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Representative Jeff Fortenberry said Feds Got Him on Tape, twice

There is ice.

That’s news from a recent filing in federal court in a case against Alleged Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), its defense group admitted that the government made at least two recordings of the incumbent MP during the investigation surrounding illegal campaign contributions from a billionaire Nigerian-Lebanon.

But the tapes prompted Fortenberry’s lawyers to ask the judge what some legal experts say is essentially a pipe dream in the courtroom.

On November 9, Fortenberry’s legal team decided to disqualify Assistant U.S. Attorney from prosecution, arguing that his involvement in the lead investigation made him a witness and has may unfairly influence the jury.

On the other hand, prosecutors believe the recordings will help prove their central allegation that Fortenberry misled investigators about his knowledge of the source of $30,000 to which a foreign national contributed. illegal for his 2016 campaign.

Furthermore, the tapes represent only a small part of the government’s evidence against the nine-term MP.

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Representative Jeff Fortenberry appeared in court after he was indicted on federal charges last month.

Mona Edwards / Reuters

The prosecutor said in a submit that the recordings in question — a 2018 conversation with a government informant and a 2019 interview with an agent at Fortenberry’s Nebraska home — are just two of more than 50 audio and video recordings that they passed on to the defense team. And those dozens of recordings are complemented by more than 11,600 pages of “written communications, reports, transcripts, articles and other records,” the federal attorney said.

The evidence party overwhelmed the defense team so much that the prosecution asked the judge on November 9 to adjourn the trial.

And that’s the day that Fortenberry’s attorneys took their action. They filed a petition asking the court to replace AUSA Mack Jenkins, who led the investigation into congressman and now heads the prosecution against him.

The gist of the defense team’s argument is that Jenkins was harmed because of his participation in various stages of the investigation that qualifies him as a key witness.

Jenkins, they said, was the one who secured the initial subpoenas to document the incumbent congressman – a fact Fortenberry’s attorneys acknowledged was the need for “written approval from the highest levels” of the MPs. DOJ.

They later said, Jenkins, “armed” with those tapes, interviewed Fortenberry with other agents in Washington, DC, and concluded that the congressman’s denials were lies.

The defense argued that this would disqualify Jenkins.

They argued that if he presented this evidence to a grand jury, AUSA could be seen as an anonymous government witness advocate, which would be inappropriate for prosecutors and could threaten the integrity of the government. juror’s degree.

“Here, solely by presenting evidence or argument regarding the statements of Washington, DC, AUSA Jenkins will personally verify the central allegation of Count Three: that Congressman Fortenberry lied personally. individual AUSA Jenkins,” the lawyers wrote. They said this fact would make jurors “nearly indistinguishable between Jenkins’s secular prosecutor’s role and” his own personal beliefs and observations, that Congressman Fortenberry has said. lie to him”.

But then the defense broke down, there was still a lot of news. Their filing notes that the defense warned prosecutors that they would disqualify Jenkins “several months before the indictment.” This shows that Fortenberry, who catch yourself Last month in a homemade YouTube video, predicted these charges for quite some time.

Miriam Baer, ​​a former Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York and now a professor at Brooklyn Law School, dismissed the argument, saying that Jenkins’ two roles were “quite universal” and ruled In favor of Fortenberry would have “profound effects” on federal law enforcement across the board.

“It is true that prosecutors cannot guarantee the integrity of their witnesses. The trial courts take that rule seriously because verification under the prosecution’s guidelines interferes with the jury’s fact-finding role,” Baer told The Daily Beast. “But the argument sounds too broad.”

She explained that if courts find that, merely by overseeing an investigation, AUSA indirectly “confirms” witnesses who are subsequently called to testify at a trial, that decision. would have “deep implications for the United States Attorney’s offices, where it is quite common for prosecutors to begin working on a case from the relatively early stages of an investigation. “

“It seems more likely that a judge will monitor testimony carefully for any signs of verification and guide the jury if necessary,” Baer said.

Her analysis holds true for Jason Mehta, a former AUSA for Central Florida, who said that, while such requests are “not unprecedented,” they are only accepted in those schools. the “most unusual” case.

“The federal criminal justice system envisions an active role for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. And, in the presence of law enforcement officers, federal prosecutors are often involved in questioning witnesses or defendants,” Mehta explained. “Finding a prosecutor’s disapproval for their involvement in a case is not unprecedented, although it is an offer that is rarely approved except in the most unusual circumstances. .”

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Representative Jeff Fortenberry shakes hands with Ben Affleck after the actor testified on the Democratic Republic of the Congo before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011.

Saul Loeb / Getty

Mehta, who is now defending clients against DOJ prosecution, added that even if the move can’t be successful, protection teams sometimes take risks because it’s “a powerful threat.” .” Federal prosecutions are often “very specific” and can depend on the actions of agents and prosecutors in the investigation, he said.

Former federal prosecutor Barb McQuade agreed that it was “not unusual” for the prosecutor to interview a potential defendant during the investigative phase, especially when the prosecutor was accompanied by federal agents. .

In this case, McQuade said, it would be “improper” for Fortenberry to call the prosecutor to testify, because – as the defense team himself pointed out – his opinion is of no importance to the prosecution. jury. At the same time, she noted, Fortenberry still has the power to call Jenkins if he wants to, as Jenkins will likely have “firsthand information as an actual witness”. The defense’s move claims that Fortenberry “plans to do so,” but it’s unclear whether this was an empty threat, or whether he followed through.

The likelihood, however, was enough for McQuade to conclude that Jenkins “should agree to withdraw from the lawsuit.” The matter could then be turned over to another prosecutor, she said, so that Jenkins would be ready to testify if called.

Fortenberry was indicted last month in the United States District Court for the Central District of California on three counts of lying to the FBI. A DOJ press release published allegations that he had “willfully and knowingly falsified, concealed, and concealed with tricks, conspiracies, and facts about equipment” involving $30,000. la made a foreign donation to his campaign through straw sponsors at a 2016 event in Los Angeles.

Foreign donor Gilbert Chagoury – a billionaire industrialist, philanthropist and one of the wealthiest people in Africa – signed a deferred prosecution agreement in 2019 after admitting that he had gave a total of $180,000 to a number of different political campaigns, including $30,000 to Fortenberry.

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It is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions to campaign candidates, and it is illegal for candidates to solicit and receive such contributions.

Fortenberry denies wrongdoing. Though he now admits the money came from Chagoury, Fortenberry insists he didn’t know the source at the time. (He only withdrew his money after his federal interview.)

Notably, the government did not charge him with that charge. Instead, the indictment cites a cover-up, whose charges largely depended on a 2018 phone call from an unidentified “Individual H” who told the congressman that $30,000″ could come from Gilbert Chagoury as he is grateful for your support. [for] cause,” according to the indictment.

“Personal H,” however, is a confidential informant and he recorded the call on behalf of the government, according to all parties involved.

In 2019, Fortenberry was recorded again, this time by an FBI agent during an interview at the Nebraska congressman’s home. Prosecutors said the contents of those two tapes contradicted Fortenberry’s other statements and actions, suggesting he lied and deliberately deceived the government.

Fortenberry has since agreed to limited protection order that required his defense attorneys to accompany him whenever he reviewed the evidence in the case, going as far as to prevent him from ever being left alone with it.

On November 15, the judge pushed the trial from December to February. Each charge carries a maximum of three years in prison. A broader investigation into “other state officials” happenning.

A Fortenberry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/rep-jeff-fortenberry-says-the-feds-got-him-on-tape-twice?source=articles&via=rss | Representative Jeff Fortenberry said Feds Got Him on Tape, twice

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