GOP lawmaker Duncan Hunter’s wife pleads guilty in corruption case

Bill Callahan and Edvard Pettersson
Margaret Hunter, left, wife of indicted Republican U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, arrives at federal courthouse in downtown San Diego on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter blamed his wife after he was charged with misusing federal campaign funds for personal use. On Thursday, she struck back.

Margaret Hunter, 44, pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court to conspiracy and agreed to “provide substantial assistance” to prosecutors in the investigation of her husband. She’s due to be sentenced Sept. 16.

Her plea agreement includes a six-page list of personal expenses totaling more than $200,000 that she and her husband illegally charged to his campaign, from school lunches for their children to a more than $10,000 family vacation in Italy, sometimes creating false campaign-related pretexts to justify the expenses.

To justify the improper use of campaign funds for family travel, the congressman “attempted to set up a one-day tour of a U.S. naval facility in Italy,” according to the plea deal. “After Navy officials responded that they could only provide a tour on a particular date, Hunter said he would discuss the proposed date with defendant and then subsequently told his chief of staff, "tell the navy to go f--- themselves” and “no tour occurred.”

Prosecutors agreed to ask the judge who sentences Margaret Hunter to reduce her sentence as long as she provides a “truthful and accurate recounting of all relevant events.” The maximum sentence she faces for conspiracy is five years in prison.

“I have fully accepted responsibility for my conduct,” Margaret Hunter said in a statement provided by her lawyer after the hearing. “I am saddened for the hurt that I have caused my family and others. I understand that there will be more consequences stemming from my actions, but as demonstrated this morning with the entry of the plea, I’ve taken the first step to face those consequences.”

Duncan Hunter had blamed his wife for the corruption charges, telling Fox News in an interview after they were charged that she handled the couple’s finances. He also blamed a “deep state” conspiracy. His lawyer said Wednesday that he will continue to fight the charges. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 10, before his wife’s sentencing date.

Hunter was one of Donald Trump’s first backers in Congress in 2016. He represents California’s 50th congressional district, covering the southern part of the state, notably parts of San Diego and Riverside counties. While under indictment last year, he was re-elected.

California GOP Lawmaker Hunter Indicted for Corruption

According to the indictment, Hunter and his wife lived paycheck to paycheck and used his campaign funds to pay for personal expenditures they couldn’t otherwise afford. These included dentist bills, their children’s school tuition and thousands of dollars in groceries and meals. Meanwhile, they overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period, according to the charges.