Politics

Duncan Hunter Has Court Date Conflict

California Republican won’t be joining colleagues for votes Tuesday

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has a court date Tuesday as his colleagues return to work in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Duncan Hunter won’t be joining his colleagues as the House returns to work Tuesday in Washington. The California Republican has a court date in San Diego on the 60 federal charges against him and his wife, Margaret.

Tuesday’s U.S. district court hearing is at 9 a.m. Pacific time, which will not leave Hunter enough time to get back to Washington for votes at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. 

The couple were indicted by a federal grand jury in late August for allegedly using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and covering their tracks in campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission. They both pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment days later.

The Justice Department indictment chronicles instances of the Hunters illegally using campaign money to pay for personal expenses from 2009 through 2016. To cover their tracks, the couple allegedly misreported the expenses on their FEC filings, labeling them as “campaign travel,” “dinner with volunteers/contributors” and “gift cards.”

Prosecutors accused Hunter of falsely claiming that personal expenditures were for “wounded warriors” and of saying “Tell the Navy to go f--- themselves” when he didn’t get a tour of a military base in Italy while on a family trip.

According to the indictment, the Hunters overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period. They accrued approximately $37,761 in “overdraft” and “insufficient funds” fees. First elected to succeed his father in 2008, Hunter has not listed assets since he entered Congress and annually ranks among the “poorest” members in Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress index. 

Hunter’s legal defense is coming from the same campaign coffers he and his wife are accused of misusing. FEC filings show Hunter’s campaign made payments for “legal services” or “legal fees” to eight different law firms during the 2018 election cycle — including $182,000 to the San Diego-based law firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, which is representing Hunter in the grand jury investigation.

Hunter resigned his assignments on the House Armed Services, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Education and the Workforce committees shortly after the indictment, but he won’t be resigning from Congress.

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He has pledged to fight the charges and continue serving California’s 50th District. He faces Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in the fall. Despite Hunter’s legal trouble, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales still rates the race Likely Republican.

Fellow Republican Rep. Chris Collins is out on $500,000 bond, following his indictment on charges related to insider trading and securities fraud last month. The New York lawmaker has since suspended his re-election bid. His next court date is set for Oct. 11. At press time, it was not yet clear if he will make it to Washington for votes Tuesday.

Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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