Rep. Duncan Hunter Pleaded Guilty to a Felony—But He Isn’t Ready to Resign Just Yet

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Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter finally owned up to his wrongdoing Tuesday, officially pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal campaign funds and admitting that he “did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money.” But while the California lawmaker may have now legally admitted that he committed a felony, apparently he’s not yet ready to vacate Capitol Hill. Though Hunter is widely expected to resign from Congress—especially considering he may be facing a prison sentence—Politico reports that Hunter “shows no signs” of stepping down just yet. The congressman “blew off” a question about whether and when he intended to resign Wednesday, instead just telling reporters, “Good talk.”

Hunter’s political fate in Congress is one of the final open questions in the ongoing political scandal, which began in August 2018 when Hunter and wife Margaret Hunter were indicted over $250,000 in misused campaign funds. (The truly amazing list of alleged campaign charges includes such purchases as Disneyland souvenirs, tickets to Riverdance, tequila shots, travel to his daughter’s dance competitions, a $14,000 trip to Italy, $2,220 worth of items at Michael’s Craft Store, a $600 plane ticket for a pet rabbit—and, allegedly, funding for Hunter’s extramarital affairs.) Before this week’s guilty plea, Hunter—one of President Donald Trump‘s earliest supporters in Congress—had vehemently denied the charges, calling the case against him a “witch hunt” and a conspiracy led by the “deep state.” He also threw his wife under the bus by suggesting she misspent the funds without his knowledge, suggesting on Fox News that “Whatever she did . . . will be looked at” while insisting he “didn’t spend any money illegally.” (Margaret Hunter, subsequently, decided to plead guilty in May and cooperate with prosecutors, saying she would “tell everything [she] knows about every person involved.”) This week, however, Hunter changed his tune, saying that a public trial “would be really tough” for his children. “I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes,” Hunter told KUSI. “I justify my plea with the understanding that I am responsible for my campaign and what happens to my own campaign money.”

The California congressman has so far managed to maintain an iron grip on his House seat despite his legal woes, refusing to resign after his 2018 indictment. (Hunter was forced to give up his committee assignments, however.) Voters in Hunter’s reliably-red district then delivered the congressman a narrow win in the 2018 midterms, after the incumbent ran a campaign that relied heavily on racist attacks against his Palestinian-Mexican-American opponent. Hunter now does seem to be preparing to vacate his seat at last, telling KUSI that he’s “confident that the transition will be a good one.” “I’ve got a great staff,” Hunter said. We’re going handle people’s cases and pass it off to whoever takes this seat next. And we’ll make sure that’s a seamless transition.”

But with no clear timetable yet on when exactly Hunter will step down, House leadership is warning that their willingness to let the lawmaker stick around will soon wane. While House leaders are so far not pressuring Hunter to leave, one top Democratic leadership aide warned Politico that “our patience is not unlimited.” Republicans, too, are hoping Hunter makes a quick exit, given that Hunter keeping his seat—rather than turning it over to a Republican who is, you know, not a felon—would increase the likelihood that his red district will flip in 2020. The GOP is prepared to give Hunter time to “get his affairs in order,” one Republican lawmaker told Politico. “But not forever.”

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