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Feds have more than 11,600 pages of documents, 50 recordings in Rep. Fortenberry case

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Look at who's who in 1st District congressman's campaign finance case.

Federal prosecutors have turned over more than 11,600 pages of documents and more than 50 audio and video recordings to lawyers defending U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry from allegations that he lied and misled federal investigators.

The revelation, contained in a court filing this week, prompted the Republican congressman's attorneys to seek a two-month delay in the trial to provide more time to review the evidence. Also filed was a request by Fortenberry’s lawyers to disqualify the lead prosecutor from handling the case because he is also a potential witness.

Fortenberry's trial had been scheduled to begin Dec. 14 in U.S. District Court in the central district of California. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed with the request to postpone the trial until Feb. 15.

The delay also will allow the defense to conduct its own investigation into the evidence.

Fortenberry, 60, was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on three charges: two counts of making false statements to investigators, and one count of concealing material facts. If found guilty, the congressman — who has represented Nebraska's 1st District since 2005 — would face up to five years in prison on each count.

The allegations stem from a federal investigation into $180,000 of illegal "conduit" campaign contributions given to four American candidates by a foreign national, Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian-born billionaire now living in Paris. Fortenberry received $30,200 from a group of Los Angeles residents at a fundraiser there in 2016. The money was provided by Chagoury, through at least two go-betweens.

Fortenberry, his wife and his attorneys have maintained that he was "set up" and "misled" by federal investigators, who came to his Lincoln home to ask about the contributions. A year earlier, the feds had an informant call the congressman and tell him that the donations at the L.A. fundraiser in 2016 originated from Chagoury.

Fortenberry’s attorneys, in a request filed Tuesday, asked that the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, be disqualified from the case. Jenkins is a potential witness in the trial because he took statements from the congressman in a July 2019 meeting that led to the two of the charges, the motion states. He cannot act as both advocate and witness at the same trial, Fortenberry’s attorneys argue.

The same motion also questioned the fairness of secretly recording a 2018 telephone call between an FBI informant and Fortenberry, as well as a 2019 interview with FBI agents at the congressman’s house “even though there was no evidence that he had done anything wrong.” Approval from a deputy assistant attorney general, the motion said, was needed for such recordings.

Federal prosecutors, in court documents, said Fortenberry lied more than once to investigators when asked about the 2016 fundraiser. Instead of giving up the donations and correcting his campaign reports, prosecutors say that he asked the organizer of the L.A. fundraiser to set up another for his 2018 campaign.

Fortenberry's attorneys have filed two motions to dismiss the charges against him. The first is scheduled to be argued in court in California on Nov. 23.

Fortenberry faces reelection in 2022 and has a campaign staff working on the race. One Democrat, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, has scheduled an event in Lincoln on Monday to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for that congressional seat.

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