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Congressman Duncan Hunter To Plead Guilty To Campaign Finance Crime

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Congressman Duncan Hunter is changing his not guilty plea to federal campaign finance charges and a notice on the court docket today. A change of plea hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Hunter and his wife in a separate court proceeding are charged with spending nearly $200,000 of campaign funds for personal use for months. The Congressman has been calling the charges politically motivated and labeling them a witch hunt. KPBS reporter Prius Sharifa spoke with one of Hunter's attorneys about his changing plea and Priya, welcome. Thanks for having me. So is Congressman Hunter going to plead guilty to charges of campaign finance embezzlement? He will be

Speaker 2: 00:40 pleading guilty to one charge of misuse of his own campaign funds. It's important to remember that he was charged with 60 criminal counts, but his wife Margaret back in June also pled guilty to one charge. So he's essentially doing the same thing that she did and will likely be facing the same sentencing that she will also be facing in April. And that's up to five years in prison.

Speaker 1: 01:04 Do we know what prompted the change of plea?

Speaker 2: 01:06 Well, you know, I got a chance to listen to the interview that he did with Kay USI, um, earlier today. And he essentially said that the three reasons he did this were his three children and that obviously they've been in the public spotlight because he is a public figure, but he didn't want to put them through kind of the agony of going through a trial

Speaker 1: 01:25 and the agony of going through a trial might have something to do with the kinds of evidence that might have come out at that trial that could have upset his family. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 01:35 Right. So this all goes back to what we saw in the indictment, which was that the couple allegedly used more than $200,000 in campaign donations on family expenses. And there was a lot of details about what those expenses were. Some of them were as simple as, you know, gas, groceries, school lunches and things like that. But others, uh, you know, they were allegedly tied to him spending money on, uh, fairs and mistresses and buying a ticket for his pet rabbit to go from the West coast to the East coast. So I think just having all of that come out in the media again was something that he didn't want to put his children through

Speaker 1: 02:13 kind of sentence that Hunter faces if the court accepts this plea deal is why

Speaker 2: 02:17 is up to five years. And you know, he also mentioned in the interview that he's essentially hoping that the judge will sort of take pity on his wife and that she won't face any jail time and she can stay home with the three kids. So he said he's willing to, you know, accept responsibility for what he did wrong here and he understands that, you know, the buck stops at him when it comes to how his campaign money was used. And so he's hoping that he can be the one who, you know, is actually sentenced to serving time and not his wife.

Speaker 1: 02:47 We have a quote from Congressman Hunter speaking with K U S I news about the effect of his guilty plea on the 50th district race. And we're going to pass it off to whoever takes the seat next and we'll make sure that

Speaker 3: 03:00 that's a seamless Trent transition. Last year, uh, I was the only Republican to be elected to Congress in orange County and San Diego. I think it's important to keep the seat a Republican seat. Uh, president Trump right now needs support more than ever for a strong national security border security and good high paying jobs in this country.

Speaker 2: 03:21 So there wasn't even a question. If the Congressman had been sentenced, would he drop out of the race? He's obviously going to be dropping out of the race. Seems like he seems to be talking a lot about the transition. So it's unclear about one that's going to happen. I did ask his lawyer that and he wasn't able to give me a specific timeline, but it seems like the election is going to be happening in March, so there's a good chance he'll probably just stick around until somebody new is elected. And right there you hear him saying that it's important to him that a Republican gets the seat. And as many of you know, Darryl Eissa, Carl de Mio and Brian Jones are all, uh, have put their hat in the ring for that seat as well as Democrat Amar camp in Charlotte. And he's not endorsing any of those candidates.

Speaker 2: 04:05 Not yet. I'm sure that's something that hopefully we can ask him about in court tomorrow. We'd K S I did also ask him what he plans to do with his future. And he said that one of the proudest things, you know, we know he was a Marine Corps veteran, served three deployments and he said that some of his proudest moments as a Congressman has been fighting for the war fighters who were, in his words, wrongly prosecuted and incarcerated. So he's hoping to continue doing that type of work in the future. Now this is all expected to go down in federal court in San Diego tomorrow, right? Correct. And Duncan Hunter has used those opportunities in the past, those public opportunities to call the prosecution a witch hunt and maintain his innocence. What is he saying about those claims of innocence now? Yeah, you definitely saw a change of heart, uh, with him in this interview.

Speaker 2: 04:54 And you know, he said, I think it's important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor our account for my campaign money. I justify that plea with the understanding that I am responsible for my campaign and my campaign money. So this is really interesting because as you mentioned, you know, before he had really been pointing the fingers or it seemed like he was pointing the fingers at his wife and saying that, you know, this was part of a witch hunt. But I think now he's trying to change his tone a little bit. And that might be to hope that his wife doesn't get sentenced at all. I have been speaking with KPBS reporter, Priya Schriefer and thank you so much. Thanks.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.