GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, wife indicted for allegedly misusing campaign funds
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife, Margaret, were indicted Tuesday after being charged with misusing at least $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
The indictment quickly led to Hunter being dropped from his position on several House committees, with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calling the charges against the three-term GOP lawmaker “deeply serious.”
The California Republican is accused of using the funds to purchase trips to Italy and Hawaii, pay for his family’s dental work, his children’s tuition and international travel for nearly a dozen relatives, according to the DOJ. Thousands were also spent on “fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities, and expensive meals.”
Hunter allegedly falsified campaign records filed to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to conceal the purchases by 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,” the DOJ said.
“The indictment alleges that Congressman 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,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement.
“Elected representatives should jealously guard the public’s trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain. Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law,” Braverman said.
The allegations against the couple were detailed in a 47-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in California.
Hunter’s wife — who was paid $116,000 by his campaign between 2010 and 2017 and given access to campaign funds as a consultant — dismissed campaign finance rules as “silly” when pressed by the campaign treasurer on her spending, according to the indictment.
Margaret Hunter also allegedly refused to allow the campaign fundraiser to review her credit card statements. According to the document, Hunter’s campaign treasurer suggested his wife’s credit card be taken away, to which the congressman acknowledged the spending was a problem but declined to restrict her access to campaign funds.
The indictment notes that the Hunters had less than $1,000 in reportable assets between 2009 and 2016, having overdrawn their bank accounts more than 1,100 times “resulting in approximately $37,761 in “overdraft” and “insufficient funds” bank fees.”
“Their credit cards were frequently charged to the credit limit, often with five-figure balances, resulting in approximately $24,600 in finance charges, interest, and other fees related to late, over the limit, and returned payment fees,” the indictment states. “By virtue of these delinquencies – as well as notifications of outstanding debts and overdue payments from their children’s school, their family dentist, and other creditors the Hunters knew that many of their desired purchases could only be made by using Campaign funds.”
Examples of alleged campaign fund misuse include spending $238 in campaign funds at Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro to watch a San Diego Chargers game with a fellow congressman; spending $121 on food and beer while attending a concert in Virginia with another congressman and his date; $1,912 for birthday gifts for family members; $1,200 for new garage doors for their personal resident; $6,288 at a resort in Hawaii for a family vacation in 2015; $11,375 at Costco; as well as thousands spent on golf outings.
The GOP lawmaker and his wife are scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment Thursday morning in court in southern California, according to the Justice Department.
“Congressman Hunter believes this action is purely politically motivated,” Michael Harrison, a spokesman for Hunter, told The Hill in an email.
The House Ethics Committee had announced in March 2017 it would defer its probe into potential campaign finance violations to the Justice Department.
Hunter, who previously drew headlines for using a vaporizer pen during a congressional hearing in early 2016, also garnered attention by becoming the second member of Congress to endorse President Trump’s White House bid.
The first lawmaker to endorse Trump in 2016, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), was arrested and charged with federal securities fraud earlier this month.
“Once again, one of President Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress has broken the public trust and abused his position to enrich himself and his family. Speaker Ryan must immediately call on Congressman Hunter to resign, and affirm that no one is above the law,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday night.
In a statement, Ryan called the charges against Hunter “deeply serious” and said the California congressman would be removed from his position on the Transportation and Infrastructure, House Armed Services and Education committees.
“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,” Ryan said.
Hunter is currently set to face off against Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar this fall in a district that Trump won by 15 points in 2016.
Lawyers for Hunter noted there is no way to replace the GOP congressman on the ballot following California’s June 5 “jungle” primary.
Hunter’s counsel, Gregory Vega, requested in July that two prosecutors in the case be recused, arguing their attendance at a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton posed a conflict of interest.
The GOP lawmaker’s legal team has also questioned the timing of the investigation’s conclusion, noting that the more than two-year probe wrapped up weeks after the June primary.
“Because California employs a ‘jungle primary’ process, an indictment brought just after the June primary but before the general election – which is what we understand the Southern District intends to do – will result in a solidly Republican district being handed to a Democratic candidate who garnered a mere 16 percent of the vote in the primary,” his legal team argued in a statement.
Updated at 9:02 p.m.