Almost lost in the rest of the Cohen/Manafort maelstrom yesterday was the fact that Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California and his wife were indicted on charges of misusing campaign funds for their personal benefit. These stories have been percolating for a while now, with Hunter always maintaining that they were untrue and politically motivated, but prosecutors clearly didn’t agree. The list of items in the indictment does appear to be damning indeed. (CNN)
Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, routinely — and illegally — used campaign funds to pay personal bills big and small, from luxury vacations to kids’ school lunches and delinquent family dentistry bills, according to a stinging 47-page indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The charges of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations and conspiracy were the culmination of a Department of Justice investigation that has stretched for more than a year, during which the Republican congressman from California has maintained his innocence.
The detailed indictment portrays the Hunters as living well beyond their means and said they “knowingly conspired with each other” to convert campaign funds to personal use.
This is bad news for more than just Hunter and his wife, though we should make no mistake about this. It’s really bad news for them. These are serious charges which, if proven, could have serious consequences including possible jail time and heavy fines. There’s also the potential for figuratively fatal damage to his reputation. For example, one allegation is that Hunter purchased clothing for himself at a golf course and wrote it off as being a purchase of golf balls to give to wounded veterans. If true, that’s an insult to the wounded warriors and not the sort of thing one survives politically. And there are supposedly charges on campaign credit cards for vacations to Italy, Hawaii and Las Vegas totaling nearly $25K.
But these charges also bring into question the future of Hunter’s seat. There are some parallels here to the ongoing drama surrounding Chris Collins and the insider trading charges brought against him. It’s now too late to get Hunter’s name off the ballot in California’s 50th district. It’s a reliably red district and Hunter won the last three races there with totals ranging from 63 to 72 percent. But if he drops out of the race there’s no reason the Democrats couldn’t nab yet another “safe” Republican seat.
Of course, Hunter may be looking at the initial option many of us thought Collins would explore. If he simply keeps denying the charges and continues with his campaign, there’s still a more than fair chance that he can squeak through with another win. Then, when his trial rolls around some time next year, if he’s convicted he could either resign or be forced out and a special election would have to be called. The GOP could probably win that fairly easily and hang onto the seat.
I’d like to think the best of Hunter and believe that these charges have been erroneously brought. But at the same time, the prosecutors have some awfully specific receipts they are pointing to and a history of Hunter’s own staff raising complaints about all the spending that was going on. It doesn’t look good for Congressman Hunter and yet another of President Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress may be on his way out the door.