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Rep. Duncan Hunter, wife indicted for alleged misuse of campaign funds

Hunter, who represents communities in San Diego and Riverside counties, was the second member of Congress to officially endorse Trump.
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U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret E. Hunter, were hit Tuesday with federal charges that they "converted and stole" more than a quarter million dollars in campaign funds, according to a 47-page grand jury indictment.

The San Diego County couple used the cash to take trips to Italy, Hawaii, London and elsewhere, and even used the funds to cover school tuition, dental work and theater tickets, the federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California said in an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Hunter, a Republican and the son of a retired congressman who also represented a section of San Diego County, was an early and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump.

"Congressman Hunter believes this action is purely politically motivated," said his spokesman, Mike Harrison, specifically noting it was from his personal email account, since it was a campaign issue.

The only other elected member of Congress who endorsed Trump earlier than Hunter during the 2016 campaign was Rep. Chris Collins of New York — who now faces federal charges of his own.

The San Diego indictment says the Hunters were so brazen in their use of the off-limits cash that they "would moderate their theft of campaign funds when the account was excessively low or depleted."

The couple used the money for everything from trips to London and Lake Tahoe to purchases of alcohol and groceries, the indictment alleges. Margaret Hunter had campaign credit and debit cards so she could buy "a wide variety of family groceries, household items and personal gifts," the filing states.

Duncan Hunter even tried to have the campaign's name taken off the cards, according to the allegations. Those who benefitted from the spending included children, relatives, friends and even the family pet, the grand jury said.

The spending included more than $14,000 for a family trip to Italy for Thanksgiving 2015; more than $6,500 for a family vacation in Hawaii in April 2015; and more than $5,000 for trips to Las Vegas in 2011 and 2015, according to the indictment.

The couple dined at the finest restaurants, including Spago, Capital Grille and, in San Diego, Mr. A's, federal prosecutors said. Campaign funds covered more than $11,300 for items at Costco and $3,300 for food at burger joint In-N-Out.

Sometimes the Hunters would agree to repay some of the costs after the campaign's treasurer insisted, or to avoid attention, the indictment states.

The improper spending spanned 2009 to 2016, when the Federal Election Commission started to investigate, according to prosecutors.

The period included rough financial waters for the Hunters, including five-figure balances on personal credit cards, which were subject to $24,600 in finance charges and fees as a result of late payments and overspending, prosecutors said. Creditors included the family dentist, they said.

The couple also were subject to about $37,761 in bank fees for overdrafts and insufficient funds during the seven-year span, prosecutors alleged.

"By virtue of those delinquencies as well as notifications of outstanding debts and overdue payments from their children's school, their family dentist, and other creditors — the HUNTERS knew that many of their desired purchases could only be made using campaign funds," the indictment states.

Hunter won his father's congressional seat in 2008, was re-elected, then ran in a neighboring district in 2012, where he has remained as the U.S. representative.

The allegations include wire fraud, filing false campaign finance records, prohibited use of campaign funds and bank fraud.

"Today's indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law," Adam Braverman, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, said in a statement.

Hunter has argued that the indictment was produced under pressure from Democrats in the Justice Department whose case against him aims to "result in a solidly Republican district being handed to a Democratic candidate," according to a letter from Hunter's attorney, Gregory A. Vega, to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dated Aug. 6.

The letter states that two members of the government's prosecution team attended a La Jolla, California, fundraiser for then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — and notes that, in July, Vega asked that they be recused from the case out of concern for political bias.

Speaking to NBC News affiliate KNSD Tuesday, the senior Duncan Hunter reiterated the argument that the indictment was politically motivated. He said, "It's hardcore politics, pure and simple."

California's secretary of state cannot remove a candidate who's under indictment from the ballot, said spokesman Sam Mahood. The junior Duncan Hunter is defending his seat against Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in November.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to urge Hunter to resign. Later, Ryan issued a statement in which he called the indictment "deeply serious" — but he stopped short of calling on Hunter to step down.

"Now that he has been indicted, Rep. Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter," Ryan said.

Hunter serves on House committees covering transportation and infrastructure, armed services and education and the workforce.