Despite pleading guilty to massive campaign finance fraud, former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Vapeville) was pardoned Tuesday, Dec. 22 by Donald Trump.
A White House press release issued shortly after 4 p.m. PST also named 19 other people pardoned by Trump, including Russia probe figures George Papadopoulos and former Rep. Chris Collins, who, along with Hunter, were the first members of Congress to endorse Trump.
Margaret Hunter, who also pled guilty to committing at least $150,000 in campaign finance fraud — the original charging document said over $200,000, and contemporary sources said $250,000 — with the husband she divorced last week, was not pardoned. However, Trump pardoned her the nex day along ith Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and 23 other criminals.
Duncan Hunter pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds in December 2019, and in October was sentenced to 11 months in prison with the term set to begin on Jan. 4, 2021 at Federal Correctional Institute La Tuna in Anthony, Texas.
Duncan Hunter was set to be on supervised release for three years after serving his prison sentence. He was also required to participate in a drug and alcohol treatment program. Hunter would have started his sentence in May, but it was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and he would have reported to a federal prison in West Texas in January 2021.
“At the request of many Members (sic) of Congress, President Trump granted a full pardon to Duncan Hunter,” the White House statement said. “His pardon is also supported by former Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission Bradley Smith.”
The White House statement added: “In 2019, Mr. Hunter pled guilty to one count of misusing campaign funds, an offense that could have been handled as a civil case via the Federal Election Commission, according to former FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith.”
In what the New York Times called “an audacious pre-Christmas round of pardons,” Trump also granted clemency to two people convicted in the special counsel’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians and two corrupt former Republican members of Congress in addition to Hunter.
Among those pardoned, according to news reports, was Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to federal officials as part of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Also pardoned was Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2018 in connection of the special counsel’s inquiry. Both men served short prison sentences.
Aside from Hunter, Trump pardoned former members of Congress Chris Collins of New York and Steve Stockman of Texas.
Only Hunter had not yet stepped foot in prison. Collins, an early endorser of Mr. Trump, is serving a 26-month sentence after pleading guilty in 2019 to charges of making false statements to the F.B.I. and to conspiring to commit securities fraud. Stockman was convicted in 2018 on charges of fraud and money laundering and was serving a 10-year sentence
The pardons are not likely to be the last before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, and they will no doubt feed the notion that Trump has used his pardon power aggressively for personal and political purposes, The New York Times said. The founders gave the president the power to serve as the ultimate emergency break on the criminal justice system to right the wrongs of those deserving of grace in mercy.
A tabulation by the Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith found that of the 45 pardons or commutations Mr. Trump had granted up until Tuesday, 88 percent aided someone with a personal tie to the president or furthered his political aims.
There are approximately 14,000 people in line for pardons and commutations, according to The Washington Post. For years, criminal justice advocates have criticized Republican and Democratic administrations alike for backlogs that left thousands of rehabilitated people seeking mercy to languish in prison.
The White House statement about Trump’s actions Tuesday noted who had recommended each pardon and commutation, a group that included Republican members of Congress and other Trump allies. Of the 20 people who received clemency, only seven had active petitions for pardons or clemency listed in online Justice Department records.
Trump’s decision to pardon elected officials who had admitted wrongdoing — as well as prominent business executives who had engaged in fraud and other white-collar crimes — flies in the face of his onetime campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in American political and corporate life.
Hunter and his wife were indicted in August 2018 for lavishly spending on “items as inconsequential as fast food, movie tickets and sneakers; as trivial as video games, Lego sets and Playdoh; as mundane as groceries, dog food, and utilities; and as self-indulgent as luxury hotels, overseas vacations, and plane tickets for themselves, their family members, and their pet rabbits Eggburt and Cadbury,” according to prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors charged that Hunter had fraudulently spent more than $200,000 on expenses that included a $14,000 Italian vacation and thousands of dollars on routine items like groceries, bedding and other household items.
