Spokesperson for Fortenberry campaign calls case against the congressman “unjust”

Sketch of Jeff Fortenberry in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 17, 2022.
Sketch of Jeff Fortenberry in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 17, 2022.(Mona Edwards)
Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 9:32 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, accompanied by his family, has been in a federal courthouse in Los Angeles for three days now, with testimony scheduled to continue into next week.

But a representative for Fortenberry’s campaign released a statement Friday afternoon saying the testimony heard so far, is a demonstration that Fortenberry shouldn’t be in this courtroom facing three felony charges.

“This was an unjust case that should never have been brought and nothing the government has produced in its case so far proves otherwise,” Chad Kolton, spokesman for Fortenberry’s campaign said.

Kolton’s statement calls out what they believe to be problems with the testimony of FBI Supervisory Special Agent Todd Carter.

In testimony Friday, Carter said they were looking into bribery because shortly after the fundraiser where illegal campaign contributions were made, Fortenberry introduced an antigenocide legislation into congress. But documents introduced by defense attorney Glen Summers showed that piece of legislation was actually introduced to congress months earlier, and it was actually introduced to the Senate after the fundraiser. Fortenberry is not part of the senate.

“Today’s testimony highlighted the shoddy investigative work at the core of this case, with the lead FBI case agent testifying that he advanced the investigation due to his mistakes in the basic process of how legislation is introduced and passed,” Kolton said.

The campaign also claims the FBI didn’t do enough to ask witnesses if Fortenberry knew about the illegal activity. In testimony, Carter showed a list of questions he asked Dr. Elias Ayoub in an interview. One of those questions was asking Dr. Ayoub if he knew if Fortenberry was aware of the illegal activity. Carter said he didn’t know. Kolton also targets the surprise interview the FBI did with Fortenberry.

“Rather than ask Rep. Fortenberry about the contributions, as other FBI investigators have done in similar cases, the lead FBI agent directed an informant to call Fortenberry and attempt to implant that information with him,” Kolton said.

This was a line of questioning brought up by Summers too. He pointed out that the FBI scheduled interviews with Alexandra Kendrick and Jessica Furst Johnson, both of who were employed by the campaign at the time of the illegal donations, instead of surprising them with interviews. In response, Carter pointed out that neither Kendrick nor Furst Johnson were being accused of committing a crime and that surprise interviews are common practice.

Finally, Kolton also criticized the questions the prosecution isn’t asking.

“About halfway through its case, California prosecutors seem far more focused on Rep. Fortenberry’s leadership to protect religious minorities around the world than on any allegations of wrong-doing on his part. So much so, that the government didn’t even ask the FBI lead agent about his interviews of Rep. Fortenberry in Nebraska or Washington that the charges against him are based on,” Kolton said. “Even the government’s own witness, the Congressman’s FEC attorney at the time, testified that Rep. Fortenberry is an honest person and that if he had actually heard that donations to his campaign had been illegal he would have taken action.”

The judge in the case told the defense they’d need to call Carter as their own witness in order to answer questions about the interviews.

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