Duncan and Margaret Hunter are shown during November 2015 Italian trip the government says was a family vacation financed by his campaign fund

Former Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter on Wednesday praised the pardon given his daughter-in-law, Margaret Hunter — the estranged wife of Duncan Duane Hunter, who resigned from Congress in a corruption scandal.

Margaret’s pardon was “entirely appropriate and called for,” said the elder Hunter, “because these phony charges were made against Margaret as well as Duncan. … [President Trump] rectified that injustice for Margaret.”

Logan Smith, Margaret’s lawyer, issued a statement on her behalf: “Margaret Hunter accepts this unexpected pardon with gratitude and humility.”

The latest pardon came a day after Hunter, the six-term East County Republican, made another clemency list. Hunter admitted misusing campaign funds for personal expenses. His wife, a La Mesa mother with two teen daughters, pleaded guilty to the same crime.

Duncan Lee Hunter letter to White House seeking pardon for Duncan and Margaret Hunter. (PDF)

Trump offered much the same reasoning for pardoning Margaret Hunter as he did for pardoning the former congressman, saying the case “should have been treated a civil case” by the Federal Election Commission, not a federal prosecution.

Like the former congressman, Margaret Hunter, who filed for divorce a month ago, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, admitting using more than $150,000 in campaign money for personal expenses, including family vacations, restaurant and bar tabs and clothing, while falsely claiming the purchases were campaign related.

Margaret’s father-in-law sought her pardon in the same Nov. 22 letter asking clemency for this son.

Addressed to Donald J. Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, the elder Hunter wrote: “Mr. President, the final say on Duncan’s and Margaret’s case is in your hands. It has so far been a case without justice. You possess the last measure of justice … a pardon. The three Hunter grandchildren and [my wife] Lynne and I would have a truly joyous Thanksgiving if it was blessed with a pardon.”

The elder Hunter highlighted a charge that in May 2012, the Hunters attended a “First Ladies Lunch.” He said Margaret, and not Duncan attended, the event.

“If the First Lady’s Luncheon is illegitimate, what is a legitimate campaign event?” Hunter said in a phone interview. “That’s how they pumped those [illegal spending] numbers up so high on Margaret.”

In its August 2018 indictment, the government said the Hunters spent about $10,000 in campaign funds to pay for a family vacation to Washington, “during which time MARGARET HUNTER attended a ‘First Ladies Lunch’ at the Washington Hilton. To conceal and disguise the illegal charges, DUNCAN HUNTER told his Treasurer that the charges were ‘[a]ll campaign related.’”

Duncan Lee Hunter also lambasted retired prosecutor Phillip Halpern, who complained in a KUSI interview Tuesday night that Margaret should have gotten a pardon.

“If you were furious about Margaret getting charged, why did you charge her with a felony for going to the first lady’s luncheon?” Hunter said, addressing Halpern. “Why would you do that?”

On Wednesday, Halpern told Times of San Diego: “Given the fact that the President pardoned Hunter, it would have been a further miscarriage of justice for him to have omitted pardoning Margaret. I have no information as to why her pardon was delayed, but I would speculate that it was done only because of the blizzard of criticism that Trump received from both Republicans and Democrats due to his failure to pardon her initially.”

The elder Hunter was asked why he and others appealed directly to the White House, instead of taking the standard route of applying through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.

“We had this unique case — that the president had just been through a political hit job himself,” Hunter said, noting a Trump tweet when he criticized the DOJ for indicting the Hunters less than 90 days ahead of the November 2018 election (against DOJ policy).

Margaret Hunter, who served as her husband’s campaign manager, was sentenced in August to eight months of home confinement and three years’ probation.

Duncan Hunter received a harsher sentence of 11 months in federal prison. He was set to begin serving that sentence in January, but Trump awarded him a full pardon Tuesday.

Hunter, a Republican who represented California’s 52nd Congressional District from 2009-13 and 50th district from 2013-20, had planned to seek another term. He resigned from Congress in January following his guilty plea.

He repeatedly and publicly denied wrongdoing 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 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2015, then indicted him two months before the 2018 election due to his public endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Amid the charges and public allegations, Hunter was re-elected in November 2018 with 51.7% of the vote, despite being indicted three months prior. He was first elected in 2008, succeeding his father, who held the congressional seat for 28 years.

Updated at 6:41 p.m. Dec. 23, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report

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