Hunter resigned from Congress in January, after winning reelection in California’s 50th Congressional District, which encompasses much of eastern San Diego County.
Collins, a former New York congressman, has been serving his 26-month prison sentence in a minimum-security federal prison in Florida since October, according to CNN.
Collins pled guilty in October 2019 to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and one count of making a false statement.
While attending the White House’s annual congressional picnic in June 2017, Collins had shared non-public information with his son Cameron about the failed trial results for a multiple sclerosis drug the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited, of which he was a board member, was developing.
Collins later lied to FBI agents to cover it up. The stock trades allowed Cameron Collins, a co-defendant in the case, to avoid over $750,000 in losses, according to federal prosecutors. Collins himself did not trade on the information.
Trump also pardoned a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives, Phil Lyman. Lyman was sentenced to spend 10 days in jail for his role in a 2014 all-terrain vehicle demonstration that was intended to protest federal land management practices. He has insisted he was the victim of selective prosecution, and his case had been championed by other Utah Republicans.
Also pardoned Tuesday by Trump
Trump pardoned four Blackwater guards — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard — who were convicted by a federal jury in 2014 after a lengthy trial that saw some 30 witnesses travel from Iraq to testify against them. Prosecutors accused the men of illegally unleashing “powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children.”
The four private security contractors Trump pardoned all worked for the now infamous Blackwater Worldwide security company, founded by Trump supporter Erik Prince, a brother of Betsy DeVos, the controversial Trump education secretary.
Trump has long viewed Prince as an ally, and mused about giving him more government contracts during his presidency, according to White House officials and Trump advisers.
According to prosecutors, the four were among seven Blackwater employees who opened fire in the Nusoor Square traffic circle in Baghdad, killing 17 people.
An FBI investigation found 14 of the deaths unjustified, according to rules of engagement for private security contractors in Iraq. Slatten was accused of firing the first shots.
Trump pardoned two Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who received 11- and 12-year prison sentences for their role in the 2006 shooting. Their sentences were later reduced through presidential commutation by George W. Bush.
The shooting happened February 17, 2005, on the US-Mexico border southeast of El Paso, Texas. During their trial, Ramos and Compean said that the illegal immigrant, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, had brandished a gun while actively resisting arrest.
The final pardon listed by the White House cause some head scratching by former Department of Justice officials. That was Phillip Esformes, 52, a former Miami Beach healthcare mogul convicted of playing a central role in one of the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud cases and using his ill-gotten millions to pay bribes for favors, according to The Miami Herald.
Esformes, convicted of paying bribes, money laundering and other charges, was also ordered to pay $44 million to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program and the U.S. government after a grueling 2019 trial prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and Justice Department. Trump’s commutation did not overturn that restitution order.
A handful of former federal prosecutors in South Florida questioned Trump’s clemency decision.
“In a perfect world, a commutation would be the result of a thoughtful, apolitical process intended to offset a grave injustice,” said former federal prosecutor Ben Curtis, who has tried dozens of Medicare fraud cases in Miami and across the country. “Did that happen here? Seeing this decision today and knowing the history of healthcare fraud in South Florida, it’s tough not to become cynical about the justice system.”
At his sentencing in September 2019, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola called Esformes’ scheme to generate thousands of Medicare patients for his chain of assisted-living and nursing-home facilities in Miami-Dade “unmatched in our community, if not our country” and said he “violated [the system’s] trust in epic proportions.”
Back to the Hunter crime spree
Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-in-Large, in August 2018, went through the Hunters’ 47-page charging document – which laid out the allegations against Hunter and his wife. Cillizza called it “absolute fire, portraying a totally out-of-control member of Congress operating in an ethics-free zone,” adding, “I went through the indictment and plucked out the most amazing moments.”
1. “Throughout the relevant period, the Hunters spent substantially more than they earned. They overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period resulting in approximately $37,761 in ‘overdraft’ and ‘insufficient funds bank’ fees.”
