Embattled California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter is done being hunted by the feds and is taking a plea deal.
California Rep. Duncan Hunter said he plans to plead guilty to misusing campaign funds and is prepared to go to jail, a stunning turn of events for the six-term Republican who had steadfastly denied wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of a political witch hunt by federal prosecutors.
Hunter had pleaded not guilty, but in an interview that aired Monday said he will change his plea at a federal court hearing Tuesday in San Diego. He said his motivation is protect his three children from going through a trial, which was set to begin Jan. 22.
His wife Margaret Hunter also was charged in the case and in June accepted a plea deal that called for her to testify against her husband.
“I think it would be really tough for them,” the 42-year-old Hunter said in an interview with San Diego TV station KUSI. “It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure. I think it’s time for them to live life outside the spotlight.”
Hunter, who was re-elected last year and has been actively campaigning for a seventh term next year despite being under indictment, indicated he will leave office but didn’t say when.
The combat Marine veteran and an early supporter of President Donald Trump said he will plead guilty to one count of misuse of campaign funds. Federal prosecutors alleged he and his wife spent more than $250,000 in campaign money for golf outings, plane tickets and a family vacation to Italy, as well as household items from places like Costco.
The crime is a federal felony, so there's no way he can stay in office without being expelled. The bad news is with Hunter out, Darrel Issa is completely ready to slime his way back into Congress.
Former Rep. Darrell Issa, former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio and state Sen. Brian Jones all announced they would run against Hunter, who barely survived his 2018 reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar.
Campa-Najjar is once again vying for the now-open seat. He said Hunter’s change of plea will improve his chances of winning in the March primary and the November general election.
“We are all ready to move past this dark cloud of scandal,” Campa-Najjar said by telephone. “I look forward to restoring some integrity and dignity to this district.”
Issa, who represented the neighboring 49th District over 18 years before deciding not to seek reelection last year, said Hunter faced a difficult decision between defending himself in court and protecting his family from testimony that he cheated on his wife — and paid for affairs with donor funds.
“The reality is Duncan made a mistake,” Issa said by phone. “Reaching for the campaign credit card in what clearly is a personal expense is inappropriate. It was certainly bad judgment and not reimbursing it much earlier was a mistake.”
Issa said voters should remember there were “two Duncan Hunters” — one who joined the Marines after the Sept. 11 attacks and defended veterans in Congress for a decade-plus, and one who veered from his marriage and made improper campaign spending decisions.
DeMaio said Hunter did the right thing.
“While this must have been a difficult decision for him, Congressman Hunter’s decision to plead guilty is the right one for his family and his constituents and shows that no one should be above the law — especially members of Congress,” DeMaio said by phone.
While Hunter’s main political rivals did their best not to focus on how the guilty plea might improve their election chances, political experts were not so reluctant.
“This gives the Republicans a much stronger chance of holding on to a critical seat,” UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser said. “They lose the advantage of incumbency and name-brand, but getting away from the scandal and the soap opera this has become will allow the party to focus on issues that are popular to voters in this district.”
San Diego State political science professor Brian Adams also said Republicans are much more likely to retain the seat with Hunter off the ballot.
“I think the Democrats’ best chance was a Campa-Najjar/Hunter matchup,” he said. “I think DeMaio, Issa or Jones all match up well against Campa-Najjar.”
Unfortunately, I have to agree. And it's very likely that Darrell Issa will once again be in the House starting in 2021. It's an R+11 district and the biggest GOP stronghold left in SoCal, the hills above San Diego north of I-8. The Hunter family ran this district for decades, and now Darrell Issa is going to make one last grand theft auto attempt to steal it for himself.