duncan hunter scandal

Indicted GOP Congressman Says He’s a Victim of Trump’s Justice Department, Just Like Trump

Like the president he adores, U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter thinks the best defense is a good, offensive conspiracy theory. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

If anyone thought U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter was going to be contrite after being indicted for a long and wildly egregious list of personal misuses of campaign funds and for lying to the authorities about them, they were wrong. Taking a page from the reaction of the president (for whom Hunter was a very early supporter in 2016) and most congressional Republicans to the Mueller investigation, Hunter is denying all wrongdoing and professing to be a victim of a politically motivated conspiracy.

“We’re excited about going to trial with this, frankly,” Hunter told CNN affiliate ABC 10News in San Diego, adding later that he’s not worried. “This is modern politics and modern media mixed in with law enforcement that has a political agenda. That’s the new Department of Justice.”

Asked if he was innocent, Hunter said, “Of course.”

“This is the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement. That’s what’s happening right now. It’s happening with Trump. It’s happening with me. We’re going to fight through it and win and the people get to vote in November

This is, shall we say, a somewhat counterintuitive thing of which to accuse the Trump administration’s Justice Department headed up by archconservative former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, who is not, so far as we know, “recused” from Duncan’s case. Yes, Hunter has claimed that a couple of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who worked on his case contributed money to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But their boss, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Adam Braverman, who signed off on the indictment, is a career prosecutor known for fighting drug cartels, and was appointed by that other alleged victim of his own Justice Department, Donald J. Trump.

Beyond that, the indictment itself is so chock-full of details that the idea it was somehow fabricated by politically motivated hacks strains all credulity. Here’s just a taste of the allegations:

The HUNTERS illegally used Campaign funds, among other things, to purchase the following:

(i) Hotel rooms, airline tickets and upgrades, meals and food, and entertainment expenses for vacations for themselves and their friends and family, including more than $14,000 for a family Thanksgiving vacation in Italy in November 2015; more than $6,500 for a family vacation to Hawaii in April 2015; more than $3,700 for a family vacation to Las Vegas and Boise in July 2015; more than $2,400 for a Las Vegas couples’ vacation in August 2011; and more vacations to destinations such as Lake Tahoe, London, and Washington D.C.;

(ii) Food and drinks for themselves and their friends and family at various restaurants such as Mister A’s, the Capital Grille, Bellagio-Olives, Spago, Caesars Mesa Grill, Sally’s Fish House & Bar, Blue Point Coastal,’ Island Prime, Harney Sushi, Lou & Mickey’s, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Jake’s Del Mar, the Studio at the Montage, and Sonoma Restaurant;

(iii) Household and other personal items for their family from a wide variety ofstores, such as Costco (where they spent more than $11,300 in Campaign funds), Walmart (where they spent more than $5,700), Barnes & Noble (where they spent more than Target(where they spent more than$2,300), Michaels store(where they spent more than

2,200), and other retailers such as Aaron Brothers, Party City, World Market, Crate & Barrel, Pier 1, JC Penny, Sears, and Rite Aid.

The list of absolutely non-campaign-related expenses goes on for 48 pages. There’s a very clear explanation of why the Hunters did all this: They were broke.

Throughout the relevant period, the HUNTERS spent substantially more than they earned. They overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period 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.

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. 

Because Hunter had during the early stages of the investigation basically tried to blame all the strange expenditures on his wife (who was also indicted), the indictment goes into great length to document Hunter’s personal involvement in the abuses, from the original decision to make his wife his campaign manager with a campaign credit card, to his habit of making up, ex post facto, “official” excuses for the personal family travel the campaign was paying for. One such latter incident provides the indictment with its most colorful moment, and one that isn’t going to help Hunter in Navy-dependent San Diego County:

On or about November 23, 2015, in an attempt to justify the use of Campaign funds to pay for the family’s trip to Italy, DUNCAN HUNTER attempted to set up a day tour of a U.S. naval facility in Italy. After Navy officials responded that they could only provide a tour on a particular date, DUNCAN HUNTER said he would discuss, the proposed date with MARGARET HUNTER, then subsequently told his Chief of Staff, “tell the navy to go f*** themselves [no alteration in original],” and no tour occurred. 

Should have gone with “tell the navy to reconsider that decision.”

Hunter might want to deal with some of this mountain of evidence before attacking prosecutors for, presumably, making it all up. The idea that a congressional candidate isn’t responsible for expenditures his campaign makes, or for false filings with the Federal Elections Commission, is not going to get him very far in court.

Perhaps Hunter’s conspiracy defense is designed not for the courtroom but for the court of public opinion, since he will be facing voters in November. And maybe his calculation is that Republican “base” voters have heard the president attack the FBI and elements of the Justice Department for months, and will nod their heads when he echoes them. He’d better hope they don’t get around to reading the indictment. It would make a hell of a piece of campaign literature for his opponent.

Indicted GOP Congressman Claims Justice Department Plot