UPDATE: 4:56 P.M., August 21, 2018
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife were indicted Tuesday on federal charges that they used more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses that ranged from groceries to golf trips and lied about it in federal filings, prosecutors said.
Hunter, a Republican, and his wife Margaret Hunter were named in a 48-page indictment filed in San Diego federal court.
The indictment alleges the money was taken between 2009 and 2016. It says the couple concealed the misuse by falsifying campaign finance records, claiming the expenses as campaign-related.
Asked for comment about the indictment, a representative for Hunter sent an Aug. 6 letter from Hunter's attorney, Gregory A. Vega, to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein asking him to postpone the indictment.
Vega contended that there was a "rush to indict" after a two-year grand jury investigation.
There was "politically motivated" pressure to wrap up the investigation in order to tarnish Hunter before the general election after he handily won a June primary, Vega contended.
Hunter, 41, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, won a fifth term in 2016 representing a heavily Republican San Diego-area district. His father represented the area for many years in Congress.
The House Ethics panel had investigated allegations that Hunter improperly used campaign funds to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses, such as trips to Hawaii and Italy and tuition for Hunter's children.
The panel said in March that it was delaying the inquiry at the request of the Justice Department.
His lawyers said in 2017 that Hunter and his wife repaid the campaign about $60,000.
Hunter's office said at the time that one of the charges he repaid was a $600 fee for flying a pet bunny with his family. There was no intent to stick donors with the cost, Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said at the time. The congressman used airline miles to pay for his family's travel and there was an assumption that bringing along the rabbit would not incur an extra charge, Kasper told The Associated Press.
When Hunter found out his campaign had paid for the rabbit's transport, he paid back the money as part of more than $60,000 in other questionable charges, Kasper said.
Kasper pointed to the rabbit expense as an example of overreach by the congressional ethics office.
Rep. Hunter’s legal representation issued a written statement that said: “The Southern District’s truncated process supports the conclusion that its prosecution of Congressman Hunter is politically motivated.”
In an interview with KPBS in May, Rep. Hunter claimed there was no misuse of campaign funds and that no mistakes were made.
At a town hall meeting held March 11, 2017, Hunter was questioned about the spending.
“The campaign finance stuff, I was not watching it close enough. I have fixed it now, I have fixed it now, it’s all straightened out, I paid it back. I announced it prior to the election and I’m not going to make excuses for it… when I start explaining it, it sounds like excuses. The buck stops here. It was my responsibility.”
The campaign for Ammar Campa-Najjar, Rep. Hunter's Democratic opponent, issued the following statement regarding the congressman’s indictment:
The division, chaos and corruption in Washington has gone too far.
Today’s 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. Together, we can bring real change and fresh thinking to represent the people of CA-50.