SAN DIEGO — Indicted six-term GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter has held steadfast to his contention that a corruption case against him is the result of a political witch hunt.
But that argument got tougher Thursday for the former Marine and close ally of President Donald Trump after his wife, who worked as his campaign manager, pleaded guilty to a single corruption count and acknowledged being a co-conspirator with her husband in spending more than $200,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.
Margaret Hunter accepted a plea deal that calls for 59 charges to be dismissed in exchange for her testimony, full cooperation with prosecutors and other concessions. The conspiracy charge to which she pleaded includes all the allegations contained in the 60-count indictment.
“The walls were closing in on him before, now this just makes it more claustrophobic,” said Jason Forge, a former federal attorney who prosecuted California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham in 2005 for one of the worst bribery scandals to ever bring down a federal lawmaker.
Rep. Hunter “has fewer and fewer options. It’s not just his campaign manager. It’s his campaign manager and his wife,” Forge said.
Margaret Hunter detailed in her plea agreement how she and her husband knowingly used the campaign’s credit card for six years to bankroll trips to Italy, Las Vegas and Disneyland.
She said other expenses charged on the card included $399 for zip lining for Rep. Hunter and two of his three children; $500 in airline travel expenses for their pet bunny, Eggburt; and $351 for a family lunch in connection with a child’s Irish dance competition.
The plea agreement describes a couple perpetually in debt yet footing the bill for dinners with friends and private school tuition for their children.
They charged more than $500 on the card to celebrate their son’s birthday at historic Hotel del Coronado and then told the campaign treasurer the charges were “campaign related,” according to her plea agreement.
Rep. Hunter, who represents Southern California’s most Republican congressional district, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press that he’s been politically targeted by federal prosecutors. After he was indicted last year, he referred to the Justice Department as “the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement.”
He said Thursday that the case should have been handled by the Federal Election Commission and alleged U.S. prosecutors indicted him and his wife ahead of the November elections “to inflict as much political damage as possible in hopes of picking up a congressional seat.”