Duncan Hunter Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption Charges, Gets $15K Bail

Duncan Hunter (R-CA) walks into the Federal Courthouse for an arraignment hearing on August 23, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Duncan Hunter (R-CA) walks into the Federal Courthouse for an arraignment hearing on August 23, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, and his wife, Margaret, arrived separately at a San Diego courthouse Thursday for an arraignment at which they both entered "not guilty" pleas to charges of using $250,000 in campaign funds for vacations, groceries and $600 air travel for a pet rabbit, among other personal expenditures.

"I feel good," Hunter said as he brushed past reporters and a small group of protesters at the federal courthouse who chanted "Lock him up" and "Shame, shame."

Bail was set at $15,000 for Hunter and $10,000 for Margaret Hunter at the brief arraignment, and a hearing in the case was scheduled for Sept. 4. Duncan Hunter was also ordered by the court to surrender his personal weapons by Monday, local ABC 10 News reported.

Hunter earlier said he was the victim of a "witch hunt" concocted by a "bunch of leftists." He said he would not resign and would run for re-election in November for the seat in the San Diego area that he has held for five terms, and that was previously held by his father, Duncan Hunter, Sr., from 1981-2008.

Duncan told Politico in early August that "I knew the rules" of campaign finance and any violations were the result of honest mistakes.

"And if I did [spend improperly], it was an accident and I paid it back," he said at the time.

He also suggested that his wife, who was his campaign manager, was much better versed on the rules.

"My wife, she ran my Dad's FEC [Federal Election Commission reports] and his campaign prior to us getting married," Hunter said. "So I assumed -- not assumed -- she knew the rules. She knows the FEC rules as much as anybody who does that stuff."

The Justice Department filed a 60-count indictment Tuesday against the Hunters on charges including wire fraud and filing false reports with the FEC for allegedly using $250,000 in campaign donor money for personal expenditures such as ski weekends, bar tabs, dentists' bills, school tuition for their three children, and vacations in Italy and London.

From 2009-2016, the Hunters "spent substantially more than they earned," and used campaign funds to make up the difference as they skirted insolvency, the indictment said.

"They overdrew their bank accounts more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period resulting in approximately $37,761 in 'overdraft' and 'insufficient funds' bank fees," the indictment charged.

At one point, after withdrawing $20 from his personal bank account, Hunter was left with a balance of $15.02, the indictment said.

Hunter and his wife left the court without making any statements, but Duncan Hunter's lawyer, Gregory Vega, told reporters that "We are hoping the public will keep an open mind" on the case, according to media reports.

Vega called the charges against his client "politically motivated" by prosecutors who supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race against then-candidate Donald Trump.

"We believe there is a possible cover-up," Vega said.

Hunter was the second member of Congress to announce his support of Trump in 2016. The first was Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, who was indicted for insider trading earlier this month and has announced that he will not run for re-election.

Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, Hunter's opponent in November, was also at the courthouse.

"I think the voters will be making the decision" on the merits of the case against Hunter, he said, according to local reports.

Campa-Najjar also thanked Hunter for his service as a Marine and suggested that when he returned from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he had been caught up "in the corruption that has plagued Washington for too long."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Hunter joined the Marines and was an artillery officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he served in the battle of Fallujah. He left the reserves as a major.

In the lead-up to the indictment, Hunter has also denied rumors circulating on Capitol Hill that he had been drinking heavily and was involved with other women. He told Politico that the accusations were "tabloid trash."

"For over two years, I have made myself available to cooperate with this investigation in any manner," Hunter said in a statement Wednesday. "To date, I have not been asked one time to answer any questions or address any issue."

"All the while, there has been a constant barrage of misinformation and salacious headlines in our media regarding this matter," he continued. "I purposely choose to remain silent, not to feed into this witch-hunt and trust the process."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Story Continues