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Rep. Duncan Hunter Corruption Trial Postponed Until January 2020

 August 14, 2019 at 10:39 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego, Congressman Duncan Hunter won't go to trial for allegedly misusing campaign funds until next year. US District Court Judge Thomas Wieland changed the trial date from September 10th to January 14th after defense attorneys raised questions about whether an appeals court must first consider their motion to dismiss the case against their California Republican. What does this mean for hunter's reelection bid? Casey Domingez political science professor at the University of San Diego whose research includes congressional races and campaign finances. Join us now via Skype with answers. Casey, welcome. I thank you for having me. So what are your impressions of how this case is unfolding and what it means for Dunkin Hunter's political future? I think he's, uh, he's on trial. Um, so I, you know, this is a pretty serious situation for any public official to be in. It's, it's an unusual, very unusual situation for a public official to be in m and a very hard one to run for reelection during the course of a federal trial. Speaker 1: 01:00 And right now the trial is set for January. That's right around the corner from the march primary. Does the delay help or hurt his campaign that, that close to the primary? I think it probably poses challenges for his party. Um, you know, his, his strategy is probably the same. As long as he's running for reelection, he's going to maintain his innocence and, uh, you know, try to get his message out to the public and rally has his supporters. And, and what about the political implications for hunters? Opponents? There's Democrat and Mar camp in a jar along with five other Republicans, including former San Diego city, Councilman Carl de Mio, you, you mentioned those tough decisions having to be made earlier than, uh, thought or expected. You know, it would be one thing if we had a different kind of primary system, our primary law, but w what we have is, is the top two primary in March. Speaker 1: 01:51 Um, and the way that that law is written, sort of the only way that the general election ballot is, is through that primary. Um, and so if I'm our camp and a jar is the only Democrat running, you know, chances are very good that he will get on the November ballot. Right. Um, especially because he came so close to winning that seat last time. I think that the question for Republicans is how comfortable are they with the possibility that they could end up with hunter on that ballot. Again, if the trial goes, you know, not in hunter's favor. Um, and how would that affect their possibility of keeping that seat? Um, which of course they desperately want to do and it's a republican seat and, and they, they, they probably have every expectation of keeping it. Um, but you know, having a, if the trial goes badly for hunter, that's not great for the Republican chances of keeping that seat, especially because there aren't good ways to remove him from the ballot later. Speaker 1: 02:43 So they have to think about whether they want to kind of rally around someone else. And that's certainly from the party's perspective, that's what maybe you would expect them to do in a situation like this. But you know, it's all up to individuals to make those decisions. So then, so the Republicans would really be better off with an earlier verdict. They would have more certainty, um, with an earlier verdict. They would know, how did the trial come out? Um, do we want to, you know, if, if, if he's convicted, do we want to try to push them out of the race at that point? Um, if he's declared innocent, then it then, then, okay, no problem. Rally around him. He's the incumbent. But, uh, I think they, they have, they have sort of a tougher decision now without the certainty of knowing how that trial is going to come out. Speaker 1: 03:25 In terms of, of campaign strategy, you know, congressman hunter has said the allegations against him are all part of a political witch hunt. Could that message be effective in, in a campaign strategy? Well, we have some evidence about that. Um, he, he basically used that strategy after the indictment came down. He ran for reelection in 2018 and he won. Um, but he didn't win by very much in a very republican area. Um, and I, I, I think if I were a republican strategist, I would wonder how a conviction would look to voters given that they almost, you know, two percentage points or so elected Democrat, um, based on the basis of the indictment. So I think it's, it's a risky situation for the party. No, hunter, you know, he's held the 50th Congressional district for more than a decade. And before him, his father was the congressman. What impact historically have criminal charges had on congressional reelection campaigns? Speaker 1: 04:21 You know, usually a candidate in this situation will be sort of, doesn't run for reelection. We don't have a ton of cases where people run for reelection while facing a federal trial. Um, and in part because their, their party pushes them out and says, yeah, you, you're not going to be our best candidate here in our very partisan polarized era right now. You can expect that Republicans are going to vote for the Republican no matter what. And there aren't. There aren't really that many swing voters these days. And so that, that makes it a more unique situation. I'm not sure. There are a lot of great comparisons for the situation we're in right now. If hunter is convicted, could he still serve in Congress? Yes. Uh, the house has the ability to expel him if he, if he does not resign upon conviction. Um, the house has the ability to expel him from office. Speaker 1: 05:12 So that would be up to two thirds of the House of Representatives and still there could continue to be delays in the, in the case past the primary. So in the meantime, with Duncan Hunter being stripped of his committee assignments, can he still be an effective lawmaker? Well, uh, that, that, that's a good question. I mean, to the degree that being in the minority party means that you're not going to have a lot of influence on the, the course of events in the house. It makes it more difficult for him to act on behalf of his constituents. But on the other hand, minority party members have relatively little power in the house, but, but certainly not being able to ask questions and committees and vote on, uh, an amendment stability is a, that's not a recipe for effectiveness. I have been speaking with Casey Domingas political science professor at the University of San Diego. Casey, thanks so much for joining us. You're welcome. Speaker 2: 06:08 [inaudible].

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U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter won't go on trial until next year on corruption charges that involve the spending of campaign cash on vacations, extramarital affairs and other items, a U.S. judge decided Tuesday.
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