The prosecution in Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry’s California trial rested Wednesday morning after 4-½ days and the defense began presenting its case. It’s not known if the congressman will testify.
The 61-year-old Fortenberry is accused of lying to federal agents in 2019 about an illegal 2016 campaign contribution from a foreign national using other people at a Los Angeles fundraiser.
The defense maintains Fortenberry was set up by the agents by having a cooperating witness feed information to him that the $30,000 from the fundraiser probably came from a foreign billionaire living in Paris.
That was the focus of the cross-examination of Edward Choe, the last prosecution witness and the FBI case agent. Choe was asked if a statement in the required interview request before meeting with the congressman that “case agents will also seek to charge” meant the plan was to bring charges even before the interview.
Choe said no and read from another document that said Fortenberry would be charged if case agents determined he made false statements.
Before calling its first witness, the defense asked the judge to find the prosecution had failed to make its case and to acquit the 9-term congressman on all charges – a standard move in criminal trials – but the judge said the jury will decide the issue.
The first defense witness was California Democratic Congresswoman Anna Ashoo, who talked about working with Fortenberry on legislation on the persecution of minority religious groups in the Middle East.
Ashoo called Fortenberry “honest” and “faith-filled,” a man who brings “honor to what he does because of the individual he is,” – adding that “his word is always good, and I can’t say that about all members of congress, and you find out the hard way.”
Eshoo said she’s not exactly worried about illegal foreign donations because they’re rare, but is concerned about unlimited “dark money” donated by anonymous donors that conceals its true source – which she called “anti-democratic.”
U-S District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld says he expects the jury to get the case tomorrow or Friday. He’s urged the attorneys for both sides throughout the trial to “move on” during questioning.