Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr., Early Trump Backer, Indicted
California Republican Duncan Hunter Jr, who was an early backer of President Trump's campaign, has been indicted on charges he used massive amounts of campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.
California Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr., who was the second Republican in Congress to endorse Donald Trump in the early days of the race for the 2016 Presidential election, has been indicted along with his wife on charges that the couple illegally used a quarter million dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses:
WASHINGTON — Representative Duncan Hunter was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Diego on Tuesday after a monthslong criminal investigation into allegations that he spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on family trips to Hawaii and Italy, private school tuition for his children and even a $600 airline ticket for a pet rabbit.
In a 48-page indictment released by the Justice Department, Mr. Hunter, Republican of California, and his wife, Margaret, are charged with converting more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses and filing false campaign finance records with the Federal Election Commission.
Mr. Hunter, 41, becomes the second Republican congressman to be indicted this month. Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York, was indicted on insider trading charges, and announced days later that he had suspended his re-election campaign. The two were the earliest congressional supporters of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Collins, who is accused of passing insider information to his son about a drug company on whose board he served, has said he expects to be “fully vindicated and exonerated.”
A spokesman for Mr. Hunter, Michael Harrison, said Tuesday that the congressman “believes this action is purely politically motivated,” and referred a reporter to a letter that Mr. Hunter’s lawyer, Gregory A. Vega, sent this month to Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Mr. Vega, anticipating an indictment, asserted in the letter that two prosecutors involved in the investigation had attended a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton, and complained that bringing charges so close to the election would effectively deliver a “solidly Republican” House seat into Democratic hands.
The back-to-back indictments are all but certain to give ammunition to Democrats, who have been promising to clean up corruption in Washington if voters give them control of the House.
And for California Republicans, it has immediate implications, expanding from seven to eight the field of Republican-held seats being seriously targeted by Democrats. Mr. Hunter cannot take his name off the ballot, according to a spokesman for the California secretary of state, and California does not allow write-in candidates.
Mr. Hunter easily won California’s nonpartisan primary with 48 percent of the vote; the next highest vote-getter, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Democrat, took only 17 percent. Despite that, Democrats have long thought they could make a play for Mr. Hunter’s seat, especially if he were indicted. At the very least, the indictment will require Republicans to either spend money to defend the seat.
“The division, chaos and corruption in Washington has gone too far,” Mr. Campa-Najjar said in a statement. “Today’s indictment confirms just how deep this corruption can reach when someone like Duncan Hunter Jr. is in it for himself instead of representing the people.”
The indictment details scores of instances, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016, in which the Justice Department said the Hunters spent campaign money on themselves. The department said that the improper use of campaign funds continued despite “numerous warnings” and “repeated inquiries” from Mr. Hunter’s campaign treasurer about questionable purchases.
“The indictment alleges that Congressman Hunter and his wife repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts, and falsified F.E.C. campaign finance reports to cover their tracks,” Adam L. Braverman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement, referring to the Federal Election Commission.
“Elected representatives should jealously guard the public’s trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain,” Mr. Braverman added. “Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”
Beyond the family vacations and private school tuition, the indictment said expenses included dental work, theater tickets, and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives, as well as “tens of thousands of dollars on smaller purchases, including fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities and expensive meals,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department.
More from The Washington Post:
The Justice Department on Tuesday charged a Republican congressman and his wife with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for family vacations, theater tickets and other personal expenses.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (Calif.) and his wife, Margaret, were charged in a 47-page indictment that details how they allegedly used campaign money to live beyond their means, funding trips to Italy, Hawaii and other places, as well as school tuition, dental work and theater tickets. The Justice Department said in a news release that the couple also allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on more modest items, such as golf outings, video games and even home utilities.
Hunter’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and his wife, who was paid $117,000 from the campaign for work between 2010 and 2017, are scheduled to be arraigned in court Thursday.
Hunter’s father, Duncan Hunter Sr., told KUSI News in San Diego: “This is going to be a long, tough battle. We’re going to fight it out, we’re going to win and we’re going to win the election.”
