Federal prosecutors have accused Rep. Duncan Hunter of improperly using campaign funds to pursue numerous romantic affairs with congressional aides and lobbyists, according to a new court filing late Monday night.
The Justice Department alleged that Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife Margaret Hunter illegally diverted $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use, including to fund lavish vacations and their children’s school tuition. Monday’s court filings also spell out allegations that Hunter routinely used campaign funds to pay for Ubers, bar tabs, hotel rooms and other expenses to fund at least five extramarital relationships.
“At trial, the United States will seek to admit evidence of defendant Duncan D. Hunter’s expenditure of campaign funds to pay for a host of personal expenses. Among these personal expenses were funds Hunter spent to pursue a series of intimate personal relationships,” the Justice Department said in a motion to admit evidence filed on Tuesday.
“This evidence is necessary to establish the personal nature of the expenditures to demonstrate Hunter’s knowledge and intent to break the law, and to establish his motive to embezzle from his campaign.”
Prosecutors said they approached the defense to reach an agreement “that would eliminate the need to introduce this potentially sensitive evidence at trial,” but the congressman’s lawyers declined.
Hunter’s wife has pleaded guilty and agreed earlier this month to cooperate with prosecutors. Prosecutors also filed motions to permit Margaret Hunter’s testimony to be used at trial, which is slated for Sept. 10.
"The marital communications privilege does not protect statements made by spouses who are partners in crime,” the filing read.
Pressed on whether any of the allegations were true, Hunter repeatedly accused prosecutors of political bias.
“You have criminally political prosecutors in this case on a personal smear campaign,” he told POLITICO. “This is the most political case in the world.”
An attorney for the California congressman did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Department of Justice also filed a motion to exclude any evidence of Hunter’s good behavior, including his military service, and other evidence that might suggest his use of campaign funds is routine among members of Congress.
The filing comes shortly after Hunter’s legal team asked for the case to be dismissed, alleging that the prosecutors are biased against him because they supported former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In response, the Justice Department asked for any claims of political bias to be excluded.
In the filing, prosecutors detail numerous instances in which Hunter allegedly used campaign cash to fund his affairs. In one episode in 2010, Hunter allegedly took a lobbyist on a "double date” road trip to Virginia Beach with a fellow congressman and then charged his campaign for the hotel room and bar tab.
In another incident in 2015, Hunter allegedly took a House leadership aide out for cocktails and then took an Uber back to his office after they spent the night together. Both expenses were charged to his campaign account, prosecutors say.
And Hunter also allegedly became intimately involved with a woman who worked in his congressional office in 2015, regularly paying for their dates with campaign funds.
The filing also says Hunter — who has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for drinking heavily and carousing — used campaign money to pursue “clearly non-work related activity during get-togethers with his close personal friends." But prosecutors declined to elaborate further, saying the sensitive conduct could potentially taint the jury pool.
Prosecutors described a couple so mired in debt that they had less than $1,000 in their bank account from 2009 to 2017, and owed money to stores like Macy's and Home Depot. They had begun falling behind on their children's tuition payments and missed numerous mortgage payments.
"Evidence of Hunter’s negative bank balances, overdue mortgage payments, credit card debts, and other aspects of their depleted financial condition is relevant to proving his motive, intent, knowledge, and absence of mistake in spending campaign funds for personal use," prosecutors wrote. "It explains why he himself used campaign funds to buy everything from cigarettes to gadgets to groceries to getaways — things he wanted but could not afford to buy with his own money."
Prosecutors also pleaded with the judge in Hunter's case to "admonish" Hunter to stop attacking them as politically biased. Hunter, they said, had attempted to connect his case to President Donald Trump's claims of an FBI "witch hunt" against him.
However, prosecutors said they were not prepared to seek a formal gag order "at this time."
"Hunter may freely proclaim his innocence to the public. He may dispute the validity of the charges against him. He may insist that the jury will acquit after reviewing the evidence. He may discuss matters of public record in the case. But he may not use inadmissible, irrelevant, and inflammatory allegations to inject improper prejudice into the proceedings," prosecutors said, pointing to a slew of news articles in which Hunter is quoted attacking prosecutors as leading a "witch hunt"
Prosecutors also raised the prospect that some of Hunter's colleagues in Congress could be called to testify in his trial.
"Several of the witnesses called by the United States will be close associates of Hunter who were or remain his friends, family members, employees, or colleagues," they wrote. "Some of these witnesses have understandably expressed their unwillingness or their displeasure at being required to answer questions related to Hunter’s conduct."
GOP leaders on Tuesday did not call on Hunter to resign, noting that the lawmaker was already stripped of his committee assignments after Hunter was first indicted.
“He has a day in court... So the courts will decide,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters. “You’re always innocent until proven guilty.”
McCarthy also expressed doubt that Trump would pardon Hunter, who was one of the first members of Congress to endorse then-candidate Trump in 2016.
“I’ve never heard any talk of that,” said McCarthy, a close Trump ally.
In another motion filed Monday, Hunter’s defense asked that the upcoming trial be moved out of San Diego. Hunter’s attorneys took an unusual tack, explicitly arguing that their client should be tried in a place where more voters cast ballots for President Donald Trump in 2016.
“As President Trump’s first and most arduous supporter, it is hard not to see how a juror would be predisposed to cast their vote based on their politics,” Hunter’s lawyers wrote. “Hillary Clinton beat Donald J. Trump in San Diego County by 56.1% to 38.2%.”
The defense says moving the case to sites in the sprawling and more rural Eastern District of California for trial would ensure that “Hunter would get an impartial jury pool of his peers.”
Hunter’s legal team proposed holding the trial in the California counties that include Bakersfield and Redding, or taking it to Lassen County, which has a total population of about 31,000 and is a 12-hour drive north of San Diego. The defense gave the judge the presidential vote percentages for each county. Trump beat Clinton 73% to 21% in Lassen, Hunter’s lawyers noted.
Some defendants seeking a change of venue commission polls to demonstrate deep-seated revulsion for their client. However, Hunter’s lawyers did not provide the judge with any polling showing how many San Diego residents are aware of the case.
The defense’s relatively brief motion instead noted that a Google search about the investigation into Hunter returns 7.5 million results, that the San Diego Union-Tribune has repeatedly editorialized against Hunter and that protesters have hounded Hunter during previous court appearances in the city.
Hunter’s lawyers even attached a Union-Tribune newspaper cartoon depicting Hunter opening a gift from his wife containing an orange prison jumpsuit.
Hunter’s attorneys have also argued that the case against him should be dismissed because prosecutors violated the immunity he enjoys under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause. Hunter’s defense says searches and subpoena directed to his congressional offices and investigators’ interviews with his Congressional staff about his official activities intruded on his legislative responsibilities.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.