Holy crap! In a seven-year period, the Hunters allegedly overdrew their bank account more than 1,000 times! Also, according to the indictment, Hunter had less than $1,000 in reportable assets listed on his personal financial disclosure forms for each year between 2009 and 2016. Talk about living beyond your means!
2. “The Hunters illegally converted and stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds to purchase goods and services for their personal use and enjoyment.”
I never understand this. If you want to use $250 from your campaign to buy a few personal items, I get how you can reasonably think you won’t get caught. But do you think no one will ever ask questions about $250,000?!?!
3. “Duncan Hunter facilitated the theft of campaign funds by ignoring his campaign staff’s multiple warnings about Margaret’s improper use of campaign funds, accusing campaign staff of disloyalty by ‘trying to create some kind of paper trail on me’ when they raised concerns about improper spending, and continually refusing to remove her access to campaign funds.”
Ah, the old I’m-not-doing-something-wrong-you’re-doing-something-wrong approach! Also, reminder: These people Hunter accused of “trying to create some kind of paper trail” worked for him at the time.
4. “The Hunters concealed and disguised the personal nature of many of their campaign expenditures by either falsely stating the expenses were ‘campaign related’ or by falsely reporting the item or service purchased when providing information to the Treasurer (by, for example, buying personal clothing items at a golf course so that the purchase could be falsely reported to the Treasurer as ‘balls for the wounded warriors’).”
Buying golf clothes for yourself and reporting it as buying golf balls for wounder warriors? Oooomph.
5. “The Hunters concealed and disguised the personal nature of their family’s purchases of video games using Campaign funds by falsely claiming to a financial institution that the payments were fraudulent charges and then reporting the purchases to the FEC and the public as fraudulent charges.”
Video games! And then tell your staff and the public you were hacked! Paging Anthony Weiner….
6. “The Hunters illegally used Campaign funds, among other things, to purchase the following: Hotel rooms, airline tickets and upgrades, meals and food, and entertainment expenses for vacations for themselves and their friends and family, including more than $14,000 for a family Thanksgiving vacation in Italy in November 2015; more than $6,500 for a family vacation to Hawaii in April 2015; more than $3,700 for a family vacation to Las Vegas and Boise in July 2015; more than $2,400 for a Las Vegas couples vacation in August 2011; and more vacations to destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Pittsburgh, London, and Washington.”
See point No. 1. These are people living way, way beyond their means. Hawaii in April, Vegas in July and Italy in November? Pretty nice year.
7. “Household and other personal items for their family from a wide variety of stores, such as Costco (where they spent more than $11,300 in Campaign funds), Walmart (where they spent more than $5,700), Barnes Noble (where they spent more than $2,500), Target (where they spent more than $2,300), Michaels craft store (where they spent more than $2,200), and other retailers such as Aaron Brothers, Party City, World Market, Crate & Barrel, Pier 1, Penny, Sears, and Rite Aid.”
Look, I get it. Costco is awesome. And those damn massive jars of mustard cost more than you think. But who the hell spends $2,200 at Michaels? Seriously that sounds like a nightmare I had recently.
8. “On or about January 25, 2010, in Incline Village, Nevada, Duncan Hunter spent $1,008.72 in campaign funds at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino for food, drinks, and three nights lodging during a personal ski trip with Individual 14. On this day, the Hunter family bank account had a negative balance and incurred six separate insufficient funds fees (totaling $198). Also on this same day, Duncan Hunter withdrew $20 from his personal bank account, leaving a balance of $15.02.”
That last line is a dagger. He took $20 out and has $15 – total! – in the family bank account.
9. “On or about April 2, 2010, Duncan Hunter claimed a $257.40 reimbursement from Campaign funds for driving his car on a 468-mile trip to Virginia Beach with Individual 14, Congressman A, and Congressman A’s date despite the fact that they did not use Duncan car on the trip.”
