Judge bars Rep. Fortenberry from being alone with evidence

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2018, file photo, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., speaks during a campaign rally tour stop in Omaha, Neb. A federal grand jury has indicted Fortenberry, accusing him of lying to the FBI and concealing information from federal agents who were investigating campaign contributions funneled to him from a Nigerian billionaire. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska not to be left alone with any evidence related to charges that he lied to FBI agents about illegal foreign donations to his campaign.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld in Los Angeles issued the ruling Thursday to try to protect confidential informants or cooperating witnesses in the case so they can potentially be used in other investigations.

“Because these materials could be used to identify the confidential informants or cooperating witnesses, the court finds that the unauthorized dissemination or distribution of the materials may compromise the ability of such persons to participate effectively in future investigations in an undercover capacity and/or may expose him/her to potential safety risks," the judge said.

The judge said the order was necessary so that prosecutors can fulfill their duty to turn over evidence to Fortenberry's lawyers that may be used against him at trial. Prosecutors have said they might call current or former staffers of Fortenberry to testify in the case.

Fortenberry's attorney, John Littrell released a statement after the judge's order saying the action wasn't unusual.

“The prosecution proposes an order like this in any case involving the use of confidential informants," he said. “The protective order does not limit the Congressman's access to information, and it will not inhibit our ability to defend this case.”

The nine-term Republican congressman from Lincoln was charged last week with one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. He has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges.

A trial is scheduled for Dec. 14.

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