Prosecution rests in Fortenberry trial; defense witnesses take the stand

Fortenberry walking into court.
Fortenberry walking into court.
Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 1:47 PM CDT
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LOS ANGELES, Calif. (WOWT) - The defense began presenting its case Wednesday after the prosecution rested its case in the trial of Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

Immediately thereafter, the defense presented a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case for a variety of reasons — including the government trying the case in the wrong venue. All along the defense team has argued the case should have been tried in Nebraska or Washington, D.C, where the interviews of the congressman happened.

The government alleges the initial crimes took place in Los Angeles, as well as the investigation, so it’s an appropriate place to hold the trial. But Judge Stanley Blumenfeld denied the defense request to dismiss the case.

The fifth day of testimony began with the Fortenberry defense team questioning the motives of federal agents before their unannounced interview in March 2019. They showed an FBI agent a document preceding the interview in Lincoln that indicated the government intended to charge Rep. Fortenberry before ever talking to him. His defense team questioned the motives of agents, saying they were out to get him.

The Fortenberry campaign responded to the testimony Wednesday morning with a statement: “The California prosecutors’ own statements highlight the aggressive, deceitful practices they used to set up Congressman Fortenberry.”

[CATCH UP: Fortenberry trial continues Tuesday with secret FBI recording]

FBI Agent Edward Choe explained to the jury that the memo was necessary in order to get permission to secretly record a sitting member of Congress — and whether or not Fortenberry would be charged would depend on his answers during the Lincoln interview.

The defense team called its second witness on Wednesday, with California U.S. House Rep. Anna Eshoo testifying as a character witness.

Fortenberry’s wife, Celeste, as well as former South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy are also expected to take the stand. Gowdy represented Fortenberry as his counsel during the Washington, D.C., interview in July 2019.

Fortenberry, who was first elected in 2005, is accused of lying to the FBI when it came to questions about $30,000 in illegal campaign contributions during a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

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