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GOP House member, wife face charges

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Tuesday charged a Republican congressman and his wife with using more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for family vacations, theater tickets and other personal expenses.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, Calif., and his wife, Margaret, were charged in a 47-page indictment that details how they allegedly used campaign money to live beyond their means, funding trips to Italy, Hawaii and other places, as well as school tuition, dental work and theater tickets. The Justice Department said in a news release that the couple also allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on more modest items, such as golf outings, video games and even home utilities.

Hunter's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and his wife, who was paid $117,000 from the campaign for work between 2010 and 2017, are scheduled to be arraigned in court Thursday.

Hunter's father, Duncan Hunter Sr., told KUSI News in San Diego:"This is going to be a long, tough battle. We're going to fight it out, we're going to win and we're going to win the election."

The Justice Department alleged the couple falsely described their purchases in Federal Election Commission filings as "campaign travel," "dinner with volunteers/contributors," or by using other seemingly innocent descriptions. They allegedly described the payment of their family dental bills as a charitable contribution to "Smiles For Life," and tickets to see "Riverdance" at the San Diego Civic Theater as "San Diego Civic Center for Republican Women Federated/Fundraising."

The indictment also alleges that Hunter spent campaign funds on social outings with another congressman, who is identified only as "Congressman A." In March 2010, for example, the indictment alleges that Hunter spent more than $120 at Birchmere Music Hall with that congressman and two others, and the next month, Hunter claimed a $256 reimbursement for driving his car on a trip to Virginia Beach with the same group.

He also spent $238 in December 2013 while watching a San Diego Chargers game at a Washington-area restaurant with another unnamed congressman, the indictment alleges.

The Justice Department said Hunter's campaign treasurer made "repeated inquiries" about his purchases. The agency alleged in its indictment that the Hunters dismissed the treasurer's concerns as "silly," and Duncan Hunter accused staffers of "accusing Campaign staff of disloyalty by "trying to create some kind of paper trail on me" when they raised concerns.

"Elected representatives should jealously guard the public's trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain," U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement. "Today's indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law."

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., said in a statement the charges were "further evidence of the rampant culture of corruption among Republicans in Washington today," and that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., should immediately call on Hunter to resign. Ryan said in a statement the charges are "deeply serious" and Hunter would be "removed from his committee assignments pending the resolution of this matter."

Hunter, 41, was among the first congressmen to publicly support Donald Trump as his party's presidential nominee, and made his endorsement known to Politico the same day that Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., told the Buffalo News that Trump had his backing. Collins was charged this month with insider trading; the Justice Department alleged he plotted with his son to avoid losses on an investment.

Hunter, who represents an area near San Diego, served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine. Sworn in at age 32 to the seat once held by his father, Hunter has shown a strong interest in national security issues.

An outspoken advocate of e-cigarettes, he famously used a vape device during a House Transportation Committee hearing to discuss a proposal from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to ban vaping on airplanes.

"This is called a vaporizer," Hunter said, puffing a cloud out from the device. "There's no combustion, there's no carcinogens."

Hunter's penchant for brash statements and willingness to take on senior Pentagon officials when he thought they weren't looking out for rank-and-file troops made him popular with many combat veterans.

In one case, he spent months sparring with the Army over its investigation of Maj. Matt Golsteyn, a Green Beret soldier who was accused of killing an unarmed Taliban bombmaker in Afghanistan rather than releasing him. The Army stripped Golsteyn of the Silver Star medal recognizing his valor in combat, drawing Hunter's ire. No charges were filed against the soldier.

One military veteran who worked in Hunter's office said that other combat veterans felt like the congressman gave them a voice on Capitol Hill. This veteran, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the situation's sensitivity, said that Hunter appreciated being able to swap war stories with others who have served in combat.

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This article was written by Matt Zapotosky and Dan Lamothe, reporters for The Washington Post.

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