Feds: Rep. Duncan Hunter paid for affairs with campaign cash
LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California illegally used campaign money to finance romantic flings with lobbyists and congressional aides, spending thousands of dollars on meals, cocktails and vacations, federal prosecutors say.
A government court filing late Monday detailed allegations about the married Republican congressman’s affairs with five women following an indictment last year charging Hunter and his wife with misspending more than $200,000 in campaign funds on trips and other personal expenses.
Margaret Hunter, who served as the six-term congressman’s campaign chairwoman, pleaded guilty this month to one count of corruption and agreed to testify against her husband.
In the new motion, prosecutors reconstructed Rep. Hunter’s alleged clandestine lifestyle, providing times when he arrived for and left liaisons and listing a range of expenses he represented as campaign-related activity, such as paying for dates with a woman who had become his lover shortly after she started working in his office.
He used his campaign treasury for even seemingly incidental purchases — a $7 beer at a hotel bar while on a ski trip with one of the women, and an Uber ride after a liaison with another lobbyist in October 2015.
Hunter has said he is the target of politically motivated prosecutors. His lawyer, Gregory Vega, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the filing.
It came the same day Vega filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the search and seizure of Hunter’s congressional records was unconstitutional.
Vega wrote that the Constitution does not put members of Congress above the law but does “protect them from prosecution for their legislative activities and from having to disclose legislative records, absent their consent.”
Prosecutors said the “sequence of romantic liaisons is so far removed from any legitimate campaign or congressional activity as to rebut any argument that Hunter believed these were proper uses of campaign funds.”
“It’s a very solid case that got much stronger” once his wife pleaded guilty and agreed to testify, said former federal prosecutor Jason A. Forge, who prosecuted California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who served more than seven years in prison in a bribery scandal.
In an interview with Fox News last year, Hunter said his campaign made mistakes, that he gave his wife power of attorney when he deployed as a Marine to Iraq in 2003 and that she handled his finances during his last five terms in office.
The government’s filing suggested that Hunter tapped into campaign funds because he had no other money to finance his romantic relationships. During a weekend ski trip with a lobbyist, his personal bank account had a negative balance and he had been hit with $33 fees six times for overdrawing the account, prosecutors said.
The filing provided a look into a string of his alleged relationships and an accounting of campaign funds that were spent:
— Sometime after April 2009, Hunter became romantically involved with a lobbyist and began staying at her home while occasionally spending campaign funds on food and beverages, prosecutors said.
— In January 2010, Hunter flew to Reno, Nevada, ostensibly to attend a convention for a nonprofit group. After a brief stop at the convention, Hunter and a lobbyist headed for a ski resort near Lake Tahoe, where they spent the weekend skiing and ordering room service, according to the filing. Prosecutors said Hunter used campaign funds to rent a car, pay the hotel tab and fly back to Washington.
— In August 2012, while attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Hunter began a romantic relationship with a woman who worked for a member of the House leadership. Hunter later began staying at her home “nearly every night,” prosecutors said. He used campaign funds for cocktails and Uber rides.
— On Sept. 14, 2016, Hunter and another lobbyist engaged in “intimate personal activities unrelated to Hunter’s campaign,” prosecutors said. He used campaign funds to pay for an Uber to return to his office the next morning.
Prosecutors said evidence about the congressman’s affairs is necessary to “demonstrate Hunter’s ... intent to break the law and to establish his motive to embezzle from his campaign.”
The government’s filing also referred to “additional potentially sensitive conduct” by the congressman with personal friends that could taint the jury pool if revealed. Both sides are discussing an agreement in which evidence of the get-togethers, financed by campaign dollars, would not be introduced at trial.
Hunter was re-elected by Southern California’s most Republican congressional district last year despite the indictment. His trial is set for Sept. 10.
His lawyer also filed a motion to move the court case out of San Diego County. He said Hunter would not receive a fair trial because of negative local media coverage and warned the congressman’s ties to President Donald Trump could taint the trial after Trump lost the county in the 2016 election.
He said Hunter could get an impartial jury in the court’s Eastern District of California, which includes several largely rural counties carried by Trump in 2016.
Asked Tuesday whether Hunter should resign, No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise told reporters that he was unaware of the details of the lawmaker’s case and the next steps would be determined in court.
“I hope it gets resolved quickly,” said the Louisiana lawmaker, noting that Hunter’s committee assignments have already been taken away.
Associated Press Writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed.