Rep. Duncan Hunter‘s wife, Margaret, who was indicted with her husband last year on charges of campaign finance fraud, is expected to plead guilty Thursday morning.
A change-of-plea hearing is set for 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Wehlan, according to his court calendar.
Hunter and his wife, who are apparently separated, both pleaded not guilty to the charges at a hearing last August. The trial is set for September.
The 60-count indictment alleges Hunter and his wife took money from campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts and falsified Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports to cover their tracks.
Gregory Vega, a former U.S. attorney who is representing Duncan Hunter, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he was aware of the scheduled hearing but declined to comment on whether it signals a decision by Margaret Hunter to testify against her husband.
Another former federal prosecutor said it almost certainly means Margaret Hunter is cooperating with prosecutors.
“What it normally means is that she and her lawyer have cut a deal to cooperate with the government,” Jerry Coughlan told the U-T. “In return for that, the government will agree to only the charges she pleads guilty to and typically bring to the judge’s attention what she’s done and make a recommendation for leniency. It all depends on what she negotiated. Those are the general parameters, but every case is different.”
The indictment details scores of instances, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016, in which the Hunters are accused of illegally using campaign money to pay for such things as family vacations to Italy, Hawaii and Boise, Idaho, school tuition, dental work, theater tickets and smaller purchases, including fast food, tequila shots, golf outings and video games.
Duncan Hunter’s spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, his Democratic rival of 2018 seeking another shot at the 50th District seat in 2020, said in a statement Thursday:
“Mrs. Hunter’s decision to separate her legal defense from the congressman reinforces what I’ve heard from many on the campaign. From Alpine residents who voted against Hunter in 2018, to Republican leaders who stripped him from his committee assignments, to Mrs. Hunter parting with the congressman’s not guilty plea: Those who know Hunter the most, trust him the least.”
He added: “We simply can no longer afford the costs of Hunter’s corruption in CA50; not while our district faces economic turmoil, deadly brush fires, and badly needed infrastructure upgrades along the I-15 corridor. We deserve more than a congressman who is quite literally useless in Congress using taxpayer dollars to pay his legal fees.”
After the Hunters’ arraignment last August, Campa-Najjar spoke outside the courthouse, but he won’t be downtown Thursday, subtweeting Rachel Maddow that he’ll be in New York and available to appear on her MSNBC show.
The indictment alleges that at one point, Hunter used campaign cash to fly his pet rabbit to a family vacation.The Hunters allegedly misreported the expenses on FEC filings, using false descriptions such as “campaign travel,” “toy drives,” “dinner with volunteers/contributors” and “gift cards,” according to federal prosecutors.
Hunter’s re-election campaign issued a statement last year condemning the indictment as politically motivated. He later appeared to blame his wife in a television interview, saying she was in charge of the campaign’s finances.
His campaign blasted the timing of the indictment — about two months before the Nov. 6 general election — saying it “appears to be an effort to derail Congressman Hunter’s re-election” bid.
Voters opted to keep him in office despite the allegations. Hunter was first elected to Congress in 2008, when he won the seat his father held for 14 terms.
If the congressman is convicted, no constitutional provision or House rule exists that explicitly requires him to lose his seat, even if he is sent to prison or unable to vote on behalf of his district.
Updated at 7:35 a.m. June 13, 2019
City News Service contributed to this report.
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