The Biden Justice Department is kicking off the New Year with egg on its face after a federal judge overturned a previous conviction of a former Republican congressman.
The Hill reports that U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled on December 26th that the federal government’s case against former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) was tainted from the start because it was never tried in the correct venue.
“Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed, and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant,” wrote Judge Donato, an Obama appointee.
Judge Donato left open the option for the Biden DOJ to retry him.
“The Constitution does not permit this. Fortenberry’s convictions are reversed so that he may be retried, if at all, in a proper venue.”
Last year, a Los Angeles jury convicted the 63-year-old Nebraskan of lying to reporters investigating his acceptance of illegal campaign contributions from a Nigerian businessman. Federal campaign laws explicitly bar donations from foreign nationals, though Fortenberry was never prosecuted for the actual donations.
During its investigation, the DOJ obtained a private phone call between Fortenberry and a cooperating witness who said the Nigerian businessman was likely the source of a $30,200 donation, contradicting Fortenberry’s denial of knowledge about the money.
Following his conviction, Fortenberry resigned from Congress and went on to pay a $25,000 fine and complete 320 hours of community service.
In a statement, the former lawmaker said he is relieved to put the case behind him and work to rebuild his image.
“We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” he wrote.
The case represents another major blow to the Justice Department just as it prepares to go to trial against former President Donald Trump in two separate cases. Special counsel Jack Smith has already suffered a number of setbacks, including losing his bid to see Trump jailed for violating a gag order and attempting to withhold millions of pages of documents from the President’s legal team. The DOJ is expected to spend more than $25 million per case per calendar year, an incredible sum that critics label the “Trump tax” for attempting to take on the top Republican contender for the White House.