Twist in Fortenberry case: Can't be 'left alone' with sensitive information
There’s a new twist in the federal government’s “he lied” case against GOP Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.
The judge this week ruled that the nine-term Congressman, implicated in an illegal campaign contribution scheme, “is never (to be) left alone” with certain secret and sensitive evidence provided by federal prosecutors.
US District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld’s seven page order—requested by the government and agreed to by Fortenberry—pertains to what is referred to as “Cooperater Materials” and includes information related to confidential informants and witnesses cooperating with the government in “ongoing investigations, including those related to public officials.”
The judge goes on to say that during any meetings where Fortenberry is allowed to see such information he is not allowed to take any materials “out of the room” and “may not copy, keep, maintain or otherwise possess…write down or memorialize” any of the details.
Fortenberry, who denies any wrongdoing, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles last week for lying to the FBI.
According to the government, Fortenberry’s wrongdoing occurred during an investigation into illegal contributions made to the congressman’s 2016 re-election campaign; contributions that involve Gilbert Chagoury, a foreign national prohibited by federal law from contributing to federal elections, and a Chagoury associate Toufic Joseph Baaklini.
The prosecution has announced that Chagoury and Baaklini are two of the key witnesses against Fortenberry. Five other witnesses are said to be individuals who currently or previously worked for Fortenberry.
The indictment alleges that “Fortenberry falsely told investigators that he was not aware of Baaklini ever being involved in illegal campaign contributions, that the individuals who made contributions at the 2016 fundraiser were all publicly disclosed, and that he was not aware of any contributions to his campaign from a foreign national.”
The New York Times reports that Chagoury is a Lebanese Nigerian billionaire who was accused of making illegal campaign contributions “to American politicians in exchange for access to them.”
In a video released just hours before the indictment was made public Fortenberry said he was “shocked” and “stunned” adding, “About five-and-a-half years ago, a person from overseas illegally moved money to my campaign—I didn’t know anything about this—and used some other Americans to do so. They were all caught and punished, thankfully.”
If convicted on all counts Fortenberry is facing a maximum 15 years in federal prison. His next court appearance is scheduled for December 7, with his trial set for December 14.
Fortenberry has temporarily forfeited his committee slots. He had been on the House Appropriations Committee, where he was the top Republican on the Agriculture Subcommittee.