File Photo of Duncan Hunter speaking to a reporter at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Dennis Brack/Bloomberg News)

Republican Lawmaker Duncan Hunter Indicted for Corruption

(Bloomberg) -- Republican lawmaker Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret were indicted in California for using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses and for filing false campaign records.

The Hunters illegally used campaign money to pay for family vacations, school tuition and dental work, as well as smaller purchases including fast food and movie tickets, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday.

Hunter, one of Donald Trump’s first backers in Congress in 2016, represents California’s 50th congressional district, covering the southern part of the state, notably parts of San Diego and Riverside counties. His indictment capped a bad day for the president and his party: Trump’s personal lawyer implicated him in a crime at almost the same moment his former campaign chairman became a convicted felon.

Among the personal expenditures the Hunters paid for with campaign money were a $14,000 family Thanksgiving vacation to Italy, a $6,500 family vacation to Hawaii, and a $3,700 trip to Las Vegas and Boise, Idaho, according to 47-page indictment filed in federal court in San Diego.

“Congressman Hunter believes this action is purely politically motivated,” Michael Harrison, a spokesman for Hunter, said in an emailed statement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the charges against Hunter “are deeply serious.”

“Now that he has been indicted, Rep. Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter,” Ryan said in a statement.

‘Hawaii Shorts’

In March 2015, Hunter, 41, told his wife that he was planning “to buy my Hawaii shorts” but had run out of money, according to the indictment. She advised him to buy the shorts at a golf pro shop so they could describe the expense as golf balls “for the wounded warriors” -- a service organization for veterans.

The Hunters also paid their dentist bills, their children’s school tuition and thousands of dollars in groceries and meals with campaign funds, according to prosecutors. Meanwhile, they overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period, according to the charges.

November Challenge

The San Diego-based Marine combat veteran is facing a November challenge from Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, with recent polls showing his lead narrowing to single digits.

The five-term congressman, whose father was a House member who represented much of the same area before him, was one of Donald Trump’s first backers in Congress in 2016, before it became clear Trump would be the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Chris Collins of New York and Hunter endorsed Trump on the same day -- becoming the first House Republicans to do so -- on Feb. 24, 2016.

Both are now facing federal indictments.

House Investigation

Hunter was quoted then as saying, “We don’t need a policy wonk as president. We need a leader as president.”

A pending House Ethics Committee investigation of Hunter regarding alleged misuse of campaign funds was previously announced by the panel as deferred at the request of the Justice Department.

Gregory Vega, a lawyer for Hunter, said in an Aug. 6 letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which was provided to Bloomberg News by Hunter’s office, that the indictment “will result in a solidly Republican district being handed to a Democratic candidate who garnered a mere 16 percent of the vote in the primary.”

That candidate, Campa-Najjar, said the indictment “confirms just how deep this corruption can reach when someone like Duncan Hunter Jr. is in it for himself instead of representing the people.”

“Now is the time to put country over party and rise against this corruption and rise above the divisive politics,” he said in a statement. “Together, we can bring real change and fresh thinking to represent the people of CA-50.”

The case is U.S. v. Hunter, 18-cr-3677, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).

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