Margaret Hunter, wife of Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), pleaded guilty to charges in the campaign finance case she and her husband were indicted in last summer, saying that she — and the congressman — used campaign funds for personal use, including a $10,000 trip to Italy.
Margaret Hunter, 44, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with her husband to using $25,000 in campaign funds for personal use, according to an agreement she signed with federal prosecutors Tuesday and read out in court on Thursday. She is scheduled to be sentenced in September and faces up to five years in prison for the one charge. Prosecutors dismissed the other charges she was facing.
The plea agreement represents a potentially awkward split with her congressman husband, who has pleaded not guilty to the four charges against him. As part of the deal, she has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as they continue to work their case against her husband, and to testify in any grand jury proceedings or trial that she is asked to. Prosecutors said that the congressman obtained a credit card tied to his campaign funds for his wife, “recognizing that she would spend campaign funds for the Hunters’ personal benefit.”
“I am deeply remorseful, and I apologize,” Margaret Hunter said in a statement. “I am saddened for the hurt I have caused my family and others. I understand that there will be more consequences stemming from my actions but, as demonstrated by my plea today, I have taken the first step to face them.”
Margaret Hunter and her husband were charged in a 47-page indictment in August, which laid out in detail allegations that they used some $250,000 of his campaign funds to live beyond their means — trips to Italy, Hawaii and other places, as well as school tuition, dental work and theater tickets. Duncan Hunter also billed his campaign $600 to fly a pet rabbit across the country, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Among the expenses she admitted to in her plea agreement were: a $1,500 dinner in Laguna Beach, hundreds of dollars at a North Face store, $600 at Caesars in Las Vegas, $230 at a Disneyland gift shop and more than $10,000 for a vacation in Italy.
“In an effort to justify the impermissible use of campaign funds to pay for this personal family travel [Rep.] Hunter attempted to set up a one-day tour of a U.S. naval facility in Italy,” court documents allege.
Duncan Hunter has responded to the charges in a way that is increasingly typical in the Trump era: He called media reports about his spending “fake news” and has claimed to be a victim of a “deep state” conspiracy and federal prosecutors working with partisan aims. Hunter, who represents an area outside of San Diego, was reelected in November by a slim margin, despite the charges.
He responded with similar indignation on Thursday, saying that the Justice Department had targeted his wife to go after him for “political reasons,” and saying that he believed his case should have been handled by the Federal Election Commission and not Justice Department attorneys.
“It was politically motivated at the beginning; it remains politically motivated now,” he said.
Duncan Hunter has turned heads recently with comments about his time in the Marine Corps. Speaking to defend a Navy SEAL who is charged with killing a prisoner, Hunter said that he had taken a picture of a corpse while he served, a potential violation of U.S. military code. He followed those remarks up with another in which he said that his unit probably killed “scores, if not hundreds of civilians,” during a siege in Fallujah, Iraq.