By Ken Stone
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter carried on “romances” with five women starting as early as April 2009 using campaign funds to pay for trysts, prosecutors wrote Monday in a motion devastating in detail.
Federal lawyers asked a judge to admit evidence of Hunter’s use of campaign funds to “pursue personal, intimate relationships” that couldn’t be excused as congressional business.
“All of the women with whom Hunter pursued these relationships were involved in politics in some manner, and Hunter sometimes met or socialized with them in professional settings,” the government says, using numbers but not names.“Precisely because each of the women worked as lobbyists or congressional staffers, Hunter may suggest that he was justified in spending campaign funds on all of his ‘meetings’ with these individuals. … At trial, the evidence will demonstrate that Hunter improperly used campaign funds to pursue these romances wholly unrelated to either his congressional campaigns or his official duties as a member of Congress.”
Such alleged flings by the married-with-three-children congressman are documented by eyewitness testimony, text messages, emails, phone logs, photographs and social media communications, prosecutors said.
Hunter could have avoided the embarrassment, however. In a footnote, the government said it offered to “craft a factual stipulation that would eliminate the need to introduce this potentially sensitive evidence at trial.”
But Hunter declined that proposal — making the romantic revelations possible.
Meanwhile, Hunter’s lawyers filed a request for a change of venue — seeking to move the trial 340 miles from San Diego to Fresno in the Trump-friendly eastern district court region, saying Hunter has “regularly received enormous negative local media coverage which will deny him a fair trial.”Attorneys Gregory A. Vega, Ricardo Arias and Philip B. Adams note that Hunter was among the first two Congress members to endorse Donald Trump for president — who lost San Diego County to Hillary Clinton 56.1% to 38.2%.
“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 team said. “Based on the political perception of this case, and the continuously negative press this case has received, a change of venue is not only proper but necessary.”
Hunter’s lawyers said in their motion that The San Diego Union-Tribune published and posted numerous articles regarding the government’s investigation.
“Not only has most of the coverage been negative, but the paper’s own editorial board has actively called for Hunter’s resignation. Editorial attacks on Hunter have been relentless and filled with inflammatory headlines like the one issued just before Hunter’s last reelection, in which the newspaper’s editorial board endorsed ‘anyone but Duncan Hunter.’”
Hunter’s team says the U-T editorial board “constantly and relentlessly targeted Hunter with headlines like ‘Duncan Hunter gets the federal probe he deserves,’ and just recently ‘Rep. Hunter should accept responsibility and resign.’”
Further, the filing said: “The government’s sensational indictment has created even more hysteria around the case locally in San Diego — a known Navy town. The false narrative that Hunter insulted the Navy has been played out repeatedly by the government just recently in Margaret Hunter’s plea agreement, and by Hunter’s political opponent in mailers sent across San Diego County using quotes from the indictment.” [That’s a reference to Hunter responding to a rejection of an Italian base tour that prompted him to allegedly say: “Tell the navy to go f— themselves.”]
In a flurry of close to 20 filings, both sides also spar over what evidence can be admitted at a September trial.
The government wants statements by wife Margaret Hunter and conversations between “co-conspirators Margaret Hunter and defendant Duncan D. Hunter” allowed before a jury.
“Margaret Hunter may testify about these conversations or other aspects of their joint criminal activity,” said the prosecutors. “Margaret Hunter is free to waive her spousal testimonial privilege, and her trial testimony about their joint criminal activity is admissible.”
Fleshing out the 60-count indictment of last August, prosecutors shared details on the Hunters’ financial condition.
“One of his advisors recalls that the Hunters’ financial problems were so dire that Duncan had to check his account balance before he could buy a bottle of water,” said the filing. “Another staffer noticed that Duncan had to check in with Margaret to ask whether they had enough money for him to buy a pair of nail clippers.”
Over the years, this unidentified staffer noticed that Hunter did not have enough money to buy cigarettes, new shoes, clothes or tires for his car, the filing said.
“In February 2014, Margaret shared some good news: the Hunters’ $3,600 outstanding property tax balance would be spread over the next 12 months, rather than due all at once in April. Duncan responded, ‘Holy shit!!!! Wheeeeee!!!!’ Margaret replied that she was ‘beside herself’ with happiness, and reminded him that it would soon be ‘vacation time!'” The filing said.
