Young Duncan Hunter was elected because most of the voters in the district thought he was his father, also Duncan Hunter, who resigned rather than go to prison with his crony and partner-in-crime Duke Cunningham.
Hunter Senior, I wrote in 2005, had a hand in virtually every military scandal involving large sums of money that had gone down over the past two decades. He was a key participant in getting Air Force funds questionably diverted to his campaign contributor, Boeing (the bi-product of which was the disgrace and resignation of Air Force Secretary Jim Roche).
Cunningham went to prison; Hunter and Jerry Lewis, a sleaze-bag Republican from a neighboring district, were allowed to retire. Now the folks who live in Temecula, Escondido and in the desert and mountains east of San Diego are stuck with Hunter, Junior, who learned his criminal behavior on his pappy’s knee. Rachel Bade and John Bresnahan discerned what they could about the FBI investigation of the larcenous right-wing congressman.
The criminal investigation into Rep. Duncan Hunter is intensifying as a grand jury in San Diego questions multiple former aides about whether the California Republican improperly diverted political funds for personal use.
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Hunter’s parents, as well as a female lobbyist with whom many people close to the congressman believe he had a romantic relationship, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation.
The Justice Department is trying to determine whether hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hunter’s campaign account were spent improperly on his family and friends. Hunter already sold his home to pay back what even he now acknowledges were improper charges, moving his wife and kids in with his parents while he mostly lives in his Capitol Hill office.
…Three people with knowledge of the probe told Politicothat Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who acted as his campaign manager, is at the center of the FBI inquiry. Many of the alleged campaign charges in question– including tuition payments for their children’s schooling and dozens of restaurant meals where no donor appeared to be present– were made by Margaret Hunter, those people said.
But Hunter is also under intense scrutiny by the FBI and federal prosecutors. Federal agents have questioned his former staffers about whether thousands of dollars spent at Washington restaurants were legitimate campaign expenditures. They’ve also inquired about his relationships with several women in Washington, including one who worked in his office.
“He’s enjoyed his time in Washington– probably a little too much,” said one House Republican lawmaker who has known Hunter for years but wants him to retire in order to protect the seat. “His wife supposedly had the campaign credit card, but that’s not an excuse. You can’t just blame your wife.”
…Hunter has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for drinking heavily and carousing, according to multiple lawmakers and staffers who have witnessed his behavior over the past several years.
Former staffers to Hunter said he and his lawmaker friends– dubbed the “bros caucus” by his aides– would regularly go to the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican hangout, to drink beer, sometimes during the day. Congressional aides have recounted to Politico at least two stories of recent official meetings where lawmakers questioned whether Hunter was intoxicated.
In one December huddle between Republicans on the Armed Services Committee and GOP leaders, Hunter raised his voice at Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), accusing the Republican leader of undercutting the military with an irresponsible funding strategy. According to people who were present or heard about it afterward, members noticed his bloodshot eyes and speech and questioned whether Hunter was under the influence.
One Republican lawmaker said in an interview that he spoke to Hunter about his drinking habits and urged him to get evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Former aides to Hunter said other lawmakers approached Hunter on the same grounds.
…While Hunter was in Washington, Margaret Hunter was in San Diego taking care of their three children. She allegedly grew reckless in using the campaign credit card for personal use, according to sources familiar with the workings of the Hunter campaign. The Hunters’ most recent financial disclosure report, from May, lists no assets and between $60,000 and $115,000 of debt.
Margaret Hunter’s trips to shopping malls, surf shops and fast food restaurants are among the transactions the FBI is examining, according to sources close to the investigation. The Hunters repaid the campaign more than $60,000 in improper campaign charges, but federal prosecutors are interested in tens of thousands of additional charges, according to several sources and a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Hunter has run up huge legal bills as he tries to avoid a criminal indictment. FEC records show his campaign paid more than $535,000 last year to at least a half-dozen law firms to represent him and his staff in both Washington and California. Lawmakers are allowed to use campaign contributions to cover legal expenses.
The negative publicity surrounding the criminal investigation also has had an effect on Hunter’s fundraising. In the last quarter of 2017, Hunter spent nearly $179,000 on legal fees, while raising less than a third of that total, roughly $51,000.
If Republican leaders are going to press Hunter to step down, they need to do it soon. California’s filing deadline is March 9. Hunter’s district is solidly Republican, but his legal troubles could make the race competitive in a Democratic wave election.
“There are some people who want” Hunter gone, said one senior Republican lawmaker. “That’s a fact. … People don’t want to see any more baggage.”
…Hunter’s personal problems in Washington started early. While Hunter Sr. rarely drank and was careful never to be seen alone with another woman, Hunter was more carefree, said sources close to him.
At one point, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned Hunter and his friends to cut it out and stay away from female lobbyists they’d frequently dine with at night. Hunter’s father also called staff and members to check in on his son, said sources who know both men. (Hunter Sr. disputed this account, saying he’s never worried about his son’s drinking habits.)
The drama only increased when Hunter’s longtime chief of staff, Vicki Middleton, left the office in late 2014. Middleton, a “second mother” to Hunter in the words of one former aide, had worked for his father for years. And Hunter’s staff said he mostly behaved well in her presence.
Around that time, Hunter hired a young woman whom investigators have inquired about during their probe, sources familiar with the questioning said. Hunter promoted her from intern to full-time, a decision that perplexed staffers who said she frequently failed to show up for work and was hostile to co-workers.
Former staffers to Hunter said the atmosphere grew toxic because of the woman, who would text with Hunter and sometimes accompany him to the Capitol Hill Club. Multiple aides complained about her attire, saying it was inappropriate for a work environment. Two aides kept a tally of how many days of work she had missed. The woman would also show up uninvited at Hunter’s campaign events, including one in San Diego.
Despite mounting concerns within his office, however, Hunter refused to fire her. The nature of the relationship caused some of his staffers to question Hunter’s judgment.
At the same time, on the other side of the country, Margaret Hunter started using the campaign credit card liberally, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation. In the spring of 2016, Hunter’s staffers began to take a closer look at their campaign finances after a series of news reports about questionable charges, such as $1,300 in video game charges that appeared on Hunter’s FEC report.
Multiple stories by California newspapers would later detail money spent on oral surgery, jewelry from Italy and, most memorably, $600 to fly a pet rabbit across the country. After further scrutiny, Hunter aides realized that was only the beginning.
Hunter in early 2016 brought in an outside law firm to do an independent audit going back to the date that Margaret Hunter received her campaign credit card. Hunter was expecting that the audit would turn up $20,000 in campaign expenses he would have to repay and was shocked when the firm found more than $60,000, according to one former aide. He told close associates it was his wife’s fault.
The FBI started inquiring about campaign transactions going back more than five years. Part of the investigation centers on possible falsification of FEC reports, including whether information was intentionally entered incorrectly to cover up purchases. Law enforcement is also looking at credit card fraud, since the campaign disputed the video game charges with the credit card company; investigators want to verify that the charges were indeed made in error.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation said Margaret Hunter didn’t keep many receipts because FEC reports don’t require that practice. So prosecutors have attempted to obtain the records from businesses, as first reported by the Union-Tribune.
Also under the microscope are campaign funds spent at myriad trips to grocery stores, shopping malls and stores like Pier 1 and Barnes & Noble. Investigators are trying to verify that money was actually used on campaign items. Also under scrutiny are numerous charges at fast food restaurants.
Law enforcement officials have also asked whether Hunter tried to configure his internal audit so that he could afford the amount he would have to pay back, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.
Can the drunken, randy and sticky-fingered Hunter be beaten in November? Bade and Bresnahan wrote that “some Republicans are urging GOP leaders to force him to retire, worried that his troubles could cost the party another seat in its uphill effort to maintain the House majority.”
Issa, on the run from Doug Applegate, in the nearby 49th district, announced his own retirement, but has made it known that if Hunter doesn’t run, he’ll move east and run there. Trump beat Hillary 54.6-39.6% in the district, which has a PVI of R+11, the second reddest in the state (tied with Doug LaMalfa’s) and slightly worse than Kevin McCarthy’s.
Hunter, who has raised $454,806 and has just $290,904 cash on hand, has a Republican primary opponent, Shamus Sayed, who has raised $185,539 (mostly from self-funding). Hunter also has half a dozen Democrats vying for the seat including two well-funded contestants, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who has raised $504,928 and Josh Butner, who has raised $421,385.
Each has about the same amount as Hunter does in his war-chest. Ammar Campa-Najjar is the progressive in the race and is leading Butner in every metric except the DCCC metric. The DCCC seems to see him as the more garden variety Democrat and leans in his direction.
Originally published on Down with Tyranny “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis” and used by permission. For more visit the blog at http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2018/02/will-duncan-hunter-be-on-trial-before.html.
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