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GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry guilty of three felonies in campaign contributions case

<i>Jae C. Hong/AP</i><br/>Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and his wife
AP
Jae C. Hong/AP
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and his wife

By Taylor Romine, CNN

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska was found guilty on Thursday of concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities in regard to an investigation looking into illegal campaign contributions in his 2016 reelection campaign, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.

Fortenberry, 61, was charged last October with three felony counts, including one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.

“After learning of illegal contributions to his campaign, the congressman repeatedly chose to conceal the violations of federal law to protect his job, his reputation and his close associates,” US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “The lies in this case threatened the integrity of the American electoral system and were designed to prevent investigators from learning the true source of campaign funds.”

CNN has reached out to Fortenberry’s attorney for comment.

On Friday, the top House leaders of both parties called on Fortenberry to resign following his conviction.

“Congressman Fortenberry’s conviction represents a breach of the public trust and confidence in his ability to serve. No one is above the law,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Congressman Fortenberry must resign from the House.”

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy also said he thinks the Nebraska congressman should step down.

“I’m going to discuss with him today. I think he had his day in court. I think if he wants to appeal, he can go do that as a private citizen,” McCarthy said while speaking on a panel as part of the House Republican Members’ Issues conference. “But I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign.”

Last fall, ahead of the indictment being announced, Fortenberry said in a video uploaded to YouTube that “about five and a half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign.” But the Nebraska Republican said that he “didn’t know anything about this.”

The indictment stated that an unnamed person, referred to as “Individual H” in the document, acted as a co-host of a 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry.

According to the indictment, Fortenberry contacted that individual in the spring of 2018 to discuss hosting another event. The court document states that during a June 2018 call, the fundraiser co-host told Fortenberry that the $30,000 in donations “probably did come from” a foreign national.

Campaigns are prohibited from taking contributions from foreign nationals, according to the Federal Election Commission.

But the indictment states that “despite being told by Individual H about the illegal donations, defendant Fortenberry did not file an amended report with the FEC regarding the 2016 fundraiser” and “did not return or otherwise try to disgorge the contributions.” The indictment goes on to say that “it was not until after the FBI and USAO interviewed him in July 2019 that defendant Fortenberry disgorged the contributions.”

Fortenberry is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28. Each charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, according to the US Attorney’s office.

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

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CNN’s Clare Foran, Melanie Zanona, and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.

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