Testimony has begun in the California trial of Nebraska 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, charged with lying to federal agents in 2019 about illegal campaign contributions from a Nigerian-born billionaire at a California fundraiser in 2016.
After spending 8 hours on Wednesday in jury selection, both sides offered their opening statements Thursday morning.
Federal prosecutor J-Jamari Buxton told the jury of 4 men and 8 women plus 3 alternates that Fortenberry followed an “illegal path” of lies and concealment to protect himself, his career, and the money funding his campaign.
Buxton said although Fortenberry had learned in 2018 that the money had come from a foreign citizen, a violation of federal law, but that he lied about it to the agents who were investigating contributions by the billionaire to multiple candidates.
In response, defense attorney Glen Summers described the government’s case as being built on concocted evidence and assumption by investigators intent on charging the man referred to in the press as either little-known or obscure.
Summers said the only scheme was the one engineered by federal authorities out to “ambush” Fortenberry and “get him” after an extensive national investigation of foreign donations fell flat – adding that it amounts to a “failed memory test.”
The prosecution’s case is anchored in what Fortenberry said — or didn’t say — during the two interviews with federal investigators, along with a secretly recorded 2018 phone call with an informant cooperating with investigators.
The informant, a Los Angeles-based doctor, told the 9-term congressman about the alleged scheme to funnel money to his campaign and identified the billionaire as the probable source of the $30,000 he received in 2016.