Congress

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s ‘deep state’ defense falls apart

Judge unconvinced by defense’s argument that negative headlines will poison San Diego jury

A U.S. District judge ruled Monday ruled against a motion by lawyers representing Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to dismiss his campaign finance violations case. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s bid to dismiss the corruption charges against him by alleging a “deep state” conspiracy by U.S. attorneys fell apart Monday when it was revealed that Hunter’s lead attorney had attended the same Democratic fundraiser he said biased prosecutors. 

U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ruled against a motion filed by Hunter’s team, arguing the case should be relocated or dismissed because two of the prosecutors attended a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton who was running for president, Bloomberg reported. Their attendance, Hunter’s attorneys said, meant they would be biased in the case against Hunter — an early supporter of Trump.

In interviews with the media, Hunter had accused the U.S. Department of Justice of a “deep state” conspiracy against him.

The Justice Department revealed that the lead attorney for Hunter’s defense, Gregory Vega, was also present, and even donated to her campaign

“Does that mean he is biased toward his own candidate?” said prosecutor Mark Conover.

Hunter faces felony charges in the Southern District of California for allegedly using campaign money in order to pay for overseas vacations, expensive dinners and extramarital affairs.

[Rep. Duncan Hunter’s affairs with congressional staff raise sexual harassment concerns]

At a trial-setting hearing last week, the judge determined that Hunter’s defense team could not admit evidence alleging political bias against the prosecution during the trial.

The judge sided with prosecutors, who argued the allegations “are irrelevant to the question of Hunter’s guilt and risk infecting the jury pool” in the media.

Lawyers for the California Republican were also unsuccessful in their argument that negative headlines generated from the 60-count indictment will unfairly poison members of the jury. 

Despite the swirl coverage that followed the 60-count indictment last year, Hunter won reelection in the 50th District in 2018, the judge pointed out.

Speech or Debate clause

The judge also ruled against a gambit to dismiss the charges because of privileges granted under the Constitution’s “Speech or Debate” clause. 

Hunter’s team had argued that the government should not have subpoenaed an investigation into Hunter’s spending by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the watchdog that monitors misconduct by members of Congress. 

[Are lawmakers ‘supercitizens’? Constitutional question could delay Rep. Chris Collins case]

The purpose of the Speech or Debate clause is to preserve the balance of powers by protecting actions taken by lawmakers in the course of legislating from unfair prosecution by the executive or judicial branches, while Hunter’s case concerns the campaign sphere.  

The judge pointed out that Hunter allegedly raided campaign funds to fly himself and his family to Italy, not his campaign staff, according to Bloomberg.

 

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