On June 10, 2014, the filing continued, “Margaret emailed Duncan a list of expenses they had incurred that month, including $170 for his high school reunion. His response: ‘Run away! Run away!’ A week later, he texted her, ‘I’m broke again.’”
Citing Federal Rule of Evidence 404, prosecutors led by David D. Leshner want the judge to disallow evidence of Hunter’s character — good or bad — including his Marine service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Evidence of Hunter’s particular good acts, service, patriotism, awards, devotion to his family, or instances of commendable behavior are not relevant and therefore not admissible under any theory,” the government says. “Evidence may only be admitted if it tends to make a fact of consequence to the case more (or less) probable than it would be without the evidence.”
And prosecutors want no testimony on Hunter’s assertion that the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s Office was out to damage him politically just months before the November 2018 election.
“These allegations are irrelevant to the question of Hunter’s guilt and risk infecting the jury pool,” the government says in one of its eight motions. “The United States respectfully moves to (1) preclude Hunter from offering evidence or argument concerning alleged political biases or motives of the prosecution team and (2) admonish Hunter and the defense to refrain from making improper public statements that could poison the pool of potential jurors. For the reasons set forth above, this Court should preclude evidence or arguments concerning alleged motives or biases of the prosecution team, and admonish Hunter to refrain from making statements intended to poison the jury pool.”
Hunter on Tuesday afternoon attended a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House, and reporters caught up with him in the Capitol.
The New York Times said Hunter wouldn’t comment on the latest filing and quoted him as saying: “You have criminally political prosecutors who violated the Hatch Act on a personal smear campaign. I’m going to trial on this, so I’m not going to give you a statement on their allegations.”
Snippets from the “romances” motion:
In April 2009, Hunter met Individual 14 … who worked as a lobbyist and encountered Hunter through her work. The two began to socialize, and spent time together with the same close-knit group of friends. Their relationship soon blossomed beyond a mere friendship. Although the pair kept their romance under wraps, taking care to not be seen together in public, they found excuses for occasional outings or getaways together.As the relationship grew more serious, Hunter began living with I-14 at her D.C.-area home. On occasion, Hunter used campaign funds to bring food or beverages back to her home. Hunter paid for outings with I-14 using funds that belonged to his campaign. In early 2010, the couple planned a ski vacation as one of their first solo getaways. On the afternoon of Friday, January 22, 2010, Hunter flew to Reno, Nevada, ostensibly to attend the annual convention of a large non-profit advocacy group. The convention had begun a few days earlier, and I-14 was attending the meetings for her work.
Hunter’s flight landed at 2:10 pm, and he rented a car from the airport Alamo, using $351 in campaign funds. That evening, after a brief stop at the convention, Hunter drove to Heavenly Mountain Resort, a ski resort near Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, CA. By 11:39 pm, he had checked into their room at the Hyatt and visited the hotel’s Cutthroats Saloon for a Sam Adams (which he paid for with $7 in campaign funds).
Hunter and I-14 spent the weekend skiing, ordering room service, and enjoying the amenities of the full-service resort. They checked out on Monday, January 25, 2010, when Hunter paid the $1,008 hotel tab using campaign funds from his campaign credit card.
He spent another $180 in campaign funds on airfare back to Washington. Hunter continued using campaign funds to allow for other trips with I-14. In March 2010, for example, the couple took a weekend “double date” road trip to Virginia Beach with their friends, one of whom was also a congressman. Hunter spent $905 in campaign funds to pay for the hotel bar tab and room he shared with I-14 that weekend.
And he later sought and received an additional $257 in mileage reimbursement for the trip from his campaign treasurer—despite the fact that I-14 had driven the group to and from Virginia Beach using Hunter’s personal bank records suggest that he could not have paid for the weekend without dipping into campaign funds: On January 25, the day he checked out of the Hyatt and paid his rental car bill, Hunter’s personal bank accounts had a negative balance and he incurred six separate insufficient funds fees of $33 each.
Hunter and I-14 had other purely personal outings with the same couple, including, on March 24, 2010, when they had another “double date” at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia. There, they saw a Jack Ingram concert, and Hunter spent $121 in campaign funds on beer, nachos, and wings.
