By Clare Foran and Christina Carrega, CNN
Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska has been indicted, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a press release that a federal grand jury charged Fortenberry “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 indictment charges the congressman with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.
The congressman has said that he did not lie to federal agents and has vowed to fight back.
Fortenberry said in a video uploaded to YouTube ahead of the indictment being announced that “about five and a half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign,” but said that he “didn’t know anything about this.” Fortenberry appears in the video with his wife Celeste.
The congressman goes on to say that FBI agents from California showed up knocking on his door “about two and a half years ago.”
“I let them in my house. I answered their questions. Later we went back and answered further questions. I told them what I knew and what I understood. They have accused me of lying to them and are charging me with this,” he said.
“We will fight these charges. I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew,” he says in the video.
A statement from Celeste and Jeff Fortenberry accompanying the video goes into further detail about the situation. It states that a fundraiser was held for the congressman in 2016 that raised roughly $37,000. It claims he was unaware that a foreign national gave attendees thousands of dollars to give to him.
“In 2016, a Lebanese community in Los Angeles held a weekend of celebrations which included a fundraiser for Jeff,” the statement reads. “What he didn’t know was that a foreign national had given attendees $30,000 to give to Jeff. In other words, many of the donations were illegal. Again, Jeff had no idea.”
The indictment states that an unnamed person, referred to as “Individual H” in the document, acted as a co-host of a 2016 fundraiser for the congressman.
According to the indictment, Fortenberry contacted that individual in the spring of 2018 to discuss hosting another event. The court document states that during a June 2018 call, the fundraiser co-host told Fortenberry that the $30,000 in donations “probably did come from” a foreign national.
Campaigns are prohibited from taking contributions from foreign nationals, according to the Federal Election Commission.
But the indictment states, “despite being told by Individual H about the illegal donations, defendant Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the FEC regarding the 2016 fundraiser” and “did not return or otherwise try to disgorge the contributions.” The indictment goes on to say “it was not until after the FBI and USAO interviewed him in July 2019 that defendant Fortenberry disgorged the contributions.”
The statement released by the congressman and his wife says that Jeff called Trey Gowdy, a former GOP congressman from South Carolina, “for advice and legal representation.” CNN has reached out to Gowdy for comment.
The statement goes on to say, “At every step the agents and prosecutors assured and reassured Jeff and Trey that Jeff was not a target. They knew he had no knowledge of the illegal donations, and was in fact a victim of that crime.”
“We’re shocked. We’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. I thought we were trying to help,” Fortenberry says in the video. “To be accused of this is extremely painful and we are suffering greatly.”
CNN has reached out to Fortenberry’s attorney John Littrell for comment.
Chad Kolton, a spokesman for Fortenberry’s campaign, confirmed to CNN that Littrell is representing Fortenberry.
Kolton, the spokesman for Fortenberry’s campaign, referred CNN to the statement released by the congressman and his wife and the video featuring the congressman discussing the situation when asked for comment. “We are not planning to release any additional information today,” Kolton said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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