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Editorial: Rep. Hunter should accept responsibility and resign, then plan to rebuild his life

The San Diego Union-Tribune on

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A 47-page indictment released last August by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego laid out how Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and wife Margaret had spent more than $250,000 in campaign donations from 2010 to 2017 for their personal benefit and the benefit of their family. The 60-count indictment quoted messages in which the couple discussed strategies to create cover stories to justify the expenses -- and the congressman reacting profanely when the U.S. Navy wouldn't set up a visit to a base in Italy so he could rationalize what turned out to be a $14,261 family vacation there in 2015. It also showed Hunter had been warned that such spending was illegal by his campaign treasurer in 2010.

The case that prosecutors presented was thoroughly documented and utterly outrageous. But instead of doing what would be expected of a former Marine -- own up to his mistakes, resign, accept the consequences and plan how to rebuild his life -- Hunter has instead chosen delusion and denial. He has depicted himself as the victim of a nefarious conspiracy involving the media and a Democratic cabal in the Trump administration. He has also suggested that many of the charges were run up by his wife while he was serving in Washington. These are not the actions of an honorable man. Yet Hunter managed to narrowly win re-election in his heavily conservative East County district last November.

Now Margaret Hunter no longer is ready to silently accept her husband's propaganda and deceit.On Thursday, she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy that named her husband as her co-conspirator. She agreed to testify to state and federal grand juries about the case. Yet the congressman continued to bluster as if he's being victimized, saying that "it's obvious that the Department of Justice went after her to get to me for political reasons."

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has long been critical of Rep. Hunter -- not just for his lavish spending of campaign funds. We've also rapped him for his irresponsible call for an attack on North Korea that would lead to hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans and for the recklessness and bigotry of his 2018 campaign against Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar.

But we take no joy in Hunter's descent into a caricature of both corruption and demagoguery. We urge those who remain close to him to urge him to do what he should have done the day the indictment laid plain his perfidy: own up to his mistakes, resign, accept the consequences and plan how to rebuild his life. He is only 42. Even if he is imprisoned for several years, he can find a path to a constructive, emotionally healthy place.

When Charles Colson became the first aide to President Richard Nixon to go to prison for the Watergate scandal in 1974, the ruthless political operative was 42. But when he got out, he established Prison Fellowship programs in the U.S. and around the world, winning a slew of awards for humanitarian and spiritual assistance to inmates. He also won wide praise for promoting prison reform. When Colson died in 2012, he was remembered as much for his good deeds as for his crimes.

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Hunter can have a similar arc to his life. But only if he stops lying to himself about his life to date.

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