in October. Prosecutors argued that Chagoury had used straw donors to illegally funnel $180,000 to four different Republican candidates, including $30,000 to Fortenberry's 2016 campaign; Chagoury, who became close to Fortenberry because of their mutual support for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, agreed to pay a $1.8 million fine in 2021 but avoided jail time.
Federal investigators say that the other three candidates quickly disposed of Chagoury's contributions after they were informed that they'd come from an illegal source, but the Nebraskan instead kept the money for two-and-a-half years and "repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates," according to prosecutors.
In arguments to the jury, prosecutors said that Chagoury placed $30,000 in cash in a bag and gave it to an ally named Toufic Baaklini, who passed it to Los Angeles doctor Eli Ayoub. Ayoub, they argued, then distributed that cash to his relatives and had them write checks to Fortenberry's campaign in order to conceal the money's true origin. Prosecutors also played a recording of a 2018 call secretly taped by the FBI in which Ayoub was heard telling the congressman that he'd received the money from Baaklini and believed that it "probably came from Chagoury." Despite being told of the funds' questionable origin, prosecutors pointed out, Fortenberry didn't disclose this information to the authorities afterward.
Instead, investigators charged that Fortenberry "lied to and misled authorities" twice during their probe that unfolded the following year. They said Fortenberry had falsely told them that he'd ended that call with Ayoub after he'd made a "concerning comment," when in fact he'd continued the conversation by asking Ayoub to hold another fundraiser on his behalf.
Fortenberry initially responded to his conviction by saying he would consider whether to continue his re-election campaign. However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pressured him to depart the following day, arguing, "I think when someone's convicted, it's time to resign.” Had Fortenberry not listened, it would take a two-thirds majority of the House to vote to expel him from office: The last time this happened was 2002, when Democratic Rep. James Traficant of Ohio was ejected by his colleagues three months after he was found guilty on corruption charges. (Traficant tried to regain his seat that year from prison by running as an independent but ended up taking third with 15%.)
Until his indictment, Fortenberry was best known nationally for a 2018 incident in which his chief of staff tried to threaten the job of a local professor who in 2018 "liked" a Facebook post featuring a photo of a campaign sign that had been doctored to give the candidate googly eyes and rename him "Fartenberry."
● MD Redistricting: A state court judge struck down Maryland's new congressional map on Friday, ruling that the Democratic-drawn plan was an impermissible partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution. Judge Lynne Battaglia ordered lawmakers "to develop a new Congressional Plan that is constitutional" and gave them a Wednesday deadline to do so.
Democrats in the legislature passed a map over Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's veto in December, but while it was indeed a gerrymander, it was a half-hearted one. The only notable changes affected the state's lone Republican-held seat, the 1st District on the Eastern Shore, which previously voted 59-39 for Donald Trump. Under the new lines, it would have given Joe Biden a narrow 49-48 win; Democrats could have easily made the 1st solidly blue, but didn't—likely because the parochial interests of incumbent Democratic congressmen in neighboring districts held them back.
It's not clear what a remedial map might look like, but it's likely that Democrats will appeal. However, Democratic state Attorney General Brian Frosh, whose office defended the map in court, said a decision had not yet been made.
● AR-Sen: Sen. John Boozman's latest spot for the May Republican primary stars home state colleague Tom Cotton, who praises the incumbent as "our conservative fighter."
● FL-20: Former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief announced Friday that she would challenge state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book in the Democratic primary rather than seek a rematch against Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick.
● GA-14: A group of voters in northwest Georgia's 14th Congressional District have filed a challenge to Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's candidacy with the secretary of state's office, arguing that she's ineligible to hold office under the 14th Amendment because she "voluntarily aided and engaged in an insurrection to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power" on Jan. 6. The complaint is similar to one targeting North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn and says that Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger must call a hearing to determine Greene's eligibility.
● PA-12: Attorney Steve Irwin has earned the backing of the Laborers' District Council of Western PA for the May Democratic primary.
● Site News: This May, Daily Kos will—if you can believe it—celebrate its 20th anniversary! As part of our celebration, we're reviving an old site tradition and awarding "Koscars" to honor the very best content to appear here, in multiple categories. Right now, nominations are open for a category that will be of special interest to Daily Kos Elections readers: Outstanding Story by a Downballot Candidate. Over the years, many candidates for office at all levels have dropped by Daily Kos to share their thoughts and interact with the community. If there's a favorite post that's always stuck with you, please nominate it in the comments here!