WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday that Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., should resign from Congress after he was convicted of lying to the FBI about contributions to his 2016 re-election campaign from a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire.
Speaking from Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, where House Republicans held their annual retreat, McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that he plans to speak to Fortenberry Friday.
"I think he had his day in court,” McCarthy said. “I think if he wants to appeal, he could go do that as a private citizen. ... But I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign.”
When reached for comment on McCarthy’s remarks, a spokesperson for Fortenberry said the lawmaker is “spending time with his family right now. That’s what’s most important today.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also said Fortenberry should resign. “Congressman Fortenberry’s conviction represents a breach of the public trust and confidence in his ability to serve," she said in a statement on Friday. "No one is above the law.”
Fortenberry, 61, who has represented Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005, was found guilty by a Los Angeles federal jury on Thursday of one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison as well as fines.
Prosecutors had accused Fortenberry of repeatedly lying to and misleading authorities in a federal investigation into illegal campaign contributions made by a Lebanese-Nigerian businessman, Gilbert Chagoury. As a foreign national, Chagoury is prohibited by federal law from contributing to any U.S. elections.
Chagoury allegedly arranged for a $30,000 contribution to Fortenberry's re-election campaign at a Los Angeles fundraiser in 2016. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office in 2019 and came clean about providing about $180,000 in illegal contributions to four candidates in U.S. elections.
After being charged last October, Fortenberry said in a YouTube video that he expected to be vindicated and proclaimed his innocence. "We will fight these charges," he said. "I did not lie to them. I told them what I knew. But we need your help."
He told reporters outside the courthouse Thursday that he planned to appeal the conviction. A judge set Fortenberry’s sentencing for June 28.