Updated: Mar 26
Nebraska's first congressional district surrounds-- but doesn't include-- Omaha, but does include Lincoln. The good ole days when Jeff Fortenberry could count on upwards of 70% of the vote in reelection bids are gone. But it's still a pretty safe (R+11) Republican district. Last cycle he was reelected against Democrat Kate Boltz 189,006 (59.0%) to 119,622 (37.1%). That was the most votes any Democrat ever got against Fortenberry. Of the 18 counties in the district on one, Lancaster (Lincoln) the biggest, votes blue. Trump won the district with a smaller percentage than Fortenberry, just 56.3% (losing Lancaster County decisively).
Could NE-01 flip? Not likely, not even in a blue wave election cycle-- which this one is not going to be. He's a garden variety conservative Republican but not a full-bore fascist. He is however a crook, who has been taking illegal bribes from Lebanese-Nigerian criminal and billionaire Gilbert Chagoury. Fortenberry was investigated by the FBI and he lied to them about the money he took from Chagoury, who has also been illegally laundering money into the campaigns of Lee Terry (R-NE), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Mitt Romney (R-UT). Yesterday a federal jury found him guilty of all charges-- one count of concealing conduit campaign contributions and two counts of lying to federal agents-- making him "the highest-ranking elected official to be convicted of a felony in Nebraska history." My sources on Capitol Hill tell me that the thinking in DC is that Fortenberry is likely to retire rather than risk expulsion or defeat in November.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. set sentencing for June 28. The congressman faces up to five years in prison on each count, although he also could receive supervised release.
Ironically, he does not have to give up his congressional seat. Federal law requires members of Congress to give up their seats only for crimes that are tied to treason.
It is unclear whether Fortenberry’s campaign will continue. He faces a Republican challenger in the May primary: State Sen. Mike Flood. Two Democrats, including State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, also are vying for the seat.
...The jury of four men and eight women convicted the congressman after watching several tapes of him making incriminating statements.
The investigation ramped up when the FBI discovered that a Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury, had been funneling cash into the campaigns of four Republican politicians: former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, current California Rep. Darrell Issa, former Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry and Fortenberry.
It is illegal for U.S. elected officials to accept foreign money.
The World-Herald asked prosecutor Mack Jenkins, who led the case with the help of prosecutors Susan Har and Jamari Buxton, if Fortenberry would have been prosecuted had he gotten rid of the money soon after learning it was suspect. The other three politicians weren’t prosecuted; they got rid of any illegal money soon after they were confronted. Fortenberry took 2½ years to give his to charity. And was evasive along the way.
“That’s a difficult question to answer,” Jenkins said. “But I would say that the inaction in this case was certainly evidence of a scheme to conceal.”
Jenkins was asked for his message to Nebraskans.
“Hopefully they see that the federal government nationwide ensures that politicians follow the law,” Jenkins said. “Wherever they are.”
During closing arguments, prosecutors laid out a slide show of the illegal flow of foreign money into Fortenberry’s campaign coffers because of the congressman’s support for “the cause.” That cause was the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
Chagoury gave a bag of $30,000 cash to Toufic Baaklini. Baaklini passed it to Los Angeles Dr. Eli Ayoub. Ayoub gave it to his relatives so they could write checks to Fortenberry at an LA fundraiser in 2016.
Har, an assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors to disregard the defense’s suggestion that FBI agents ambushed or targeted Fortenberry.
“The question is not, ‘How could they look into the defendant?’" Har told jurors. “The question is, ‘How could they not?’"
Fortenberry’s defense questioned how the prosecution could base its entire case on a 10-minute phone call from Ayoub to Fortenberry.
In that June 4, 2018, call, recorded by the FBI, Ayoub told Fortenberry three times that Baaklini provided $30,000 in cash and that the cash “probably came from Chagoury.”
...In a follow-up interview in Washington, D.C., in July 2019, Fortenberry also claimed that he had cut off the Ayoub phone call when Ayoub said illegal cash may have been injected into his campaign. But audio of the phone conversation proves Fortenberry didn’t cut off the call.
“At the end of the day, it’s a pretty simple case,” Jenkins said. “It’s an all-too-familiar story of a politician caught up in the system, caught up in the cycle of power, who lost his way.”
Politico reported this morning that "Chagoury and the people who acted as straw donors were actively advocating with Fortenberry on behalf of Christian minorities in the Middle East. Chagoury, who is not a U.S. citizen, admitted to making a total of $180,000 in donations to several U.S. candidates and agreed to pay a $1.8 million penalty. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that allows him to avoid further punishment if he abides by the deal."
Even though many people are betting on Fortenberry retiring, his super PAC just launched a tough attack on his primary opponent:
But even in what's looking like a good midterm for Republican incumbents, Fortenberry isn't the only one of 'em in trouble. Let's take a quick look at the world of trouble slimy little Nazi Madison Cawthorn has put himself in. Sam Brodey painted the picture perfectly yesterday: Madison Cawthorn Committed the One Unforgivable Sin of Politics. "If the worst thing Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) did this month was call Ukraine’s President 'a thug,' or get caught speeding multiple times with a revoked license, or accuse Speaker Nancy Pelosi of being an alcoholic, the 26-year-old MAGA-influencer would probably be just fine in his re-election bid. But Cawthorn did something far worse, at least for his own political prospects, and it may cost him his seat: He left his constituents-- and then was forced to return to them, hat in hand, after the courts predictably struck down the state’s new map, and eliminated the district he left to run in, on Feb. 23. The about-face opened up a more damaging line of attack than anything Cawthorn has said or done. It showed, at least briefly, that he was less interested in representing the voters who first elected him than he was in just being in Congress. The numerous candidates challenging Cawthorn in the GOP primary, slated for May, do not intend to let voters in North Carolina’s 11th District forget it."
Cawthorn is one of the worst of the fascist politicians elected as part of the Trump era. But because of the way Republican-controlled legislatures have gerrymandered congressional districts this year, Cawthorn is one of the only ones even remotely vulnerable of being defeated. Marjorie Traitor Greene, Ronny Jackson and Lauren Boebert could march around their districts in Nazi uniforms waving swastika banners and still be reelected. Cawthorn's district, which now has a PVI of R+14 (from R+16), would be safe for a normal Republican who could count on a reasonable number of independent voters but might not safe for someone as extreme and error-prone as Cawthorn.
Fortenberry resigned. Cawthorn hasn't.