On Monday, Judges in the trial of embattled California Congressman Duncan Hunter said the jury can hear evidence of his alleged extramarital affairs. The jury will listen to the salacious details as they consider charges that Hunter looted his campaign coffers to finance vacations, golf outings, pay for his family trips, as well as a litany of other personal expenses.
It seems Hunter, who has been indicted on these charges should have resigned from his very important congressional seat. He has not. So why hasn’t he? He has been stripped of his committee assignments and is more or less a lame duck in Congress. Still, he has not resigned and his constituents are suffering, it is harming Congress and the Republican Party.
Hunter did not give comment for this column but his press secretary Michael Harrison said “that he is working through the legal process and he looks forward to resolving this in court.”
It is not easy.
Hunter’s decision as to whether he resigns or not are based on a multitude of factors. Federal prosecutors could cut a deal with the congressman and lessen the penalties faced if he resigns.
However, the fact that he hasn’t resigned amid the controversy is a question that is baffling many of his congressional colleagues and more so those who have voted him into office. There are solutions but they are difficult.
It’s as complicated as is everything surrounding the rise and fall of the former Marine war hero, who went on to be elected in Congress in 2008, taking over his father’s seat representing the 50th congressional district in California. I remember his father, former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Duncan Hunter Sr., fondly during the time I was a journalist in California. His extensive work supporting troops, like his son, during the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were numerous and he was well respected by his colleagues on the hill.
In Hunter Jr.’s case, the indictment appears to have given him no way out. Prosecutors have laid out a litany of evidence detailing Hunter’s time during his tenure in Congress. They most recently revealed that he used campaign money to finance his illicit affairs with his congressional aides and lobbyists and the jury will hear about this. His wife, Margaret Hunter, has already pleaded guilty to charges in the campaign finance case, since she and Hunter were indicted last summer, as reported in The Washington Post.
She’s admitted her wrong doing and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with her husband to illegally use $25,000 in campaign funds for personal use, according to reports. She is scheduled for sentencing in September and could face up to five years in prison. Prosecutors dropped the other charges after she signed off on her guilty plea.
This has to be gut wrenching for Hunter’s family. His father, the former Congressman who Chaired the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter Sr, is remembered as an outstanding congressional member who was first elected in 1980 to the same congressional seat that his son took over. He has defended his son publicly, citing that the charges against him are politically motivated. Even if they are, it doesn’t escape the fact that the prosecutors have collected a mountain of alleged evidence against Hunter Jr. and that his own wife has pleaded guilty. She will be testifying against him in his upcoming trial.
And with prosecutors revealed salacious details about the married congressman’s lifestyle in court filings last week, saying he used campaign money to illegally finance a string of romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
Hunter’s three choices: he can resign, congress can force him out of office or he can stay on course. The latter is not good for anyone.
Despite being indicted, he was re-elected in 2018 by his constituents. The easy Republican votes in his district might not last for long. The case is expected to get messy and very public regarding the thousands of dollars in campaign money he allegedly spent on affairs.
Congressional officials who’ve spoken to this reporter, say his determination to not resign despite the mountain of alleged evidence being amassed by federal prosecutors will more than likely lead to a guilty verdict and it harms the Republican Party more than his office helps it.
According to a recent article in The Hill, former Rep. Darrell Issa, whose district is next to Hunters, may seek to run for Congress again. The article quotes sources that say Issa, who did leave office in January, is watching what is happening in the case against Hunter and deliberating whether or not he will run.
“Darrell has got a servant’s heart,” said Rep. Mark Meadows earlier this month. “If he is willing to serve, and can earn the trust the California electorate, I’d be applauding from the stands.”
Issa could not be reached for comment.
Hunter’s district, mainly Republican, would once again have someone who is serious about getting back to business and putting priorities back on track for the Republican Party in a state dominated by Democrats, congressional officials said.
“If (Hunter) doesn’t resign willingly, we will lose one of the last strong Republican seats in California,” said a congressional official, familiar with Issa and Hunter.
- Congress Can Expel Him From Office
Congress has expelled members from the house but it has only been done twice since the civil war.
James A. Traficant Jr., who served nine terms, was charged 2002, as reported. Traficant had a long sordid and eccentric history in Congress. Prosecutors indicted the congressman in 2002 on 10 felony counts of racketeering, bribery and fraud. In fact, as reported by The Washington Post he had required “several of his congressional aides to pay him monthly kickbacks of as much as $2,500 for the privilege of being on the government payroll. Other staff members were expected to bale hay on his farm or repair his houseboat, which was docked in Washington. He was also accused of filing false tax returns and of soliciting businesses in his district to provide free goods and services.”
He was the fifth member of the House, and the second since the Civil War, to be expelled from Congress in July, 2002.
This would be a worst case scenario but it is totally plausible considering that Republican congressional members are frustrated by Hunter’s failure to resign from office. That decision, say many Republicans, only makes matters worse.
For Hunter, not having a parachute can be the reason for not resigning. His fight may be that he wants to fight the charges or wants to find a way out. It’s unlike the military where senior ranking officers can at times resign in lieu of a court martial for similar charges Hunter is now facing.
- Hunter Can Continue To Stay The Course
He can, however, continue to do much of the same. He can fight back and insist on his innocence despite the mountains of evidence and the testimony his wife is expected to provide. This is a long shot considering his wife has already pled guilty to one count and is expected to testify against him.
It also leaves open the possibility for Democrats to use the information that will be made public at trial against him in the upcoming election to remove him from the seat and take it over. This too is a long shot considering the majority of people in the district are registered Republicans. But stranger things have been known to happen.
What’s worse, is that Hunter is no longer representing his constituents the way they deserve to be represented. The fact that he has been removed from his committee assignments and is ineffective in Congress has drained his ability to truly do what he originally set himself out to do when he was elected: serve the American people.
But no one can make this decision for him. Hunter has to decide for himself what is best for his district, his family and himself.
- Here’s a possibility to avoid similar future situations in Congress
In the military high ranking officers can be given the option to resign in lieu of a court martial. Not so in Congress. Maybe something like this can save constituents in the future. Maybe there is an option that federal prosecutors can give him based on what’s best for his district during negotiations and deliberations.
There are three requirements that must be met to discharge in lieu of court-martial:
First, charges must be preferred against the accused. Second, the authorized maximum punishment for the offense, upon which separation is to be based, must include a punitive discharge. The Manual for Courts-Martial identifies those offenses that may be punished by a punitive discharge. Finally, there must be an assessment made that the accused is unqualified for future military service. This determination may be based on the seriousness of the charged offense(s) and the related circumstances, as well as other factors related to the service of the accused.
That’s exactly what’s happening here but in Congress there is no remedy as in the military for discharge in lieu of prosecution. That my friends is left up to the prosecutors and the personal decisions made by those being accused.
It will not end well. But Hunter can take the high road. He can resign before the next election in November. He can do this for his constituents, his family and mainly as a first step in remedying a situation that appears more and more to be turning into a Greek Tragedy.
In those Greek myths, like what we’re seeing play out with Hunter, the failure to face your own faults and do what’s right in the end always ends in tragedy.