Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was the second member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, after Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY). Now, two weeks after Collins was charged with securities fraud and lying to federal agents, Hunter and his wife have been indicted for misusing some $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.
The indictment against Duncan and Margaret Hunter details a number of damning allegations and tells the story of a family allegedly living far outside its means. Over a period of seven years, the couple allegedly overdrew on their family checking account more than 1,100 times, racking up $37,761 in fees, and overcharged their credit cards to the tune of $24,600 in finance fees.
In the meantime, the indictment claims the couple was spending campaign money to pay for everything from groceries, utilities, and medical bills to video games, golf outings, and extravagant vacations, all the while lying to the campaign about the nature of the charges. Duncan even hired Margaret as a “campaign manager,” so that she could collect thousands of dollars a month without doing any actual campaign work.
Oftentimes they insisted that the expenditures were campaign-related, but other times they invented claims to justify the purchases. This included, among other things, $359.57 at Barnes & Noble for what Margaret Hunter claimed were for children’s “toy drives” and a “hospital book drive”; same-day movie tickets for a “gift bundle basket for foothills republican women spring fashion show”; and a personal clothing purchase by Rep. Hunter for what he claimed were “[golf] balls for the wounded warriors.”
Hunter has not publicly commented on the charges, but his spokesperson, Mike Harrison, said that the congressman “believes this [indictment] is purely politically motivated.” Hunter’s attorney, Gregory Vega, similarly wrote to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein claiming that because two members of the prosecution supported Hillary Clinton, their “overt political leanings” create “an apparent conflict that cannot be ignored.”
Sources claim, however, that U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman, who Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed, made the decision to indict and deemed recusal unnecessary for the two prosecutors.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) this week called the charges “deeply serious” and said Hunter will be removed from his committees until the matter is resolved.
Ryan took the same step after Collins was indicted, removing him from the House Energy and Commerce committee. Collins was charged earlier this month with insider training, after allegedly passing on information to his son about a failed drug trial conducted by an Australian pharmaceutical company on which he is a board member, and in which his son owned stock. He is also accused of lying to federal agents on the matter.
Collins’ attorneys have said they believe he will be “completely vindicated and exonerated,” but the congressman announced a few days after the indictment that he was suspending his bid for reelection regardless.
Hunter has made no indications about the fate of his own race. He represents a very Republican district in California, but his Democratic opponent, former Department of Labor aide Ammar Campa-Najjar, has outraised him throughout the campaign. A poll from the end of July found Campa-Najjar within single digits, trailing Hunter 51-42. They are the only ones set to appear on the ballot in November.
Collins and Hunter were the first members of a group the Washington Post dubbed the “Trump caucus,” originally a group of five lawmakers who supported Trump in the Republican primary. The other three were Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Hunter’s indictment comes as President Trump faces increasing pressure over legal woes involving his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen. Manafort was convicted Tuesday on several counts of bank and tax fraud, and Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance violations, stemming from payments he made during the election to a woman who claims to have had an affair with Trump.