Margaret Hunter

Margaret Hunter and her husband, Rep. Duncan Hunter, are facing several charges over allegations of diverting thousands in campaign funds for personal use. | Denis Poroy/AP Photo

legal

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife changing plea in criminal case

Updated

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife, Margaret — facing a slew of federal criminal charges along with the California Republican lawmaker over allegations of diverting more than $250,000 in campaign funds to personal use — is set to plead guilty Thursday in federal court in San Diego.

The move is a serious blow to Hunter, a six-term congressman who was indicted last August along with his wife. Hunter, a former Marine and the son of a long-term GOP lawmaker, has maintained his innocence. Hunter refused to answer questions about his wife’s potential plea deal during House votes on Wednesday.

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Hunter won reelection in November in the heavily Republican district despite the criminal charges, as did Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who is under indictment on charges of insider trading.

Federal prosecutors allege that over a seven-year period, from 2009 to 2016, the Hunters “illegally used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that they could not otherwise afford. The purchases included family vacations to Italy, Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, and Boise, Idaho; school tuition; dental work; theater tickets; and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives.”

A brief entry in the federal court docket in San Diego said Margaret Hunter was scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing, although there was no immediate confirmation of which of the 60 felony charges would admit to or whether she would testify against her husband.

A shift in plea is often part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against other defendants, but an attorney for Duncan Hunter declined to speculate Wednesday on whether such a plea bargain had been hammered out.

“We are aware of Mrs. Hunter scheduling a hearing to change her plea,” said Greg Vega, a defense lawyer for Duncan Hunter. “At this time, that does not change anything regarding Congressman Hunter. There are still significant motions that need to be litigated, specifically the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution.” The Speech or Debate Clause prevents lawmakers and aides from legal action over legitimate legislative activities, and it is often invoked in corruption cases involving members and senators.

When the Hunters were indicted last summer, they both asserted their innocence in response to charges that hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds were spent on an Italian vacation, groceries and video game charges.

In public comments, however, Hunter quickly seemed to shift blame to his wife, emphasizing that her role running his campaigns left her to oversee what was paid out. “She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did, that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure,” Hunter said on Fox News shortly after the indictment. “But I didn’t do it. … I didn’t spend any money illegally.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, which is handling the case against the couple, declined to comment Wednesday. Lawyers for Margaret Hunter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Hunters were jointly set to face a jury trial in September.

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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