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House leaders call for Jeff Fortenberry to resign over felony convictions

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Fortenberry should resign after a federal court found him guilty of lying to the FBI.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Hours after Republican Representative Jeff Fortenberry was convicted of lying to the FBI about illegal campaign contributions, calls for the Nebraska lawmaker’s resignation from Congress began to make their away around Capitol Hill.

During a press conference at the House Republican retreat in Florida Friday morning, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that Fortenberry, a member of McCarthy’s own party, should resign from office.

“I’m going to discuss with him today. I think he had his day in court and I think if he wants to appeal he can go do that as a private citizen,” McCarthy said. “I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement early Friday calling for Fortenberry to end his career in Congress.

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

On Thursday, a federal jury in California found Fortenberry guilty of one count of “falsifying and concealing material facts” and two counts of lying to the FBI over its investigation of a $30,000 campaign contribution Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury made to Fortenberry’s campaign in 2016.

The illegal donation was made at a 2016 campaign fundraiser for Fortenberry in Los Angeles and came up on the FBI’s radar only after an associate of Chagoury’s began cooperating with the bureau’s investigation, revealing the connection between the Nebraska lawmaker and the billionaire.

That associate told Fortenberry several times during a recorded phone call in 2018 that Chagoury was the source of the campaign donations.

Jurors determined Fortenberry understood the gravity of that 2018 call and went on to knowingly lie to investigators and prosecutors about the campaign donations.

 “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,” said U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison 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.”

When the Nebraska congressman was indicted on charges back in October, he gave up his seats on congressional committees, but he remains a member of Congress. Lawmakers convicted of felony crimes typically resign. Refusing to do so could trigger action from Congress, including a vote to expel Fortenberry from office.

Each of Fortenberry’s three charges carries up to five years in federal prison. His sentencing date is set for June 2.

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