Indicted California Congressman Duncan Hunter (R) offered a glimpse into his legal strategy in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night: Blame his wife for the whole thing.
"She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that'll be looked at too, I'm sure," Hunter said of his wife, Margaret. "But I didn't do it. I didn't spend any money illegally."
The turn to pushing his wife directly under the bus is a change even from 24 hours earlier when Hunter insisted that the 47-page indictment detailing 200 separate instances of the misuse of campaign funds for personal use was nothing more than the "Democrats' arm of law enforcement" (aka the Justice Department) organizing a "witch hunt" (his words) against him just like they did with President Donald Trump.
This is what panic looks like when facing down an onrushing federal prosecution that could lead to significant jail time. You'll say or do anything to lessen your legal jeopardy -- up to and including insisting that your wife did it all and you tried to tell her no but she wouldn't listen.
There was some inkling that things were headed this way when Hunter and his wife made their first appearance on the charges in a San Diego courtoom on Thursday. CNN's Maeve Reston wrote of the scene:
"The congressman entered the courtroom with his lawyers, but not his wife, around 9:45 a.m. PT in a navy blue suit. Margaret Hunter arrived at court separately with her legal team and entered through a side door. Duncan Hunter and Margaret Hunter sat four seats apart in the courtroom after she entered."
Trouble in paradise!
Hunter's new strategy of putting all the blame on his wife has a major hole in it, however. And that hole is this: He was repeatedly warned about her misuse of the campaign credit card and not only refused to take it from her but also kept her in a job running his campaign.
It's all right there on pages 8 and 9 of the charging document:
- "Duncan Hunter facilitated the theft of campaign funds by directing his Treasurer to obtain a Campaign credit card for Margaret at a time when she had no official role with the Campaign and received no official salary, knowing that she would spend campaign funds for the Hunters' personal benefit."
- "Duncan Hunter installed Margaret Hunter as his paid Campaign Manager despite the protests of his Treasurer and with full knowledge of her long history of misuse of campaign funds, in part because as they discussed the Hunters 'need[ed] the extra money' that would come from her salary."
- "Duncan Hunter facilitated the theft of campaign funds by ignoring his campaign staff's multiple warnings about Margaret's improper use of campaign funds, accusing campaign staff of disloyalty by 'trying to create some kind of paper trail on me' when they raised concerns about improper spending, and continually refusing to remove her access to campaign funds."
What's clear in the indictment is that Hunter was repeatedly told about his wife's misuse of campaign funds -- and did nothing (or next to nothing) about it. And, it's not as though the money she was spending was solely for her benefit. Duncan Hunter played a lot of golf, allegedly, using campaign cash. He went on plenty of family vacations -- including one to Italy.
The portrait of the Hunters created in the indictment is not of a rogue wife, refusing to heed her husband's call to change her ways. It's of a couple conspiring to live massively above their means and working very hard to cover their tracks.
Duncan Hunter appears to be trying to paint a very different picture. The problem for him is that the hundreds -- literally -- of instances of alleged law-breaking in the indictment run directly counter to the story he is selling.