- The news outlet Politico on Thursday reported that Republicans are worried about Rep. Duncan Hunter — both his conduct in the Capitol and his prospects for re-election.
- Hunter was accused in the article of drinking, even on the job, and having inappropriate relationships with women in Washington. His staff denied unprofessional conduct.
- Amid a criminal investigation over personal spending of Hunter’s campaign funds, some in the GOP worry that time is running out to run another Republican in Hunter’s East County district.
Under federal investigation for over a year, Rep. Duncan Hunter is getting pushed hard from two directions.
The FBI is looking into his campaign spending after reports that he used money from donors for his own personal expenses, from family vacations to oral surgery and private school tuition.
Hunter denies all intentional wrongdoing and said he has paid back all funds that were spent by mistake. But on Thursday, Politico reported that other Republicans are encouraging Hunter, R-Alpine, to end his career in Congress by not seeking a sixth term.
As he awaits results of the criminal investigation, Hunter’s GOP colleagues made his life tougher by portraying him as a congressman who carouses around Washington. Quoted anonymously, the Republicans suggested Hunter had a drinking problem and had inappropriate relationships with a staffer and a lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
Typical of the swipes was the unnamed Republican lawmaker who said, “He’s enjoyed his time in Washington — probably a little too much.”
They also described efforts by friendly lawmakers to get the 41-year old representative help, citing possible post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service.
Politico reported that the GOP is concerned that Hunter’s ongoing criminal investigation could leave the party with an election day disaster in which they lose one of the reddest seats in California to a Democrat.
Hunter declined to be interviewed by The San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday, but his staff said he’s not backing down.
“Regarding his running for re-election, he is 100 percent in, all his colleagues and GOP leadership knows this, any suggestion to the contrary is completely false,” Hunter’s spokesman, Michael Harrison, said by email.
Hunter was interviewed by Politico on Monday and said that reports of unprofessional behavior are incorrect. He declined to discuss his relationships with women on Capitol Hill at first. Then he called Politico back and said the allegations were “tabloid trash.”
Asked if he was denying involvement with the women, he replied, “No, it’s tabloid trash.”
Hunter’s district is one of the most conservative in the state and the Hunter family is a political dynasty with unrivaled name recognition in inland San Diego County.
But two Democrats, Ammar Campa-Najjar and Josh Butner, outraised him in the last quarter of 2017. Campa-Najar raised $176,000, Butner raised $106,500 and Hunter raised $51,000. Meanwhile, Hunter spent more than three times the amount he raised that quarter paying his legal bills.
Given the situation, Hunter is being encouraged by Republicans to step aside in time to get a viable Republican on the ballot ahead of the March 9 filing deadline, Politico reported.
One Republican candidate, Shamus Sayed, raised $185,539 last quarter. State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, has long been considered a potential contender, but recently filed paperwork to run for an open seat on the Board of Equalization. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, is also reportedly considered a potential candidate after he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in his current seat. Issa recently reaffirmed his endorsement of Hunter and has ruled out running if Hunter stays in the campaign.
Hunter has been the subject of a series of stories in the Union-Tribune since the Federal Election Commission first questioned campaign spending on video games in April 2016. The newspaper has revealed campaign contributions were spent on overseas vacations, home improvements, groceries, school uniforms, school lunches and theme parks.
Hunter has reimbursed the campaign for more than $60,000, but not for all unusual or unexpected campaign expenses. The U-T reported, for instance, that the campaign funded 16 trips to Jack in the Box totaling $297 — none of them reimbursed. The Politico story says federal investigators are interested in the fast food and are examining whether Hunter's reimbursement to the campaign was limited by his inability to repay more, rather than because he covered all inappropriate expenses.
Hunter took out a loan on his Alpine house to repay the expenses, then sold it and moved his family into his father’s house.
Politico also reported that investigators have asked about a young woman, a former intern, that Hunter hired onto his staff, who had a spotty attendance record, was unfriendly with other staffers and people complained about inappropriate work attire. Politico, citing anonymous sources, also said she would frequently text the congressman and go to a restaurant with him.
The Republicans who are putting pressure on Hunter might have a lower threshold for speaking out against questionable behavior, said Carl Luna, director of the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement at the University of San Diego.
“In the age of #TimesUp that kind of arrogance -- even if it only appears that way -- isn't nearly as tolerated today as even a few years ago. So maybe that's why people are distancing themselves from the congressman,” Luna said.
Or, it could just be that things don’t look good for Hunter, Luna said.
“There is always simple politics," he said. “The accusations against him, again with the backlash to the President energizing Democrats, might be seen as a liability which new GOP talent wouldn't be tarred with.”
Hunter’s office said he doesn’t feel any pressure to end his career in public office.
“It is business as usual for our office and Congressman Hunter is not spending time responding to what amounts to nothing more than baseless speculation and D.C. gossip,” his spokesman, Michael Harrison, said by email.
As he did as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps and into his time in the House, he’s focused on service, and he has no plans to stop, Harrison said.
John Dadian, a political consultant who has worked for East County campaigns and who has known the Hunter family for decades, said that party brass often tries to pressure beleaguered colleagues to step down, but they don’t understand that Hunter is committed to staying in office.
“Yeah, that type of pressure is not going to work,” Dadian said. “I think the only thing that may force him to make a decision is if there’s an actual indictment by the Justice Department.”
Dadian said he’s seen Hunter several times over the last six months, and noticed that whenever he speaks with his constituents he hasn’t given the slightest hint that he’s considering leaving Congress.
- FEC questions Duncan Hunter's video game charges
- Hunter to cut short Israel trip, repay campaign funds
- Congressman repays $12,000 to campaign
- Hunter repaid funds spent on surf shop, garage door
- Ethics complaints highlight Hunter's Italy trip
- Hunter's campaign spent on groceries, gas
- Did Hunter campaign pay for his kids' school lunches?
- Hunter pushes Coast Guard to buy ship owned by donor
- Congressman spent campaign funds for rabbit air travel
- Justice Department investigating Rep. Duncan Hunter
- Rep. Hunter's older expenses also incurred at Vons and in Hawaii
- Grand jury subpoena issued in Rep. Duncan Hunter criminal investigation
- Rep. Duncan Hunter spent more than three times as much on legal defense as he raised last quarter