Another example of Hunter using campaign funds to pursue his personal relationship with I-14 came in June 2011, surrounding a dinner event held at a D.C. hotel. Margaret Hunter had planned a trip to Washington, and reserved a room at a Capitol Hill hotel for June 21 through 24. But she later changed her travel plans, and rebooked her flight from San Diego to arrive the next day, June 22.
As it happens, Hunter was scheduled to attend an annual dinner event for a large non-profit advocacy group held on June 21, which I-14 helped to organize — and which was taking place at the same hotel. Hunter kept the June 21 room reservation and spent the night there with I-14. They paid the $455 hotel bill, for all three nights, using campaign funds. In describing this expenditure to his campaign treasurer later, Hunter never explained the reason he kept the first night at the hotel.
Hunter used campaign funds to pursue this purely personal romantic relationship again on June 29, 2011, when he took I-14 golfing at the Old Hickory Golf Club in Virginia. Hunter spent $253 in campaign funds on greens fees for two, 10 beers, an Adidas shirt, and a visor. He never attempted to justify these expenses to his treasurer.
Hunter and I-14 ended their romantic involvement in approximately April 2012.
In August 2012, Hunter attended the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. During that trip, he began a romantic relationship with Individual 15 who worked in the office of a member of the House of Representatives leadership.
Over time, their relationship grew more serious, although once again Hunter was careful that the pair were not seen together in public. They often spent time together at I-15’s D.C.-area home, and as the relationship developed, Hunter began staying there nearly every night. Hunter often took an Uber to I-15’s home after work or evening events, which he typically paid for using campaign funds.
As he had with I-14, Hunter used campaign funds to facilitate his intimate personal relationship with I-15. On February 11, 2014, for example, Hunter introduced I-15 for the first time to his friends, Individual 2A and Individual 2B. He spent $29 in campaign funds on an Uber to take I-15 to their home for an intimate dinner with his closest friends.
Even after Hunter and I-15 ended their relationship, they continued to see each other on and off, and Hunter continued facilitating these encounters with campaign funds. On July 21, 2015, for example, Hunter used $93 in campaign funds to take I-15 out for cocktails at a quiet speakeasy-style bar near her home. After drinks, they went to I-15’s home and spent the night together; Hunter used $21 in campaign funds on an Uber back to the office at 1:49 am that night.
In January 2015, Individual 16 began work in Hunter’s congressional office. Hunter and I-16 began a romantic relationship not long afterward. The two occasionally spent nights together at his office, and Hunter took I-16 out to socialize with his friends, using campaign funds to pay for their dates.
For example, on June 3, 2015, the two of them went on a “triple date” with two other couples at the H Street Country Club. Hunter spent $202 in campaign funds for drinks and snacks at the bar, plus another $20 on the Uber ride. A few days later, on June 12, 2015, Hunter’s high-school age relative came to Washington for the night. Hunter took the relative, along with I-16 and a small group of friends, out for what Hunter described in a text message as “a nice family evening” at Matchbox Pizza. He paid the $352 tab using campaign funds.
At a political event held at the Hamilton Hotel on October 27, 2015, Hunter met up with Individual 17. I-17 was a lobbyist Hunter knew both professionally and through the D.C. social scene. In the past, she had organized events and fundraisers for Hunter, and her organization had supported his congressional campaigns. That night, however, was not about business: at around 11:00 pm, Hunter and I-17 departed the Hamilton together for her home, where they engaged in intimate personal activities unrelated to Hunter’s congressional campaign or duties as a member of Congress. Hunter left her house at 1:23 am. Although this was a strictly personal encounter, Hunter used campaign funds to pay the $42 in Uber fares.
Individual 18 was another lobbyist with professional and social ties to Hunter. After a weekend political event in Florida in 2016, they became closer, and they carried their relationship back to Washington.
On September 14, 2016, following a political event they attended with several mutual friends, Hunter went back to I-18’s home, where they engaged in intimate personal activities unrelated to Hunter’s congressional campaign or duties as a member of Congress. At 7:08 am the next morning, Hunter used $32 in campaign funds to Uber back to his office. About two weeks later, on September 26, 2016, Hunter again used campaign funds to Uber back to his office at 3:21 am after a night out socializing with I-18 and others.
Updated at 6:05 p.m. June 25, 2019
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: