Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) likely used an attempted visit to a U.S. Navy base to cover up his use of campaign funds for a 2015 family vacation to Italy, a federal judge ruled this week.
In a three-page order filed on Tuesday, Judge Thomas J. Whelan denied Hunter’s motion to have federal corruption charges against him dismissed, calling the request “wholly without merit.” The judge also denied defense attorneys’ request to move the trial out of San Diego, saying Hunter easily won reelection in 2018 even after being indicted and thus would be able to receive a fair trial.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, were indicted last year for allegedly misusing $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including luxury vacations, dental work, theater tickets and private school tuition for their children.
The California Republican, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, had argued the Italy trip was a constitutionally protected legislative activity because it included a failed attempt to visit a U.S. Navy base near Naples.
Whelan rejected this argument, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests the trip was a “personal vacation the primary purpose of which was unrelated to Hunter’s work as a member of Congress or candidate for federal office.”
Hunter used the attempted base visit to “misrepresent his personal use of campaign funds for the family vacation,” Whelan wrote.
Hunter’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department in a court filing last month also charged the congressman with illegally using campaign funds to pay for “intimate” encounters with several women, adding to the charges Hunter and his wife were already facing.
According to the filing, the congressman used the funds to engage in “intimate personal activities unrelated to Hunter’s congressional campaign” with different women, all of whom were working as lobbyists or congressional staffers.
Hunter and his wife both initially pleaded not guilty to the charges of misusing campaign funds. But Margaret Hunter, who worked as her husband’s campaign manager, last month agreed to plead guilty to one conspiracy charge and testify against her husband at his trial scheduled for September.
Read Whelan’s order below: