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Campus Notebook: A rundown of Duncan Hunter’s transgressions

When news of an FEC inquiry into his campaign broke, Hunter blamed his wife and kids

Former Rep. Duncan Hunter is set to be sentenced for his campaign finance crime March 17.
Former Rep. Duncan Hunter is set to be sentenced for his campaign finance crime March 17. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ahead of the March 17 sentencing of former Rep. Duncan Hunter, federal prosecutors have outlined their argument for why the California Republican — who pleaded guilty last year to misusing campaign funds — should serve one year and two months in prison.

The sentencing memorandum, filed earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, outlines a multitude of transgressions by Hunter that includes him blaming his family for his legal issues, extramarital affairs, drinking before a top secret congressional briefing and spending over $150,000 of campaign funds on copious amounts of alcohol, tobacco and activities for his own enjoyment. Including improper spending by Hunter’s wife, Margaret, they converted $250,000 in campaign funds for their personal use.

Prosecutors also noted how — despite ultimately pleading guilty — Hunter mounted a staunch defense since he was indicted in August 2018, in which he denigrated the Justice Department and singled out prosecutors as being driven by partisan ambitions. He resigned from office in January.

“Rather than admit his guilt and resign his seat in April 2016 when originally questioned, or even in August 2018 when originally charged, Hunter chose to mislead the more than 700,000 people who reside in the 50th congressional district,” prosecutors wrote. “As we now know, Hunter lied to the people about his guilt. Not once, but countless times. In doing so, he conned voters into electing a soon-to-be-convict. As a result of his duplicity, the voters were duped of their right to representation in Congress — representation they are denied to this day.”

“Our very democracy is at risk when a criminal like Hunter wins an election by weaponizing the tropes of fake news and the deep state,” the government said.

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Hunter’s decision to resign bolstered Republican chances of holding on to the 50th District in Southern California, which President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016.

An embattled Hunter nearly lost reelection in 2018 to Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is bidding for the seat again this year. Campa-Najjar advanced to the general election after the March 3 primary, which saw all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters moving on to November.

Campa Najjar will face former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who narrowly beat fellow Republican and onetime San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio to secure a spot on the November ballot.

Issa previously represented the more Democratic-leaning 49th District and opted not run for reelection in 2018. But his chances of a return to Congress look brighter this year, with Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rating the 50th District race Solid Republican.

The filing by prosecutors in the Hunter case notes that despite growing up privileged as the son of a congressman — and serving in Congress himself, a job that provides a six-figure salary — Hunter was “virtually penniless” and maxed out his credit cards into five-figure negative balances. Additionally, he received almost $175,000 in loans and gifts from his parents.

Hunter’s field representative and San Diego area driver told the government that Hunter had to check his account balance before he could buy a bottle of water. The driver also said that Hunter’s parents regularly gave him $1,000 payment installments.

Joe Kasper, a friend of Hunter’s who became his chief of staff in 2015, said Hunter would not have enough money to buy cigarettes, new shoes, clothes, tires and basic personal hygiene items.

“Indeed, Hunter embodied the very definition of living paycheck to paycheck,” prosecutors wrote. “And, even given the regularity of his substantial paycheck and supplements from his parents, not a month passed where his bank balance did not dip into negative territory.”

How Hunter used his campaign cash: dates, cigarettes and dip

  • Hunter met a woman in April 2009 with whom he began a romantic relationship and lived at her D.C.-area home.
  • Hunter took his girlfriend out with another congressman and his girlfriend to see Jack Ingram perform in Alexandria, Virginia. He spent $121 in campaign funds to buy 12 beers, nachos and wings.
  • In January 2010, Hunter spent $23 in campaign money on a tin of Skoal Bandit Mint chewing tobacco and a book called “Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid.”
  • Hunter also used campaign money to buy a pack of Marlboro Gold cigarettes and Copenhagen Long Cut chewing tobacco.
  • In June 2011, Hunter’s wife, Margaret, planned a trip to D.C. and reserved a room at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, but changed her plans to arrive a day later. Hunter kept the room they reserved and stayed there with his girlfriend the night before his wife arrived. He charged the night with his girlfriend and the rest of the nights at the hotel with Margaret to the campaign.
  • Hunter spent hundreds of dollars to pay for Uber rides to his girlfriend’s apartment and for transportation to social occasions.
  • The Hunters spent over $14,000 on a 2015 family vacation to Italy, where they visited Rome, Florence, Naples, Positano and Pompeii. “A few weeks after they returned, Margaret revealed the true purpose of the trip in an email to a friend: ‘Italy was amazing. Truly our best family trip so far. Like that saying ‘if traveling was free, you’d never see me again’!’”