Wait, you have to use the actual car to get reimbursed for the miles? Huh!
10. “On or about May 19, 2010, in Santee, California, Margaret Hunter spent $307.72 in campaign funds at Target to purchase a tablecloth, three square pillows, a three-piece brush set, a metal tray, four temporary shades, four window panels, a white duck, two Punky Brewster items, a ring pop, and two five-packs of ‘animals.’ In order to conceal and disguise this illegal charge, Hunter falsely told the Treasurer that it was for ‘teacher/parent supporter events.’”
Punky Brewster! Soleil Moon Frye! What a blast from the past. Also, I’m interested in knowing more about this “white duck” purchase.
11. “On or about September 13, 2010, in San Diego, California, Duncan Hunter spent $164.29 in Campaign funds for, among other things, a round of golf and beer at Riverwalk Golf Club with Individual 1A. When asked by the Treasurer if this expenditure (among several others) was campaign related, Duncan Hunter falsely responded, ‘Yessir- All good.’”
The next time someone asks me if I just broke the law, I am going to respond “Yessir, all good.” Amazing.
12. “On or about December 22, 2010, after the Treasurer again warned the Hunters that ‘campaign funds may not be used for a leisure outing’ even if campaign business is occasionally discussed, Margaret Hunter told the Treasurer that she refused to provide the names of individuals she allegedly took out for meals with campaign funds because ‘that’s silly.’”
“Yessir, all good!”
13. “On or about June 17, 2011 in La Mesa, California, Duncan Hunter spent $142.36 in campaign funds at the Men’s Wearhouse to ‘re-cut’ two pairs of pants. When this charge was uncovered by the Treasurer, Duncan Hunter falsely explained the charge: ‘Lol. Men’s warehouse was a possible semi-embarrassment that I had to let ride. I used the wrong card, then didn’t want to explain the forced refund…’”
Oh, I see. You didn’t want people to know you got your pants tailored at Men’s Wearhouse. Or you used the wrong card? Or something? “That’s silly.”
14. “On or about August 6 to 10, 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada and elsewhere, the Hunters spent $2,448.27 in campaign funds on a personal vacation with Individuals 3A and 3B. During this vacation, the HUNTER family bank account began incurring insufficient funds fees until a check from Duncan parents was deposited into the account on August 10.”
A cringe-worthy detail. Even as Hunter was allegedly spending freely from campaign dollars, he was hitting his parents up for money.
15. “On or about September 12, 2011, despite opposition by his Treasurer and individuals in his Washington, DC. office, Duncan Hunter hired Margaret Hunter as his ‘Campaign Manager’ at a salary of $2,000 per month.”
This is a move made out of desperation given the Hunters’ personal financial situation. And it’s one that in retrospect made things much, much worse.
16. “On or about September 16 to 19, 2011, in Boise, Idaho and elsewhere, the Hunters spent an additional $640.05 in Campaign funds for a family vacation centered on a family member’s participation in a dance competition.”
Oh yeah, I’ve seen that one.
17. “On or about February 8 and 16, 2012, the Hunters spent $306.80 in campaign funds at United Airlines for additional charges related to a ticket for Margaret’s mother to fly from San Diego to Chicago. In response to whether the charge was campaign related, Duncan Hunter told his Treasurer: ‘Yes sir.’”
Works. Every. Time.
18. “On or about October 30, 2012, following an article in the San Diego Reader publicizing Margaret’s salary and various expense reimbursements, Duncan Hunter relieved her of her formal duties with the campaign. Although the campaign was in dire financial condition, and had just canceled a pre-election mailer due to insufficient funds, Duncan Hunter continued to pay Margaret Hunter a salary from campaign funds and allowed her to keep her campaign credit card.”
So, the congressman fires his wife as campaign manager after getting some bad press. But he keeps paying her! And lets her still have access to a campaign credit card! (Here’s the original San Diego Reader story.)
