Nebraska congressman pleads not guilty to federal charges

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) was arraigned in federal court Wednesday
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) appeared in federal court Wednesday afternoon for his arraignment hearing in California.

Fortenberry is charged with concealing campaign financing information and making false statements to federal authorities.

The congressman continues to maintain his innocence, and pleaded not guilty in court. He appeared on Zoom for the hearing.

The judge granted the state’s request that Fortenberry pay $50,000 in bond and that he not contact any of the witnesses or victims involved in his case.

According to the indictment, Fortenberry has been under investigation for several years by the FBI, IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The investigation stems from 2016 fundraiser in California, where a foreign national allegedly donated more than $30,000 to Fortenberry’s campaign, using other individuals as conduits. That’s illegal, under federal election law.

According to the court documents, an informant came forward, saying they told Fortenberry about the illegal activity, years later. Investigators say, despite this knowledge, the congressman did not amend his filings with the Federal Election Commission, and he denied, on multiple occasions, knowing anything about it to the FBI.

“They’ve accused me of lying to them,” said Fortenberry in a YouTube video his press team released Tuesday.

Fortenberry says he saw these charges coming and released the video ahead of the indictment. He denied wrongdoing and called the investigation politically motivated.

“I think that was probably a strategy devised by his lawyer and a good one,” said Mark Graber, a law professor at the University of Maryland.

Graber says sitting members of Congress have been indicted before, but it’s not common. He noted these charges, or even a conviction, would not automatically disqualify Fortenberry from Congress.

“He would have to be expelled,” he said. “Chances are they do, or chances are he resigns.”

The judge set a trial date for Dec. 14. Fortenberry’s lawyer says he intends to file a motion to dismiss the case.

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