Indicted GOP lawmaker's defense team pulls a long-shot stunt after seeing mountain of evidence
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (Facebook)

The evidence against Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is so comprehensive that prosecutors asked a judge to delay the trial so the defense can catch up.

A recent court filing revealed that Fortenberry, who has been charged with lying to investigators about an illegal campaign contribution scheme, was recorded at least twice discussing the case, and federal prosecutors said they have dozens more audio and video recordings and more than 11,600 pages of evidence against the indicted congressman, reported The Daily Beast.

"The banquet of evidence so overwhelmed the defense team that the prosecution asked the judge on Nov. 9 to delay the trial," the website reported. "And that was the day Fortenberry's counsel made their move. They filed a motion asking the court to replace [assistant U.S. Attorney] Mack Jenkins, who had helmed the probe into the congressman and now leads the prosecution against him."

Fortenberry's defense attorneys argued that Jenkins' involvement in the early stages of the investigation made him a witness in the case and could unfairly influence the jury, because they said he secured the warrants to record the Nebraska Republican.

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"Here, merely by presenting evidence or argument related to the Washington, D.C., statements, AUSA Jenkins would be vouching personally for Count Three's central allegation: that Congressman Fortenberry lied to AUSA Jenkins personally," defense attorneys argued.

That would make it nearly impossible, defense attorneys argued, for jurors to tell the difference between Jenkins' arguments as lead prosecutor and his personal belief that Fortenberry had lied to him, but legal experts say those dual roles are "quite common."

"It's true that prosecutors cannot vouch for their witnesses' integrity. Trial courts take that rule seriously because prosecutorial vouching impedes the jury's fact-finding role," said former federal prosecutor Miriam Baer, now a professor at Brooklyn Law School. "But the argument sounds overly broad."

"It seems far more likely that a judge would monitor testimony carefully for any signs of vouching and instruct the jury if necessary," she added.

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