The Slatest

California Rep. Duncan Hunter, Charged With Embezzling Campaign Funds, Wins Re-Election

Hunter stands in front of a counter at one of the campaign headquarters.
Rep. Duncan Hunter speaks to campaign staffers on Tuesday in Santee, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has been charged with years of embezzling campaign money to fund a lavish lifestyle, has been re-elected to his seat in a solidly Republican suburban San Diego district.

Hunter, one of the two early Trump supporters to be charged with federal crimes this summer, defeated relatively unknown former Obama administration official Ammar Campa-Najjar in a race in which he slung racist accusations portraying his opponent as a “radical Muslim” with connections to terrorism.

Hunter and his wife were indicted in August, on the same afternoon that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight fraud-related counts and Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations. Both Hunter and his wife pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The 60-count indictment included allegations of conspiracy, wire fraud, falsification of records, along with the misuse of campaign contributions. Details from the indictment indicated Hunter had used the funds to facilitate extramarital affairs and to take vacations to Hawaii, London, and Las Vegas. The indictment also alleged he’d used campaign cash to buy video games, computers, and other technology, and that the couple had used the funds at hotels, the dentist, the movies, the grocery store, a golf course, the hair salon, and many bars.

The two most inflammatory details involved his wife suggesting her husband buy shorts at a golf pro shop and list the purchase as golf balls “for the wounded warriors” and an instance in which Hunter tried to get a tour of a Navy base to cover for a $14,000 family vacation in Italy and, when he was told he could only do the tour on certain days, told his chief of staff to “tell the Navy to go fuck themselves.” The couple spent hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars on personal expenses.

Hunter’s racist attacks on his opponent gathered less national attention, but it featured heavily in his campaign against Campa-Najjar. In a speech, Hunter called his opponent a “radical Muslim” trying to “infiltrate Congress.” Campa-Najjar has said he is a Christian and was raised by his Mexican American mother after his Palestinian father left. Hunter has linked him to his paternal grandfather’s role in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics that killed 11 Israelis, and Hunter has called Campa-Najjar a “security risk.” Campa-Najjar held a security clearance under the Obama administration.

The upper-middle-class district went for Trump by 15 percentage points, so Hunter’s win did not come as a complete surprise. Hunter had served five terms, and his father represented the district before him. The district may not stay Republican forever, though. According to the New York Times, Latinos now make up one-third of the district’s residents.