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Duncan Hunter's 'personal relationships' get new attention in indictment

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., attends a House Committee on Armed Services hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2018.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By GRIFFIN CONNOLLY | CQ-Roll Call | Published: September 6, 2018

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Rep. Duncan Hunter once called Washington whispers that he had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs "tabloid trash."

But the California Republican  – who, along with his wife, Margaret, was indicted last month on 60 counts related to spending more than $250,000 in campaign cash for personal expenses that included vacations to Italy and Hawaii, dental work, and flying his family's pet rabbit across the country  – may face more scrutiny in the coming months for the "personal relationships" he had with at least five women on whom prosecutors have alleged he spent campaign donation money.

The Hunters pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in August.

According to the indictment, the Hunters were profligate spenders who lived well beyond their means.

The couple overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period. They accrued approximately $37,761 in "overdraft" and "insufficient funds" bank fees. In the same period, the couple's credit cards were charged to the credit limit, often with five-figure balances, resulting in approximately $24,600 in finance charges, interest and other fees related to late, over the limit and returned payment fees.

Duncan spent some of that money on five unidentified people living in Washington, D.C., with whom he had "personal relationships," prosecutors allege: "Individuals" 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 in the indictment.

The San Diego Union-Tribune first broke down the sections of the indictment that implicate Hunter for marital infidelity.

Hunter's lawyer, Gregory Vega, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Vega argued in a letter last month to the DOJ that many of the charges against Hunter, including the details about his "personal relationships," should not be tried in criminal court, but rather be litigated under civil election law, the Union-Tribune reported.

In January 2010, just one year into his first term in office after succeeding his father representing San Diego County, Hunter dropped more than $1,000 in campaign money on a "personal" three-day ski trip at a resort in Lake Tahoe with Individual 14.

He spent $121.34 on food and beer two months later at a concert with Individual 14 and "Congressman A" and his date, the indictment states.

Hunter's spending on Individual 14 lasted through June 2011, when he allegedly spent $254 of campaign money on beer, golf, and clothes.

For two years, from 2013 to 2015, Hunter charged his campaign for expenses on Individual 15. He ordered Uber rides to Individual 15's home and paid for bar tabs and food, per the indictment.

In June 2015, overlapping by a month with his spending on outings with Individual 15, Hunter allegedly began using his campaign cash on Individual 16.

Hunter, who worked with Individual 16, according to the indictment, spent $203 at Washington's H Street Country Club with the individual, as well as "Congressman C" and his date.

Hunter had brief relationships with two other people in Washington, Individuals 17 and 18, in October 2015 and September 2016, respectively.

Hunter charged his campaign $42 for Uber rides to and from Individual 17's home on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of October 2015.

One early morning in September 2016, he paid $32 for an Uber from Individual 18's home to his office.

Hunter also "spent $865.63 in campaign funds for a room at the Liaison Capitol Hill while Individual 7," a California friend of Hunter and his wife, "visited from San Diego" while Margaret Hunter was still in California, the indictment reads.

Hunter and President Donald Trump have blamed his indictment just months out from the midterm elections on an unfair targeting practice by the Department of Justice.

"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," Trump tweeted Monday, referring to Hunter and GOP Rep. Chris Collins of New York.

"Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff," he added.

Hunter has struck a defiant  – yet inconsistent  – tone with the media as he marches on with his campaign for a sixth term in California's 50th District.

At first, he shifted blame to his wife, claiming she handled his finances. But after outlets reported those comments, he returned to reporters, telling them to "leave my wife out of it."

An internal poll conducted for Hunter's Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, found the two dead-even at 46 percent in the head-to-head race.

The poll conducted by Tulchin Research for Campa-Najjar surveyed 400 likely voters by phone between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30. The margin of error for the poll was 4.9 percentage points.

Eighty-seven percent of voters surveyed had heard information or read about news of Hunter's indictment.

The poll also showed a 16 percent shift in Hunter's unfavorable numbers from another poll it did in July.

Now 45 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of him compared to 36 percent of likely voters who view him favorably.

Hunter won re-election in 2016 by a handy 27 points, outpacing Trump, who carried the district by 15 points.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race against Campa-Najjar Likely Republican.

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Eric Garcia and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.
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