Rep. Duncan Hunter of California appeared to imply to a women’s group in his district Monday that his Democratic opponent is a “radical Muslim” who is part of a group “trying to infiltrate the U.S. government.”
“He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar so he sounds Hispanic,” Hunter said, according to audio of the event captured by the Times of San Diego.
“He just changed it again; he added a Joseph in there,” Hunter said. “So his signs could actually say Joseph Campa or, or something. That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. You had more Islamists run for office this year at the federal level than ever before in U.S. history.”
Campa-Najjar, who worked for the Labor Department in Barack Obama’s administration, is the 29-year-old son of a Palestinian father and Mexican mother, who raised him on her own after his father left the family.
Campa-Najjar has repudiated his grandfather, a mastermind of the Palestinian Black September terrorist group’s plot to take 11 Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Every hostage was killed.
Israeli commandos killed Campa-Najjar’s grandfather the following year, in 1973. Campa-Najjar was born 16 years later, in 1989.
His campaign dismissed Hunter’s comments to the women’s group in Ramona, California, on Monday as “the desperate ravings of a congressman who believes he is above the law and has lost his grip on reality,” Nick Singer, Campa-Najjar’s director of communications, told the LA Times in a statement.
“Ammar is a Christian, worked at a church as a janitor and in youth ministry,” Singer said. “He also was thoroughly vetted and given security clearance for his positions at the White House and administration.”
Hunter’s campaign spokesman, Mike Harrison, denied the congressman explicitly said his opponent is a “radical Muslim.”
“He never made the claim that his opponent is Muslim. That’s for his opponent to answer,” Harrison told the LA Times Wednesday. “What we have heard is he’s claimed to be a Christian, and again, that’s for Ammar’s campaign to discuss.”
Harrison claimed his boss was only laying out facts and letting his listeners come to their own conclusions.
“What is a fact is our opponent has changed his name; that’s not in dispute. He does have family ties to terrorists; that’s not in dispute,” Harrison said. “Mr. Hunter was not saying [Campa-Najjar is] a Muslim.”
Campa-Najjar has been using his mother’s surname since he joined the Obama administration, his campaign told the LA Times, even though his birth name was Ammar Yasser Najjar.
In June, he legally changed his name to Ammar Joseph Campa-Najjar. He added the middle name Joseph “because he liked it,” Singer said.
Hunter, who was indicted alongside his wife in August for allegedly spending roughly a quarter of a million dollars in campaign donations on themselves, defended himself against his prosecution casting doubt on the Justice Department’s integrity.
Hunter said he now believes people who have pled guilty to crimes over the department prosecutors who pursued the charges against them.
“When someone says to me that they pled guilty to a federal crime, I don’t believe they should be in jail until I hear more about it,” Hunter said. “I give the benefit of the doubt to the person in jail now over the U.S. prosecutors. I have never seen so much corruption.”
There is no way to check the corruption Hunter perceives at the DOJ, he said.
“The only oversight they have on them is them,” he said.
Hunter’s campaign could not be reached for comment on whether the congressman believes his case is being unfairly prosecuted.
Hunter and his wife have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, and he is plowing ahead in his campaign for a sixth term in California’s 50th District.
The usually solidly Republican district — Hunter won re-election in 2016 by 27 percent, and President Donald Trump carried the district over Hillary Clinton by 15 — has received more attention after Hunter’s troubles with the law. It could be in play in November, some experts believe.
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