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A federal appeals court has overturned the conviction of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) for lying to the FBI regarding an illegal campaign contribution, with judges ruling that he was not tried in the proper venue.
In 2022, a jury in Los Angeles convicted the former GOP lawmaker for making false statements during interviews in Washington, D.C., and in Nebraska, The Hill reported.
The outlet added that he resigned his congressional seat and was sentenced to two years of probation, fined $25,000, and 320 hours of community service. The Hill said that last week’s appeals court ruling reversed the sentence, though Fortenberry could reportedly still be retried.
“Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed, and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Donato, who sat on the appeals court by designation.
“The Constitution does not permit this. Fortenberry’s convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue,” the 23-page opinion added.
The Hill noted further:
Authorities charged Fortenberry after interviewing him, as they investigated a $30,200 donation from a Nigerian businessman to the then-congressman’s campaign at a 2016 fundraising event in California.
Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals to any local, state or federally elected official.
But prosecutors did not charge Fortenberry over the contribution itself, instead prosecuting him on two counts of making false statements and one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts.
Fortenberry told FBI investigators that he was not aware of any illegal campaign contributions. However, according to court filings, the bureau listened into a previous phone call in which a cooperating witness told the then-congressman that the Nigerian businessman was the most likely source of the donation.
The federal district trial judge allowed a jury to go forward with the case in California after ruling that a false statement violation can occur not only where they are made but also where they affect a federal investigation. The donation probe was conducted out of the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles.
“We conclude that an effects-based test for venue of a Section 1001 offense has no support in the Constitution, the text of the statute, or historical practice,” wrote Donato, an Obama appointee.
Also on the panel were Circuit Judges Gabriel Sanchez and Salvador Mendoza Jr., who were both appointed by President Biden, The Hill noted.
“We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” Fortenberry said in a statement.
CNN’s senior legal analyst explained in mid-December why he believes special counsel Jack Smith is rushing to get former President Donald Trump to trial before next year’s election.
“I think any fair-minded observer has to agree” that Smith wants to convict the former president beforehand, Elie Honig said when he was asked whether Smith and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan were attempting to expedite Trump’s so-called ‘election interference’ case.
“Just look at Jack Smith’s conduct in this case. The motivating principle behind every procedural request he’s made has been speed has been getting this trial in before the election,” Honig went on to say before giving some examples.
“The average federal conspiracy and fraud trial takes about a year and a half to two years between indictment and trial. In this case, we have dozens, hundreds of January 6th rioters caught on video, straightforward cases,” he continued. “They, too, were given about a year and a half to two years between indictment and trial. Jack Smith originally requested a trial date for Donald Trump, a far more complex case, five months out.”
“He wanted a January trial. It was set for two months later. So Donald Trump is being given far less time to prepare than other defendants. And the actions this week, Jack Smith won an argument on immunity in the district court and then went right to the Supreme Court,” Honig added.