GOP Rep. Hunter, Wife Accused of Illegally Siphoning Campaign Funds for Personal Use
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California today on charges of using campaign contributions for personal expenses, wire fraud and filing false records with the Federal Election Commission.
The indictment names the congressman, who has represented part of San Diego County since 2013, and his wife, Margaret Hunter. The couple has three children together.
The 47-page court filing said the couple "spent substantially more than they earned," overdrawing their bank account 1,100 times between 2009 and 2016 and racking up more than $37,000 in overdraft fees. They also maxed out their credit cards and accumulated $24,600 in finance charges, prosecutors said, which led the couple to believe "that many of their desired purchases could only be made by using campaign funds."
The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges that the Hunters illegally siphoned a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds "to purchase goods and services for their personal use and enjoyment," and said the congressman accused campaign staff of "trying to create some kind of paper trail on me" when they raised concerns about the improper expenditures.
Campaign money was spent on, the indictment says, a $14,000 Thanksgiving vacation in Italy, along with other trips to Hawaii, Vegas, Lake Tahoe and London; meals out, grocery-store alcohol purchases and shopping trips including $11,000 at Costco and $2,200 at Michaels craft store; and buying Hawaiian shorts while falsely describing the purchase later as "some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors."
Gregory Vega, an attorney for Hunter, argued to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in an Aug. 6 letter that the investigation against the congressman was politically motivated since he's an "outspoken supporter" of President Trump. He said that two of the assistant U.S. attorneys involved in the case previously attended an event for Hillary Clinton.
"If Congressman Hunter is indicted now under suspicious circumstances that could swing a solidly Republican seat in the mid-term elections, the harm to both my client and the democratic process will be grave and irreparable," Vega wrote.
U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said today that Hunter and his wife "repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts, and falsified FEC campaign finance reports to cover their tracks."
“Elected representatives should jealously guard the public’s trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain," he added. "Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”
The Hunters are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
UPDATE 9 p.m. EST: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reacts: “The charges against Rep. Hunter are deeply serious. 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.”