By Ken Stone
Three days after pleading guilty in his campaign finance case, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter announced Friday that he will resign from Congress “shortly after the holidays.”
That means the deadline for new candidates to file for election to the 50th District seat will be extended to Dec. 11.
But it’s unclear whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will call a special election or allow the seat to go unfilled until after the November 2020 election in the mainly East County district.
“If a member of Congress resigns after close of business today (which is the filing deadline for congressional candidates), it will be at the governor’s discretion as to whether to call a special election to fill the vacant seat,” said Sam Mahood, press secretary for state Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “I cannot speculate beyond that.”
According to an emailed statement Friday afternoon, the six-term Republican congressman said: “Shortly after the holidays, I will resign from Congress. It has been an honor to serve the people of California’s 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years.”
Michael Harrison, his spokesman, added: “There is no further information to provide at this time.”
Former San Diego Councilman and radio talk-show host Carl DeMaio — one of three GOP challengers in the race — tweeted his dismay:
“By intentionally delaying his resignation past the [Friday] deadline for the calling of a Special Election, Congressman Duncan Hunter is silencing the voice of the voters of the 50th District for a full year in Congress!”
By intentionally delaying his resignation past the deadline for the calling of a Special Election, Congressman Duncan Hunter is silencing the voice of the voters of the 50th District for a full year in Congress! #CA50 https://t.co/hsJBx5Mpb5
— Carl DeMaio (@carldemaio) December 6, 2019
DeMaio told KUSI he feared that if Hunter doesn’t resign before Jan. 1, the seat being vacant a full year “is basically assured.”
“This is … the Washington swamp manipulating the timeline so there’s no special election that’s called in the 50th District,” he said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter announced Friday his impending resignation from Congress will take place sometime “after the holidays.” Former San Diego City Councilman @CarlDeMaio, who is seeking the 50th District seat, criticized Hunter’s timing.
Full story: https://t.co/zJbYo2wtyF pic.twitter.com/koN0wkuOTo
— KUSI News (@KUSINews) December 7, 2019
NBC San Diego reporter Alex Presha said on Twitter that DeMaio might be upset because Darrell Issa, his main GOP rival, was endorsed by Hunter’s father.
— Alex Presha (@Alex_Presha) December 6, 2019
Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar — who lost to Hunter by about 3 points in 2018 — reacted on Twitter as well: “As the only leading candidate who can actually vote in this race, I’m confident we‘ll outperform in the early phases of this election & win in the general election. I’ll stack my lived working-class experience against the other coastal elitist, millionaire candidates any day.”
As the only leading candidate who can actually vote in this race, I’m confident we‘ll outperform in the early phases of this election & win in the general election. I’ll stack my lived working-class experience against the other coastal elitist, millionaire candidates any day.
— Ammar Campa-Najjar (@ACampaNajjar) December 6, 2019
Campa-Najjar was referring to the fact that DeMaio and former Rep. Issa live outside the 50th District boundaries (although they are very close). Republican state Sen. Brian Jones lives in the district, but is not doing well in early polls.
In late June, Campa-Najjar raised eyebrows by asserting that Hunter would resign his seat in the heavily Republican district. Hunter aide Harrison shot back: “Congressman Hunter is absolutely not resigning.”
In a video posted to social media, Campa-Najjar said: “I’m being told to prepare for a special election just around the corner — in a couple months. Why? Because he was caught embezzling a quarter-million dollars. And his wife is testifying against him. So I’m being told he’s going to resign and we’ll have a special election in about three to four months.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter said, "I'm not resigning," in August 2018. But more than a year later, the congressman said he will quit "shortly after the holidays." https://t.co/RS1azglo3G pic.twitter.com/ay4V8IR4t4
— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) December 6, 2019
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement:
“Someone convicted of egregiously abusing their office has no place in Congress. We called on Rep. Hunter to resign as soon as his guilty plea was in the books, and it is for the good of the country that he now is.”
Bookbinder added that if Hunter — who turns 43 on Saturday — truly wished to do the right thing, he would step down immediately.
“It is crucial that he obey the House Ethics Committee’s admonition that he not vote on the House floor, but there is something almost poetically ironic about a convicted criminal holding on to his office for the House’s consideration of impeachment,” he said.
Hunter — who succeeded his father, Duncan Lee Hunter, in the House seat — was sent a letter this week by the House Ethics Committee that under House rules he is not permitted to vote having pled guilty to a crime.
He earlier was removed from his committee assignments.
The House Ethics Committee just released a new letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter letting him know that, since he just pled guilty to a federal crime, he shouldn't vote on stuff in the House anymore, per House rules. pic.twitter.com/35UcLT2WJ6
— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) December 5, 2019
In mid-October, Hunter and three rivals sought the San Diego County Republican Party endorsement. Following a debate that saw critical comments in many directions, the party’s Central Committee opted to endorse no one.
Hunter is scheduled to be sentenced March 17.
The former Marine was indicted along with Margaret Hunter, his wife and former campaign manager, on five dozen criminal counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records, and had been facing a Jan. 22 trial date.
Margaret Hunter, 44, pleaded guilty in June to a conspiracy charge and agreed to work with prosecutors on the case. She faces up to five years in federal custody and a fine of up to $250,000 when she is sentenced in April.
Hunter told KUSI earlier this week that while he expects to spend time in custody, he hopes that his wife will not be incarcerated as “I think my kids need a mom in the home.”
Prosecutors said Hunter and his wife went on expensive family trips and made scores of other improper personal purchases over the course of six years. Supposedly campaign-related events were planned around their family vacations in order to justify the expenses, prosecutors said.
It was also alleged that Hunter used campaign funds to pursue extramarital affairs and repeatedly used campaign credit cards or sought reimbursement for expenses that included resort hotel rooms, airfare, a skiing trip and Uber rides to and from the homes of five women with whom he had “intimate relationships.”
Hunter had repeatedly maintained his innocence and accused the U.S. Attorney’s Office of a politically motivated prosecution. He maintained that two prosecutors on the case attended a La Jolla campaign event for then-Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton in 2015, then indicted him two months before the 2018 election due to his public endorsement of Donald Trump.
Updated at 7:05 p.m. Dec. 6, 2019
City News Service contributed to this report.
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