Congressman Duncan Hunter claims the case against him is politically motivated (Sandy Huffaker)
Los Angeles (AFP) – A Republican congressman and his wife on Thursday denied syphoning $250,000 of campaign funds for a litany of private expenses including tequila shots and a plane ticket for their pet rabbit.
Duncan and Margaret Hunter are accused of misusing the cash over seven years for numerous inappropriate expenses, such as family vacations to Hawaii and Italy, dental bills and theater tickets.
A federal court in San Diego set the politician’s bond at $15,000 while his wife was released for $10,000 after prosecutors noted that the couple were living “paycheck to paycheck.”
Protesters chanted “shame, shame” as Hunter — a former Marine who represents much of eastern San Diego County — walked briskly out of the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
Echoing President Donald Trump’s complaints of bias over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference, Hunter claims the case against him is politically motivated.
“The congressman has faced more difficult battles than this, in Iraq and Afghanistan,” his attorney Gregory Vega told reporters.
“He looks forward to his day in court, and we will do everything in our power to represent him.”
The Hunters were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in San Diego on charges of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, wire fraud, falsification of records and prohibited use of campaign contributions — all of which they deny.
– ‘Lock him up’ –
As the couple arrived at the courthouse in downtown San Diego, they were met by protesters shouting “Lock him up,” a play on a favorite refrain of Trump supporters denouncing his 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton.
One protester held a sign saying “Crooked Duncan Hunter,” a reference to the president’s nickname for Clinton.
The congressman represents a solidly conservative district, but Democrats have been prioritizing his seat, hoping the prosecution will open up the race for the November midterm elections.
Again taking his cue from Trump, Hunter has called the two-year investigation leading to the indictment a “witch hunt.”
Federal prosecutors, however, describe “scores of instances” between 2009 and 2016 in which the Hunters used campaign funds to pay for “personal expenses that they could not otherwise afford.”
The pet rabbit and tequila are mentioned in Justice Department evidence that details numerous other allegedly suspect expenses, from tuition fees, golf outings and video games to coffee and expensive meals.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called the charges against Hunter — announced on the day that two of Trump’s closest former aides were convicted of multiple felonies — “deeply serious,” removing him from his committee assignments.
Hunter was elected to Congress in 2008, after his father opted not to seek reelection. Under California voting law he cannot be excluded from November’s congressional ballot.
The Hunters are due back in court on September 4.
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