Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) denies charges that he lied about accepting funds from a foreign billionaire in 2016.

Jurors have begun considering allegations that the Republican congressmen lied to federal investigators about the campaign contributions he received during a fundraiser in California.


Prosecutors say Fortenberry became aware that Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury illegally contributed $30,000 to his reelection campaign through straw donors. Yet, they allege, during interviews with federal agents the candidate denied any knowledge of Chagoury’s involvement.

“This is a case about choices, a series of choices that the defendant made that led him down an illegal path of lies and deception,” Assistant United States Attorney J. Jamari Buxton told jurors during opening statements.

Fortenberry’s legal team insists the case is being pushed by overambitious investigators who embarked on a broad probe that failed to turn up anything with substance. The key piece of evidence is a secretly recorded phone call in which the host of the fundraising event suggests to Fortenberry that some of the contributions at the event could have been funded by Chagoury.

Glen Summers, one of Fortenberry’s lawyers, told jurors the call was unmemorable and Fortenberry didn’t recall the exchange in detail when he was interviewed later by federal authorities.

“In reality, what they created was a failed memory test,” Mr. Summers said, adding, “When you really look at it, it’s clear as mud.”

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