Column: Trump says it’s too soon to judge Duncan Hunter and his flying rabbit. Is it?
I think we need to talk about the flying San Diego rabbit.
Does he get airsick?
Does he prefer peanuts or pretzels?
Does he get early boarding privileges or extra paw room?
And why would U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego County use campaign funds to pay for the bunny’s airline ticket, one of many allegations laid out against him and his wife in a 60-count federal indictment that accuses them of spending $250,000 in campaign funds on family fun and extravagance?
These questions popped into my head over the weekend, thanks to our commander in chief. And whatever you think of the man, you have to say this in President Trump’s defense:
He did not take the day off on Monday, a national holiday. Or at least, I should say, he worked long enough to weigh in on the indictments of Hunter and another member of Congress.
So he came down hard on the accused, right?
Don’t be a silly rabbit.
Trump ripped Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions for indicting Hunter (R-Alpine) and Chris Collins (R-New York) “just ahead of the Mid-Terms.”
“Good job Jeff,” the president added.
Trump may have been grumpy because he was not invited to the funeral for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the tortured and imprisoned Vietnam veteran he once mocked. McCain was only a war hero because he was captured, Trump said, but “I like people who weren’t captured.”
You call him the spiritual leader of the congressional GOP and a hero to the base.
Which brings me back to the Rep. Duncan “Peter Cottontail” Hunter, the man with the rabbit, who hails from Trump country east of San Diego, and who was one of Trump’s early champions.
“Here’s the thing. He’s got his base,” UC San Diego political science professor Steve Erie said of Hunter’s constituents. “That’s east county, a lot of it rural, less educated, and it’s Trump country.… What you’re hearing people say is, ‘Well, he has been indicted, but we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.’”
Erie noted that Collins, the indicted New York rep, has suspended his reelection campaign following his arrest on insider trading allegations. But Hunter is feeling no shame about running for reelection. He and his wife have pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include allegations that some of the expenditures involved unnamed people with whom Hunter had “personal relationships.” Hunter, who has identified himself as a Christian conservative family man, has said carousing allegations against him were “tabloid trash.”
“He’s playing mini-Trump, saying it’s a partisan witch hunt, even though it’s by Republican appointees,” said Erie.
And it may work, given that hypocrisy has become heroic in Trump’s America, and because Hunter’s Democratic opponent doesn’t quite have the required local political pedigree.
Hunter, meanwhile, gets points for three tours of military duty, having served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Brazen is almost too weak a word to describe what this guy has done,” said Erie. “And yet he was still 9 points up in polling after the indictment.”
So what exactly is Hunter accused of?
Trump’s public flogging of Sessions made me curious about the details. So I read the 47-page indictment and news accounts by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which began asking tough questions months ago. The Hunters paid back a small portion of questioned expenses. But they concealed an additional $200,000 in spending, and filed phony expense reports to cover their tracks, according to the feds. The U.S. attorney in the case accused them of treating their campaign coffers “like personal bank accounts.”
My favorite item, other than the hare fare, was a $14,000 family vacation to Italy.
The Hunters and guests ran up a $1,164 tab for food and drinks at the ridiculously pricey Montage resort in Laguna Beach. “Our treat,” the Hunters told their pals.
They spent thousands of dollars on dental bills, private school tuition, junk food and gourmet meals, movie tickets and golf, tequila shots and ballgames. They threw it around like it was Monopoly money.
When the Union-Tribune asked Hunter about $1,300 worth of video game purchases, he blamed his son, saying the lad had used the wrong credit card.
When the indictment was delivered, Hunter tossed his wife under the bus, saying she had been his campaign manager and she handled his finances.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
I’m guessing the rabbit gets blamed for something between now and the trial, the start of which has been delayed until after the November election.
“On or about July 9, 2014,” says the indictment, “the HUNTERS spent $250 in Campaign funds at United Airlines to fly a family pet to Washington, D.C. for a family vacation.”
Turns out the family pet was a rabbit, and that’s a lot of cabbage.
But who flies to D.C. with a rabbit? What did they do, put the poor animal on a leash and take it to the Smithsonian and the Lincoln Memorial?
When the rabbit story was first reported a couple of years ago, a Hunter spokesman said the use of a campaign credit card for “in cabin rabbit transport fees” was an inadvertent mistake. The rabbit’s ticket was supposed to be a freebie, he said, covered by miles racked up on the credit card.
Look, I can’t even get priority boarding at full fare, and this bunny is flying for free? If I find out the rabbit was sipping Chardonnay in business class, I’m not done with this story.
In the meantime, the important thing for you to remember is that the sitting president of the United States has blasted the nation’s top law enforcement official for doing his job. And he stands by Duncan Hunter despite the 60-count indictment, because Hunter is the kind of guy Trump wants in Congress.
Deeper, deeper and deeper we go, spiraling down the rabbit hole.
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