SAN DIEGO — California Rep. Duncan Hunter said he plans to plead guilty to misusing campaign funds and is prepared to go to jail, a stunning turn of events for the six-term Republican who had steadfastly denied wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of a political witch hunt by federal prosecutors.
Hunter had pleaded not guilty, but in an interview that aired Monday said he will change his plea at a federal court hearing Tuesday in San Diego. He said his motivation is protect his three children from going through a trial, which was set to begin Jan. 22.
His wife Margaret Hunter also was charged in the case and in June accepted a plea deal that called for her to testify against her husband.
“I think it would be really tough for them,” the 42-year-old Hunter said in an interview with San Diego TV station KUSI. “It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure. I think it’s time for them to live life outside the spotlight.”
Hunter, who was re-elected last year and has been actively campaigning for a seventh term next year despite being under indictment, indicated he will leave office but didn’t say when.
The combat Marine veteran and an early supporter of President Donald Trump said he will plead guilty to one count of misuse of campaign funds. Federal prosecutors alleged he and his wife spent more than $250,000 in campaign money for golf outings, plane tickets and a family vacation to Italy, as well as household items from places like Costco.
Prosecutors also revealed salacious details about the congressman’s lifestyle, saying some money was used by Hunter to further romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
Hunter said he will accept whatever sentence the judge gives, including jail time.
“I think it’s important that people know I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money,” he said. “Whatever my time in custody is, I will take that hit. My only hope is that the judge does not sentence my wife to jail. I think my kids need a mom in the home.”
Hunter’s plea sets up the prospects for a second special House election in California next year. Freshman Rep. Katie Hill, a rising Democratic star, announced her resignation from a Los Angeles-area district in October after explicit photos of her were posted online. Among those seeking the seat is Steve Knight, the Republican incumbent Hill beat in 2018.
Hunter represents the 50th Congressional District, which covers eastern San Diego County and a small part of southern Riverside County. It is the most Republican district in Southern California, an area now nearly devoid of GOP representation in Congress.
Last year Hunter narrowly survived a challenge from Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, a political unknown making his first run for office. The 30-year-old Campa-Najjar is running again and his Republican opponents include former U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and radio personality Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman.
Until now, Hunter had resisted calls to resign, calling the charges a politically motivated attempt to drive him from office in a state where Democrats are in the majority. Following his indictment in August 2018 he said the charges were brought by local prosecutors who attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, who ran against Trump in 2016.
After his wife agreed to a plea deal, Hunter said “it’s obvious that the Department of Justice went after her to get to me for political reasons.”
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.