Republican Congressman Duncan D. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to federal charges they stole a quarter million dollars in campaign funds to furnish their lavish lifestyle.
After the Hunters were indicted earlier this week for spending campaign money on expenses that included a $14,000 Italian vacation and thousands of dollars on routine items like groceries, bedding and other household items, Hunter said the charges were erroneous and politically motivated.
The Hunters are accused of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, wire fraud, falsification of records and prohibited use of campaign contributions, among other charges.
Standing before Judge William Gallo in San Diego, both Hunters remained defiant and showed little emotion. They pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
When asked about bail or bond, Assistant US Attorney Phillip Halpern suggested $10,000 for Margaret Hunter and $15,000 for Duncan Hunter. Halpern explained that he did not consider either party to be a flight risk and noted their dire financial condition, which was outlined in the indictment.
“They don’t have any substantial assets whatsoever,” Halpern said. “A fairly low bond is appropriate in this case.”
The judge instructed Duncan Hunter that he needs to lawfully transfer his two firearms to someone else. “Yes, sir,” he said.
The congressman entered the courtroom with his lawyers, but not his wife, around 9:45 a.m. PT in a navy blue suit. Margaret Hunter arrived at court separately with her legal team and entered through a side door. Duncan Hunter and Margaret Hunter sat four seats apart in the courtroom after she entered.
They stood side by side as charges were read. Both were expressionless.
Duncan Hunter was represented at the hearing by Gregory Vega, who was the US attorney for the Southern District of California from 1999 to 2001.
In an interview with ABC 10 San Diego on Wednesday, Hunter said the Department of Justice has become the law enforcement arm of the Democratic Party and that liberal leaning prosecutors were targeting him in the same way they have President Donald Trump.
Hunter’s comments over the last year have repeatedly implied that his wife is to blame for the suspicious purchases.
Asked pointedly by a reporter on Wednesday if his wife is responsible for the personal charges, he said only that would all come out in court.
As Hunter left the courthouse, protesters shouted, “Shame, shame, shame.” He didn’t speak to the media. As Hunter got into his truck he silently snatched a sign a protester had tried to place on his windshield – which read, “Lock Him Up” – and put it in his vehicle.
Hunter’s Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, delivered a statement outside the courthouse in which he thanked Hunter for his military service but said he thought constituents would choose to vote him out in November.
“Congressman Hunter served our country honorably abroad. I just happen to think that that man who served our country never made it home from the battlefield and I think Washington chewed him up and spit him out and engulfed him in the corruption that has plagued Washington for too long.”
He continued, “I think the voters come November are going to change that and hope to have real representation, for the first time in a long time, that will actually drain the swamp and bring real leadership that’s beholden to the interests of the people in our district and not the special interests in Washington or the self-interest of members who use campaign funds for their own personal gain.”
Trump won the 50th District by 15 percentage points in 2016. In the midst of the federal probe into his spending, Hunter secured the top spot in California’s top-two primary in June with 47.4% of the vote to Campa-Najjar’s 17.6%.