For the troops

In March 2015, Hunter was on his way to Lululemon in San Diego to buy shorts for his upcoming vacation in Hawaii. Hunter texted Margaret to ask if his bank debit card worked because he needed “Hawaii shorts.” She told him the card wouldn’t work and that he should use campaign funds. “Thinking he was still at the golf course, Margaret suggested that Hunter buy the shorts at the pro shop and then falsely tell Chris Marston, his campaign treasurer, the charge was an appropriate charitable gift of ‘some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors,’” the prosecutors wrote.

Bachelor Party weekend

  • On March 4, 2016, Hunter celebrated his brother Sam’s visit to D.C. for a friend’s bachelor party. He spent over $1,300 in campaign funds partying that weekend. Hunter texted his two friends: “Dude[s], Sam is in town . . . . We need to have fun, this is his first time visiting his [C]ongressman brother in DC[.]”
  • They started at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, in Adams Morgan, where Hunter spent $354 on 10 shots of bourbon, several vodka sodas, two old fashions and many beers. Later on, at 1 a.m., Hunter spent $462 at the neighboring El Tamarindo on 30 tequila shots and a steak. The night ended at 5:25 a.m. when Hunter called an $8 Uber ride to the bachelor’s home.
  • The next day, on March 5, Hunter spent $127 at Stoney’s Bar and Restaurant for food and beer. The group subsequently took an Uber to the Capitol where Hunter gave the others a tour on Saturday night. They then left to go to Fado’s Irish Pub, where they watched the Conor McGregor v. Nate Diaz fight. At the bar, Hunter spent $220 on the tab, including four house vodkas, three Grey Goose vodkas, two IPAs, three light draft beers, a Harp lager, a DC Brau, a Corruption IPA, three Stella Artois, a Lagunitas, two Guinness Stouts and a cider.

‘My family f—ed me’

  • On April 4, 2016, the FEC questioned Hunter’s campaign about charges to Christian Unified Schools and Steam Games, an online gaming outlet. The next day, Morgan Cook, a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, broke the story of the inquiry.
  • Hunter then blamed his wife and kids for his transgressions in a text exchange with his chief of staff: “Dude. I’m not even sure [how] to respond to s—. I have no answer. My family f—ed me. Duncan is texting me saying he’s a disgrace to the family….and he is and I don’t give a s—. Point is I have no take on this. I have no idea what to say.” In an additional text, Hunter added: “And my marriage……” (The reference to “Duncan” is to his son, also named Duncan.)

It is notable that before Hunter entered his guilty plea, he told KUSI News that it was important for him not to endure a public trial for three reasons: “And those three reasons are my kids.”

‘Hard charging’ weekend

  • The final weekend of June 2016, Hunter spent the weekend partying with friends. He spent $409 at the L’Hommage Bistro, where he bought nine Goose IPAs, five Stella Artois, 11 Ketel One vodka shots, Adele wine, Captain Morgan rum and three Don Julio tequila shots.
  • That next day, a Saturday, the group planned on “day drinking [in] either [C]hinatown or eastern market.” Sunday, Hunter texted his friends and described the weekend as “48 hrs of hard charging.”

‘Still drinking’

On Sept. 14, 2016, Hunter partied at a National Republican Congressional Committee event and spent $32 for an Uber to the apartment of a woman with whom he was having an affair. At 7:40 a.m. the next morning, Hunter texted her that he showed up drunk to a 7 a.m. congressional basketball practice and was “still drinking.” His calendar showed an 8 a.m. top secret-level briefing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness Subcommittee.

Additional takeaways

The sentencing memorandum notes that Hunter has been hired to work for Worldwide Aeros Corp, a company that makes airships in Montebello, California.

“Duncan Hunter was hired for a short period of time as advisor on a specific technical subject. The task that was given to Duncan as an advisor has been completed,” Alix Martin, a counsel for the company, said in an email. “And at this point, there is no new pending task for him.”

Also, Hunter is a fan of Jack Daniels honey-flavored whiskey, as indicated in his texts from January 2016.

“I spent the evening at the beach at a bonfire drinking honey Jack Daniels. Awesome drink,” Hunter wrote.

“Playing golf in the morning with my happy time guy,” Hunter added.

The prosecutors finished their 80-plus-page filing with a final push for Hunter to serve over a year in prison:

“Our very democracy is at risk when a criminal like Hunter weaponizes the tropes of fake news and conspiracy theories. As noted previously, this is not a mere philosophical debate in the 50th Congressional district; it is a fact. Hunter’s false narrative about being an innocent politician framed by a partisan Justice Department influenced his 2018 re-election to Congress. There should be severe consequences when an elected representative seeks to cover up corruption by hiding behind lies. This Court should ensure that Hunter faces those consequences.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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