Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is going full MAGA, asking for thoughts, prayers, and hope after a California prosecutor was expected to indict him on charges of lying to the FBI.
According to an email sent to supporters from Fortenberry’s wife, Celeste, “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.”
Tuesday evening, the Department of Justice announced that Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was indicted.
In a press release sent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California stating 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."
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 addressed the indictment in a video filmed in his vintage pickup truck, with his wife and dog, as the Nebraska cornfields drape the background.
The congressman explained that federal prosecutors in California "accused me of lying, and are charging me with this." He adds, “This is wrong on so many levels.”
The story begins with a Los Angeles, California, fundraiser in 2016, where Fortenberry was to accept an award from a Lebanese community for his work in protecting religious minorities in the Middle East. While there, he raised $37,000, with about $30,000 coming from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent. It is illegal to accept campaign money from a foreign national.
According to reporting by the Omaha World-Herald, the contributions were funneled through a group of Californians and went to four U.S. politicians.
Chagoury—a resident of Paris—along with two associates, agreed in 2019 to cooperate with the investigation and pay the required $1.8 million in fines, the Omaha World-Herald reports.
Fortenberry isn’t in any trouble over the money; his campaign didn’t know the source. He’s in trouble because of what he may or may not have said to FBI investigators when they knocked on his door in 2019.
Here’s where it gets fun: Toufic Baaklini, one of Chagoury’s buddies, told investigators that after the fundraiser where Fortenberry received his money, the congressman asked Baaklini if he felt there was “anything was wrong with the fundraiser.” Baaklini told him there wasn’t and then asked him why he wanted to know. Fortenberry reportedly responded “because it all came from the same family,” according to documents released by prosecutors in California.
According to campaign reports, Fortenberry received contributions from eight people, five of whom had the last name Ayoub.
In August, a fundraiser popped up seeming to ask for money for Fortenberry’s legal defense. The site, which has since been removed, read:
“Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge! Unlike Swamp Creature Nancy Pelosi, I’m a principled conservative who has NEVER abused my seat in Congress to get wealthy. And right now I'm facing the Deep State's bottomless pockets.” So, please chip in a generous gift today to help me win this major fight!
Here’s where things get even more bizarre: Fortenberry’s camp denies any connection to the website.
“It’s been previously reported that the FBI investigated an effort by a foreign national to illegally funnel money to U.S. political campaigns, including Rep. Fortenberry’s. The people involved in that scheme were prosecuted and no charges were filed against him. This legal expense trust was established in part to address costs associated with that investigation. Rep. Fortenberry never saw or approved the language on that website,” a spokesman for Fortenberry told KLKN ABC-8 in early October.
But, today, Fortenberry didn’t address the “deep state,” or President Joe Biden—today, he blathered on the video about how “shocked” and “stunned” he was, adding, “I told them what I knew and what I understood,” he said. “They’ve accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this.”
Celeste Fortenberry wasn’t nearly as conciliatory as hubby in the truck video. She alleged in her email that there was “radio silence” from prosecutors “until the Trump Justice Department became the Biden Justice Department.” She also claimed the prosecutor was “in the running for a big promotion,” adding, “And don’t forget the midterm elections right around the corner for control of the House.”