Duncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations

Embattled GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) confirmed Monday he plans to plead guilty to charges of campaign finance violations on Tuesday after months of maintaining his innocence.

“My trial was set for Jan. 22; that’s not going to happen now. On tomorrow, on Tuesday, I’m going to change my plea to guilty. I think it’s important not to have a public trial for three reasons, and those three reasons are my kids,” Hunter said in an interview with KUSI News.

“I think it’s, it’d be really tough for them. It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure. I think it’s time for them to live life outside the spotlight. But it’s been a privilege to serve in Congress for 11 years, three tours in the Marine Corps and the wars. So I think we’ve done a lot of great things for the nation.”

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The San Diego Union-Tribune first reported on Monday that Hunter planned to reverse his “not guilty” plea, as his wife and former campaign treasurer Margaret Hunter did in June

The Hunters were indicted in August of 2018 on charges of misusing at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.  

The California Republican faces accusations of using the funds to purchase trips to Italy and Hawaii, as well as to pay for his family’s dental work and his children’s tuition, according to the Justice Department. Thousands were also spent on “fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities, and expensive meals.”

Allegations also emerged that Duncan Hunter used campaign funds during the course of five different affairs with congressional staffers and lobbyists.

He also allegedly falsified campaign records filed to the Federal Election Commission in an attempt to conceal the purchases, mischaracterizing the expenses as ” ‘campaign travel,’ ‘dinner with volunteers/contributors,’ ‘toy drives,’ ‘teacher/parent and supporter events,’ ‘gift cards’ for charitable donations, and ‘gift basket items,’ among other false descriptions,” according to the Department of Justice. 

Hunter, who did not indicate if he plans to resign, said he will only plead guilty to one of the 60 counts against him and his wife.

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“No. 1, not a single dime of taxpayer money is involved in this. The plea that I accepted was misuse of my own campaign funds, of which I pled guilty to only one count. I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes,” he said Monday.

“Whatever my time in custody is, I will take that hit. My only hope is that the judge does not sentence my wife to jail. I think my kids need a mom in the home,” Hunter added. 

Following the indictment, Hunter was removed from his committee assignments in the lower chamber. 

Despite the allegations, the congressman, who was first elected in 2008, managed to win his reelection bid during the 2018 midterms. 

His challenger in that race, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, is running for the seat again next year.

A number of prominent Republicans are considering or have announced primary bids against Hunter, including former Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) and state Sen. Brian Jones.

Hunter has also for the first time failed to garner the endorsement of his county’s Republican Party.

While Campa-Najjar, a former Obama administration staffer, managed to rake in a whopping $580,000 in third-quarter fundraising this year, Hunter expressed confidence his district will remain in Republican hands. 

 “I’m confident that the transition will be a good one. My office is going to remain open. I’ve got a great staff. We’re going to handle people’s cases and we’re going to pass it off to whoever takes the seat next and we’ll make sure that that’s a seamless trend transition. Last year, I was the only Republican to be elected to Congress in Orange County and San Diego. I think it’s important to keep the seat a Republican seat,” he told KUSI News. 

President Trump right now needs support more than ever for strong national security border security and good high-paying jobs in this country. I think that’s really important to keep the seat in the right hands in the right column.” 

The House Ethics Committee had previously deferred its investigation into Hunter to the Department of Justice in 2017, having uncovered that the GOP lawmaker spent roughly $600 to fly the family’s pet rabbit, Eggburt, across the country. 

—Updated at 3:48 p.m.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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