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Judge Sets Trial Date For US Rep. Duncan Hunter

A portrait of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret Hunter in federal court in San Diego, Dec. 3, 2018.
Courtesy of Krentz Johnson
A portrait of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret Hunter in federal court in San Diego, Dec. 3, 2018.
Judge Sets Trial Date For US Rep. Duncan Hunter
Indicted Congressman Duncan Hunter, Wife, Could Get Trial Date GUEST: Priya Sridhar, reporter, KPBS News

September 29th trial date has been set for indited San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter. It's then that he and his wife Margaret will answer to allegations they misused more than two hundred fifty thousand dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses. Hunter won re-election last month by three points six percentage points. The closest race since Hunter was first elected in 2008. Kay PBS reporter preassure either was in court today and she joins me now. Priya thanks for being here. Thanks. So what happened in court today. So probably the most noteworthy thing as you just mentioned was the setting of a trial date which is scheduled for September 10th of next year. So that's next fall and it's well over a year after his initial indictment but both the federal prosecutors and the defense attorneys acknowledge the fact that there is a lot of discovery that needs to happen in this case to make the trial happened so they wanted to leave a sufficient amount of time for the defense to really go through all the evidence that the government has accumulated with these charges. And Hunter held on to his seat in Congress in spite of these charges against him. Did he have a message for supporters today. So there were a few hecklers that showed up outside of the courthouse today. And let's actually just take a listen to what Duncan Hunter said. Good morning everybody. The audio there certainly tells a story Pria paint a picture for us. Yes so you know this isn't the first time he's been to court facing these charges and in the past he has spoken to reporters addressed some of those hecklers and his constituents. But you know I can't go inside of his brain and figure out why he didn't say anything today beyond just good morning everyone. But it is interesting that now that the campaign is over he seems to be a little bit less talkative to reporters so this particular race against his Democratic opponent Aamar Kempen Ahar was the closest out of any of the races in his history as a politician. So now that that seems to be behind him it seems as though he's less talkative and now it's onward to the trial. So what did the judge say about setting the date so far in the future. So he did acknowledge that this is a lengthy amount of time to be waiting for the trial to happen but he also said that you know there is a lot of discovery that needs to happen here so he weighed both the idea of the public's right to a fair and speedy trial and also acknowledging the fact that the defense has a lot of evidence to look through. So yeah it's going to be a waiting game at this point. And Pria if you could remind us of the charges Congressman Hunter and his wife Margaret are facing so they are facing felony charges for misused campaign contributions and we've heard a lot of the things that he was allegedly spending money on including you know family vacations allegedly flying his pet rabbit on an airplane. So I'm sure we're going to be hearing all of those sort of juicy details at that trial that lawyers are expecting is going to last at least three weeks. And what happens to Congressman Hunter seat if he's found guilty of these charges. So there are no rules that automatically disqualify him or strip him of his position as a congressman. What could happen is the House could vote essentially and expel him from his seat and now that the Democrats have taken over the majority in the house it's likely that if he was convicted and they did vote that he would lose those seats. But what's interesting about this is you know Paul Ryan had actually asked Congressman Hunter to remove himself from the various committees that he was on and the leadership positions that he had in the House of Representatives. And initially Representative Hunter said no he wasn't interested in giving any of those things up. And after you know a little bit of back and forth he finally did step down from those positions. The only thing that will be interesting is that you know if he were to actually serve time in prison he wouldn't be able to vote in the house. So that begs the question of what kind of function could serve as a congressman if he can't vote now that we actually have the trial date. It's going to be interesting to watch the timeline moving forward because this trial is likely not going to end until about October of 2019. So if they were to hold a special election that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months to organize and realistically that special election wouldn't happen more than about six months out from his actual term date. So it'll be interesting to see what the Democrats want to do. In fact convicted this is a story that sounds like it will continue to unfold. I've been speaking with Kay PBS reporter Priya. Priya thank you. Thanks.

UPDATE: 2:48 p.m., Dec. 3, 2018

A judge on Monday scheduled a Sept. 10 trial date for U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife on corruption charges, slightly more than a year after their indictments.

It was Hunter's first court appearance since defeating Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar last month by nearly 4 percentage points for a sixth term representing San Diego's eastern suburbs in Congress.

The congressman and his wife have pleaded not guilty to a 60-count indictment in August alleging they spent more than $250,000 in campaign finance funds on family trips, tequila shots, Costco shopping sprees and other items.

Judge Sets Trial Date For US Rep. Duncan Hunter

RELATED: What Will Happen If Congressman Duncan Hunter Is Convicted?

Hunter, 41, has called the charges a political witch hunt and said his wife oversaw his finances. She also was his campaign manager.

The Republican lawmaker and his wife, Margaret Hunter, entered court separately and had different lawyers. Duncan Hunter declined to speak to the media after the brief hearing as he was followed to his car outside the courthouse.

Attorneys for all sides told U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan that they expected the trial to last three weeks. The judge set a hearing for pretrial motions on July 29.

RELATED: Indicted GOP Congressman Defeats Democratic Opponent In 50th District

Hunter's father served nearly three decades as the congressman in one of the few safely Republican congressional districts in California. Republicans hold a 13-point advantage over Democrats in voter registration in the 50th District, which Hunter won by 27 points in 2016.

Hunter is one of two congressmen re-elected last month while indicted. Both were early supporters of President Donald Trump.

New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins is scheduled for trial in early 2020 on charges he leaked information about a biopharmaceutical company that allowed his son and others to avoid nearly $800,000 in stock losses. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of insider trading and lying to the FBI.