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Editorial: Duncan Hunter is guilty — of cynically exploiting the country's partisan divide

The Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Op Eds

When Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) revealed during a TV interview Monday that after months of proclaiming his innocence, he was now planning to plead guilty Tuesday in federal court to misusing campaign funds for pay for personal expenses, he said he was sorry.

Sort of. He did not say he was sorry for violating the trust of voters in his northeastern San Diego County district over and over again by using hundreds of thousands of dollars of political donations to pay for obviously noncampaign expenses such as family vacations, clothes and romantic outings with women other than his wife. He did not apologize for lying to federal elections officials or for lying to the public after the charges were filed in August 2018. Nor did he say he was sorry for trying to blame everybody but himself, including his wife and young son.

Nope. Hunter expressed remorse for making "mistakes," saying he would plead guilty to "only one count."

"I think it's important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money," Hunter told KUSI.

Unbelievable. Even in his admission Hunter couldn't take full responsibility for his disgraceful actions. The fact is that the one count he's pleading guilty to was that he knowingly and willfully tapped his campaign funds over and over and over again to pay for personal expenses for his family and himself.

That's a pretty big "mistake": thinking that he could siphon off a quarter-million dollars in campaign funds to pay for things such as dental work, hotel rooms for a mistress, plane fare for his mother-in-law's trip to Poland and private-school tuition for his kids -- and that no one would notice. And maybe no one would have were it not for the dogged reporting of the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, work that Hunter has disparagingly referred to as "fake news."

It was bad enough that Hunter continued to deny the violations and smear the messengers even after his wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty for her part earlier this year (and, notably, did take full responsibility for her actions). But he cynically exploited the already raw political divide in this country in a desperate attempt to deflect attention and blame. Mimicking President Trump, he said the investigation was nothing more than a political "witch hunt" conducted by Hillary Clinton-loving prosecutors. And even while Hunter was lining up scapegoats to blame, his lawyers were going to ridiculous lengths to argue in court that it was perfectly reasonable for him to use campaign funds for romantic encounters with female lobbyists because "mixing business with pleasure" served a political purpose. And they could afford to throw out such outlandish theories because Hunter used his campaign funds to pay attorney fees.

 

Hunter faces up to five years in prison for his crimes. He hasn't resigned yet, but is expected to before his sentencing in March.

That's not soon enough. Hunter should have resigned the minute he admitted violating the public's trust. If he doesn't resign from Congress by the end of this week, the House should expel him, as it is entitled to do.

No one who diverts campaign funds into his own pockets should be allowed to remain in public office.

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

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