The Justice Department alleged the couple falsely described their purchases in Federal Election Commission filings as “campaign travel,” “dinner with volunteers/contributors,” or by using other seemingly innocent descriptions. They allegedly described the payment of their family dental bills as a charitable contribution to “Smiles For Life,” and tickets to see “Riverdance” at the San Diego Civic Theater as “San Diego Civic Center for Republican Women Federated/Fundraising.”
The indictment also alleges that Hunter spent campaign funds on social outings with another congressman, who is identified only as “Congressman A.” In March 2010, for example, the indictment alleges that Hunter spent more than $120 at Birchmere Music Hall with that congressman and two others, and the next month, Hunter claimed a $256 reimbursement for driving his car on a trip to Virginia Beach with the same group.
He also spent $238 in December 2013 while watching a San Diego Chargers game at a Washington-area restaurant with another unnamed congressman, the indictment alleges.
The Justice Department said Hunter’s campaign treasurer made “repeated inquiries” about his purchases. The agency alleged in its indictment that the Hunters dismissed the treasurer’s concerns as “silly,” and Duncan Hunter said staffers were accusing campaign staff of disloyalty by “trying to create some kind of paper trail on me” when they raised concerns.
“Elected representatives should jealously guard the public’s trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement. “Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement the charges were “further evidence of the rampant culture of corruption among Republicans in Washington today,” and that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) should immediately call on Hunter to resign. Ryan said in a statement the charges are “deeply serious” and Hunter would be “removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter.”
Hours after the indictment, the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that Hunter had been stripped of his committee assignments, but fell short of calling on him to resign:
Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced Tuesday night that he has removed Rep. Duncan Hunter from the three House committees he serves on after the California Republican was indicted for misuse of campaign funds.
Hunter will be at least temporarily stripped of his assignments to the House Armed Services, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Education and the Workforce Committees.
“The charges against Rep. Hunter are deeply serious,” Ryan said in a statement. “The Ethics Committee deferred its investigation at the request of the Justice Department. Now that he has been indicted, Rep. Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter.”
The news of Hunter’s indictment comes just about two weeks after it was announced that New York Republican Congressman Chris Collins, who had been the first Republican Member of Congress to endorse President Trump’s campaign, had been indicted on charges of insider trading regarding a stock in which he and his son were heavily invested. Days after that indictment, Collins announced that he was suspending his campaign for re-election and local Republicans are reportedly in the process of taking the steps necessary to get his name off of the November ballot and replace him with a candidate who, from their perspective, can do what needs to be done to hold on to a seat that Republicans should be able to easily win. The situation is the same with Hunter’s seat, although it is worth noting that this morning the Cook Political Report moved its rating on the seat from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican,” but it is unclear at this early date whether Hunter will stay in the race or step aside, or whether California Republicans even have the same type of legal options that New York Republicans do when it comes to replacing Hunter on the November ballot.
As is the case with Collins, Hunter should be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the indictment certainly seems like an open and shut case against Hunter and his wife regarding the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to pay for what are clearly personal expenses. As the indictment alleges Hunter and his wife, who also acted as his campaign treasurer and was in that position personally responsible for keeping the books of the campaign and filing reports with the Federal Election Commission, consciously and illegally used campaign money to pay for everything from expensive dinners around Washington, D.C. to vacation trips around the United States and overseas. There are also allegations that they used a portion of these funds to pay contractors conducting work on their home in California. In one especially egregious case, it is alleged that Hunter purchased expensive clothes at a golf course’s pro shop and falsely claimed on campaign financial documents that the money was used to be golf balls to give to wounded veterans. This isn’t a case where a candidate mistakenly dipped into the wrong account on one or two occasions but rather, assuming the indictment is accurate, one where the couple was knowingly using campaign funds in an illegal manner over an extended period of time. To say the least, Hunter and his wife appear to be in a very difficult position without much of a defense.
Here’s the indictment: