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Congressman Duncan Hunter To Plead Guilty To Campaign Finance Crime

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, heading into court, Oct. 7, 2019.

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Above: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, heading into court, Oct. 7, 2019.

UPDATE: 12:46 p.m., Dec. 2, 2019:

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Hunter, who has maintained his innocence for nearly 1-1/2 years, and has at times called the charges against him a political witch-hunt, will change his plea at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego.

Aired: December 2, 2019 | Transcript

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, will appear in a federal courtroom in San Diego on Tuesday to plead guilty to a campaign finance crime.

Hunter, who has maintained his innocence for nearly 1-1/2 years, and has at times called the charges against him a political witch-hunt, will change his plea at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego.

Listen to this story by Priya Sridhar.

"I think it's important not to have a public trial for three reasons, and those three reasons are my kids," Hunter told KUSI in an interview that aired shortly after the hearing docket was posted online. "It's hard enough being the kids of a public figure and I think it's time for them to live life outside the spotlight."

The Republican congressman is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy to use campaign funds for personal use, the same charge his wife Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to in June, a source told KPBS.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Hunter and his wife were charged August 2018 with 60 counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses, including family vacations and school tuitions, and falsifying Federal Election Commission campaign reports.

The Hunters allegedly misreported the expenses on FEC filings, using false descriptions such as "campaign travel," "toy drives," "dinner with volunteers/contributors" and "gift cards," according to federal prosecutors.

Duncan Hunter, at the time, said the charges were politically motivated coming just two months before an election. Hunter won that election despite being indicted.

At one point, Hunter blamed his wife for misusing campaign funds, saying she was in charge of campaign finances.

Margaret Hunter took a plea deal last June and agreed to testify against her husband. It is uncommon for a wife to turn against her husband in this way, former federal prosecutor Jason Forge told KPBS at that time.

“Anytime a couple is charged it is very unusual for one to resolve the case completely independent of the resolution of the other,” Forge said. “It is far more common to have either a joint plea or even more often one spouse plead and the other get some sort of deferred prosecution.”

Despite Margaret Hunter's plea deal and cooperation with prosecutors, Duncan Hunter still maintained his innocence. He tried to have the case dismissed, citing an obscure constitutional clause known as the "speech or debate" clause. He claimed he could not be prosecuted for legislative acts.

It was unclear what made Hunter change his mind. The plea comes just before Hunter's public trial is expected to start on Jan. 22, after several delays and appeals. His original trial was supposed to start in October.

Hunter, who has served in Congress for 11 years, hinted in the KUSI interview he may be stepping down and not seek reelection following the plea.

"I'm confident that the transition will be a good one," he said. "My office is going to remain open ... we're gonna handle people's cases and we're gonna pass it off to whoever takes this seat next. And we'll make sure to make it a seamless transition."

This is a developing story. We will update as more information becomes available.

Information for the timeline was pulled directly from an indictment released Aug. 21, 2018. The indictment protects the identity of any individuals ("Individual" or "Congressman") other than Rep. Duncan Hunter himself or his wife Margaret.

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