19. “On or about December 13, 2013, in Reston, Virginia, Duncan Hunter spent $63.57 in campaign funds at Best Buy to purchase a pair of gloves and a car charger for an upcoming trip to Pittsburgh.”
Who the heck buys gloves from a Best Buy?
20. “On or about December 30, 2013, after considering the benefits of bringing more money to the household on a basis, Duncan Hunter hired Margaret Hunter back as Campaign Manager at a salary of $2,500 per month (although the Campaign ended up actually paying her $3,000 per month).”
21. “On or about July 9, 2014, the Hunters spent $250 in campaign funds at United Airlines to fly a family pet to Washington, DC. for a family vacation.”
You can’t go on a true family vacation without the family pet!
22. “On or about October 22, 2014, in San Diego, California, Duncan Hunter spent $204.34 in campaign funds for two greens fees, food, and drinks at the Rancho Bernardo Golf Resort, during a personal golf outing with friends, including Individual 1A. To conceal and disguise his illegal activity, he misled his Chief of Staff by describing his regular golf outing with Individual 1A as ‘a Christian thing’ with a supporter.”
A “Christian thing”? Yessir, all good!
23. “On or about March 20, 2015, when Duncan Hunter told Margaret Hunter that he was planning ‘to buy my Hawaii shorts’ but had run out of money, she counseled him to buy the shorts at a golf pro shop so that they could falsely describe the purchase later as ‘some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors.’”
Of all the things the Hunters have allegedly done wrong, this one is, by far, the worst.
24. “On or about July 29, 2015, in Chula Vista, California, Margaret Hunter spent $253.62 in Campaign funds at SeaWorld’s Aquatica Family Waterpark to entertain family members. To conceal and disguise this illegal payment, she suggested to the Treasurer that the charges should be classified as an ‘educational tour’ as they were related to a ‘daylong entrance and educational meet on their issues and programs.’”
Epic – and I mean truly epic – spin here.
25. “On or about August 17, 2015, Margaret Hunter spent $152.25 in campaign funds at to make an online purchase of cosmetics. To conceal and disguise this illegal charge, she falsely told the Treasurer that the charge was for ‘gift basket items Boys and Girls Clubs of San Diego.’”
26. “On or about September 26, 2015, in Anaheim, California, the Hunters spent $229.44 in Campaign funds at Disneyland’s Star Trader shop on gifts, including two Minnie Mouse Ear headbands, a Star Wars droid knit beanie, and a raglan-sleeve black-and-gray Star Wars girls T-shirt. In order to conceal and disguise this transaction, Margaret Hunter falsely informed the Treasurer that the charge was for ‘food/bev.’”
Tell me more about this Star Wars droid knit beanie…
27. “On or about November 23, 2015 in an attempt to justify the use of campaign funds to pay for the family’s trip to Italy, Duncan Hunter attempted to set up a day tour of a US naval facility in Italy. After Navy officials responded that they could only provide a tour on a particular date, Duncan Hunter said he would discuss the proposed date with Margaret Hunter, then subsequently told his Chief of Staff, ‘tell the Navy to go f*** themselves [no alteration in original],’ and no tour occurred.”
He seems nice!
28. “On or about February 1, 2016, in response to questions raised by the Treasurer for about ten months, Margaret Hunter falsely claimed for the first time that the Steam Games charges were fraudulent.”
I was hacked!
29. “On or about March 4, 2016, in Washington, DC, Duncan Hunter spent $462.46 in Campaign funds for 30 shots of tequila and one steak at El Tamarindo restaurant during Individual 8’s bachelor party.”
Uh, waiter, yes I’d like to make an order please. Can I have 30 shots of tequila? Also, one steak. Thanks!
30. “On or about December 31, 2016, in Alpine, California, Duncan Hunter authorized Margaret Hunter to continue receiving a salary for purportedly being the Campaign Manager.”
“Yessir, all good!”