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Margaret Hunter's guilty plea could complicate Rep. Duncan Hunter's defense, experts say

Morgan Cook, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Political News

SAN DIEGO -- By her own telling, Margaret Hunter's marriage to Rep. Duncan Hunter was a love-at-first-sight relationship. It was a union forged in politics and mutual attraction that until recently appeared to be little short of a storybook romance.

Then known as Margaret Jankowski, the campaign volunteer and Crawford High School senior first met Hunter on election night in 1992, when his father, also named Duncan Hunter, won his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I knew that day I wanted to marry him," Margaret Hunter said of her future husband, who was then a junior at Granite Hills High School. "I broke it to him two weeks later."

The couple dated for more than five years before their 1998 wedding. By 2008, when the senior Hunter resigned from Congress to make room for his son to succeed him, the family had grown to include three small children.

The idyllic relationship was ruptured last summer, when the Hunters were indicted on 60 criminal counts related to allegedly using more than $250,000 in political contributions for family bills, vacations and a litany of personal expenses, including hundreds of dollars in airline fees to fly the family's pet rabbit across the country.

According to the plea agreement, the rabbit's name was Eggburt.

 

The couple initially denied all charges and appeared united in court. But now Margaret Hunter is no longer wearing her wedding ring, and she is a star witness against her husband.

Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty last Thursday to a single count of conspiracy, a felony that could land her behind bars for up to five years. Experts say the plea deal also erodes any spousal-privilege claim asserted by the congressman, who maintains he did nothing illegal.

"Circuit courts have held that the marital-communications privilege does not apply to communications having to do with present or future crimes in which both spouses participated," said Michael Semanchik, managing attorney at the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law.

"He is not going to be able to prevent her from testifying since they were both part of this conspiracy," he said.

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