OMAHA, Neb. — Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska on Saturday resigned from office after a California jury convicted him of lying to federal authoritiesabout an illegal campaign donation from a foreign national.
Fortenberry wrote to the House announcing his resignation from Congress on March 31st.
“It has been my honor to serve with you in the United States House of Representatives,” he said in the letter. “Due to the difficulties of my current circumstances, I can no longer effectively serve.”
Fortenberry’s resignation letter opened with a poem, “Do It Anyway,” that’s associated with fellow Catholic Mother Teresa. One line from the poem says: “What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.”
Fortenberry’s announcement followed concerted pressure from political leaders in Nebraska and Washington for him to step down. On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Fortenberry and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to step down.
Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said Fortenberry should “do the right thing for his constituents” and leave the office he has held since 2005.
In October, authorities indicted Fortenberry for lying to FBI agents about knowing that a $30,000 illegal contribution was made by a foreign billionaire. Fortenberry was interviewed in Lincoln, then with his attorneys in Washington, D.C.
Prosecutors provided recordings of telephone conversations during which Fortenberry repeatedly was told that Gilbert Chagoury, an African billionaire and Lebanese-born Nigerian, had made the donations. Three strawmen were used to funnel the donations at an event in Los Angeles in 2016.
Fortenberry’s withdrawal from the primary leaves state Sen. Mike Flood as the likely GOP nominee. Former speaker of Nebraska’s Legislature has received endorsements by Ricketts as well as former Governor. Dave Heineman holds a significant advantage in Republican-leaning 1st Congressional District. Patty Pansing Brooks (a state senator from Lincoln) is running as well for the seat.
In a statement from his campaign, Flood thanked Fortenberry for “his many years of honorable service” and wished him and his family the best.
“Working together, we will keep this seat in Republican hands,” Flood said, promising to “continue the fight for our families, our economy and our conservative values in Congress.”
Pansing Brooks said Fortenberry’s conviction is a “wake-up call” that the district needs a change.
In a statement Saturday, Pansing Brooks said: “This opens the door for a new approach to serving (the 1st Congressional District). I am ready and able to meet that challenge and lead with integrity.”
The timing of Fortenberry’s resignation is expected to trigger a special election. Governors aren’t able to appoint a person to the seat.
A Nebraska law requires the governor to call a special election within 90-days of a vacant congressional seat. Each political party gets to pick a nominee who will run to serve the remainder of the congressional member’s term.
Flood and Pansing will run for the vacant seat in the special election. They’ll also run in November to be eligible to serve the next term.
Nebraska’s primary is May 10. Because counties have already mailed ballots to military members serving abroad and other absentee voters, it’s too late to remove Fortenberry’s name from the primary ballot. Election officials have said there isn’t time to schedule a special election to coincide with the primary.
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