The California Republican didn’t say definitively that he was resigning, but the former Marine officer did mention that “It’s been a privilege to serve in Congress. I think we’ve done a lot of great things for the nation.”
The Hunters have been a dynasty in southern California politics for decades. Hunter or his father, Duncan Hunter, Sr., have held that San Diego seat since 1980. The elder Hunter, a hardline military hawk, even ran briefly for president in 2008 before withdrawing.
When asked what would happen to his congressional seat, Hunter added: “I’m confident the transition will be a good one.”
Margaret Hunter, the congressman’s wife, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds back in June, a move that put enormous pressure on him to find a deal with federal prosecutors.
A source close to the case said Hunter’s plea agreement will be “virtually identical” to Margaret Hunter’s deal.
Recommended federal sentencing ranges for this felony charge range from 8 to 14 months, although Hunter’s lawyers will argue for a drastically lower term of incarceration, citing his military and public service records.
A hearing notice was posted Monday morning on the federal court docket in San Diego announcing Hunter’s change of plea. An attorney for the California Republican could not be immediately reached for comment. Justice Department officials declined to formally comment on Hunter’s interview.
Hunter’s trial was initially scheduled to take place this fall, but the proceedings had been pushed back until Jan. 22. Hunter had also filed a case in a federal appeals court seeking to dismiss the charges. Both these legal actions will end with the plea deal.
The House Ethics Committee, which has also announced that it intended to investigate Hunter, would drop its case against him as well.
Federal prosecutors described the Hunters as so mired in debt that they had less than $1,000 in their bank account from 2009 to 2017, and owed money to stores like Macy’s and Home Depot. The Hunters had begun falling behind on their children’s school tuition and missed numerous mortgage payments.
“It explains why he himself used campaign funds to buy everything from cigarettes to gadgets to groceries to getaways — things he wanted but could not afford to buy with his own money,” prosecutors alleged in one filing.
Hunter — who has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for drinking heavily and carousing — was also accused of routinely using campaign cash to finance numerous extra-marital affairs.
In one episode in 2010, Hunter allegedly took a lobbyist on a “double date” road trip to Virginia Beach with a fellow congressman and then charged his campaign for the hotel room and bar tab.
In another 2015 incident, Hunter allegedly took a House leadership aide out for cocktails and then took an Uber back to his office after they spent the night together. Both expenses were charged to his campaign account, prosecutors say.
Hunter, who narrowly won reelection last fall despite his indictment, has long claimed that he was the subject of a political witch hunt. Hunter alleged that the prosecutors were biased against him because they supported former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and he was an early endorser of President Donald Trump.
Prosecutors accused Hunter of improperly using campaign funds to pursue numerous romantic affairs with congressional aides and lobbyists.
Prosecutors urged the judge in Hunter’s case to “admonish” the lawmaker to stop attacking them as politically biased. Hunter, they said, had attempted to connect his case to Trump’s claims of an FBI “witch hunt” against him.
After Hunter was indicted, GOP leaders stripped him of his committee assignments but stopped short of calling on him to resign.
Former Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who was indicted on insider trading chargers last summer and also initially denied the charges, ended up pleading guilty this fall and resigned from Congress. But Collins and Hunter both won reelection despite their indictments, which marked the first time since the 1980s that multiple members facing prison time were able to convince voters to return them to office.
The legal cloud hovering over Hunter has propelled other Republicans to seek his solidly conservative district. Both former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio and former Rep. Darrell Issa are running for the seat, and Issa said on Monday he jumped into the race under the assumption that Hunter would not be on the ballot next November.
Issa told POLITICO that “it doesn’t surprise me” that Hunter would seek to spare his family a messy trial. And in a sign of how Hunter’s departure will reshape the race, Issa sought to lay claim to the slice of the electorate that remains loyal to Hunter in polls.
In a sign of Hunter’s precarious political standing, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar came within a few points of unseating the Republican incumbent last cycle. Campa-Najjar, who is running again, told POLITICO that “the writing was on the wall” in regards to Hunter’s fates
“My hope is we can collectively as a district move on from this period of the Hunter scandal,” Campa-Najjar said.
Jeremy White contributed to this story.