Advertisement
California

Column: Duncan Hunter, your wife admitted conspiring with you to steal campaign funds. You don’t belong in Congress

Margaret Hunter, left, wife of indicted Republican U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, arrives at federal court
Margaret Hunter, left, arrives at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego last week to plead guilty to conspiring to illegally spend campaign funds on personal expenses.
(John Gibbins / Associated Press)

This understanding allowed the Hunters to spend Campaign funds on certain personal matters they wished to conceal from the other. For example, Defendant hid from Hunter certain purchases she made with campaign funds for items like children’s school lunches. At the same time, Hunter concealed from Defendant his use of campaign funds to facilitate certain personal relationships with others. — From defendant Margaret Hunter’s June 12 federal plea agreement.

You get the implication, right?

For the record:
9:05 AM, Jun. 18, 2019

An earlier version of this article stated that U.S. Rep. Hunter, a Marine combat veteran, served in Iran. He served in Iraq.

She hid from her husband what she was spending on the kids’ noontime meals.

And he allegedly hid from her what he was spending on, ah, nooners.

Advertisement

It’s not possible to get inside someone else’s marriage, but at this point, I would not predict a very high chance of survival for the union of Duncan and Margaret Hunter.

This is a husband, after all, whose reaction to being charged with federal felonies was not just to throw his own wife under a bus, but to make sure the bus backed up and ran her over a few more times.

“When I went away to Iraq in 2003, the first time,” the Marine combat veteran told Fox News, “I gave [Margaret] power of attorney. She handled my finances throughout my entire military career, and that continued on when I got into Congress. She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure, but I didn’t do it.”

Yes, well, it’s all been looked at in great detail.

Advertisement

And it turns out that U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) was partly right: Margaret did it, for sure.

But prosecutors say he did it too.

And now that Margaret has confessed to a single felony count of conspiring with her husband to illegally spend campaign funds on personal expenses, things are not looking so good for Duncan.

After all, it takes two to do the conspiracy tango.

::

On Thursday, U.S. attorneys in San Diego announced that Margaret Hunter had pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring with her husband to steal about $250,000 in campaign funds over a period of six years. She, along with her husband, had originally been charged with 60 counts of breaking federal law.

With this deal, Margaret, 44, faces a maximum of five years in prison. Prosecutors say they will recommend the lower range of sentencing, though it’s impossible to know what the judge will do. Jeremy Warren, a veteran San Diego criminal defense attorney, predicted she may serve no jail time at all “as long as she continues to cooperate against her husband.”

Duncan Hunter
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter removes a sign that reads “lock him up” that was placed on the windshield of his car by a protester last year.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)
Advertisement

Margaret Hunter, who is “deeply remorseful,” her attorney says, is scheduled to be sentenced in San Diego on Sept. 16. Her husband’s criminal trial is scheduled to start Sept. 10.

As part of her plea, Margaret must cooperate to the fullest with prosecutors, which is very bad news for her husband, who has maintained his innocence.

She agreed to turn over all documents in the case, to testify at any legal proceeding deemed necessary by the government, to submit to a polygraph exam to test her truthfulness, and to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if she breaches the agreement.

Based on details in the plea agreement, Duncan Hunter will be hard-pressed to convince a jury that he had no idea what was going on.

In April 2010, the plea agreement says, Duncan, 42, met with his campaign treasurer, who warned him not to use the campaign credit card for personal expenses.

In December 2010, the treasurer threatened to quit over the continuing misuse of the campaign accounts. To placate the treasurer, Margaret Hunter stopped using the campaign credit card for a while.

But the following summer, Margaret admitted in the plea deal, she and Duncan charged his campaign about $2,500 for a personal trip to Las Vegas. Ten days later, the Hunters spent a few hundred campaign dollars at the Del Mar racetrack for a date night. A week after that, they took the family to the Hotel del Coronado to celebrate one of their children’s birthdays on the campaign tab.

In 2012, the Hunters charged the campaign for a trip they took with their three kids and a relative to Washington, D.C., for a family vacation.

Advertisement

That December, Margaret Hunter admitted, Duncan’s chief of staff asked the couple to discuss her concerns about their improper charges. They reassured the chief of staff that they would “rein in” Margaret’s spending. They did not.

For the next three years, while their personal checking account often had a negative balance and they received numerous overdraft charges, they continued to spend, spend, spend:

A family dinner mischaracterized in campaign finance reports as a dinner with “volunteers/contributors.”

A dinner with friends at the Montage Laguna Beach resort with room service, drinks and meals dishonestly described as a campaign event.

A family vacation (again) to Washington, with charges for ziplining. This was the trip on which the Hunters spent $250 to transport the now-infamous family bunny, Eggburt. The Hunters also incurred a second $250 charge for the country’s most well-traveled rabbit when they took him to Minnesota.

In March 2015, when Hunter told Margaret he needed to “buy my Hawaii shorts,” she suggested he report the purchase as “some [golf] balls for wounded warriors.”

In July, the campaign credit card was declined in Las Vegas when the Hunters, in the words of Margaret, “racked up a $600 mini-bar” charge at Caesar’s. Charges for that trip also included a $200 family breakfast and an undisclosed amount for “kids room service.”

That November, the family took its $10,000 trip to Italy. On this vacation, Duncan tried to set up a tour of a U.S. Navy base, allegedly to camouflage the personal expense as an official one. The Navy told Hunter’s chief of staff that it could accommodate Hunter only on a date that did not work for him. “Tell the Navy to go [expletive] itself,” he told his chief of staff, according to Margaret’s plea.

::

I could go on.

Suffice to say that even after the San Diego Union-Tribune raised questions about the Hunters’ inappropriate use of campaign funds in April 2016 — the first report was about a questionable campaign expense of $1,300 for video games — the family continued to spend campaign money on seemingly personal expenses. In March 2018, according to the newspaper, Hunter spent nearly $4,200 in Las Vegas.

With three tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hunter has a strong record of service to his country. But he is no role model. Just last month, he admitted violating the military code of justice by posing for photos with dead combatants.

And now, with the revelations in his wife’s plea deal, we also know he has no business being a congressman. He’s already been stripped of his committee assignments.

I don’t think that simple greed explains such heedless behavior.

Something is wrong with Duncan Hunter. He should resign from Congress and get some help.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT


Newsletter
Get our Essential California newsletter
Advertisement