SAN DIEGO/SACRAMENTO, Calif.—U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife, Margaret, pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds, in a case that could help Democrats seize control of a traditionally Republican seat.
Bail during the Aug. 23 hearing was set at $15,000 for Hunter; his wife’s bond was set at $10,000.
“There are serious allegations in the indictment, with a large amount of money stolen from the campaign by both defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern said of the Hunters, as protesters shouted “Shame! Shame!” outside the courthouse.
Ashen-faced and wearing a muted plaid sport coat, Hunter spoke quietly in court, saying only “not guilty” when asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo to enter a plea.
“The charges against me are politically motivated and without merit,” Hunter said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that was forwarded to Reuters after the hearing. “I intend to fight them fully.”
In the letter, dated Thursday, Hunter asked Ryan to remove him from his congressional committee assignments, an action Ryan had already said he was planning to take.
While he and Margaret Hunter were inside the courthouse being fingerprinted, protesters outside changed their chant to “Lock him up!,” a nod to the Trump campaign’s rallying cry to imprison Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who was investigated by the FBI for use of a private email server but never charged.
The highly detailed indictment by a grand jury in San Diego alleged that the Hunters used campaign accounts to pay for their children’s private school tuition, lavish travel that included a trip to Italy, and restaurant meals that frequently cost hundreds of dollars.
Hunter, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, is the second Republican member of the House of Representatives to face criminal charges this month. On Aug. 8, Rep. Christopher Collins (R-N.Y.) was charged with taking part in an insider-trading scheme. Collins, who has suspended his re-election campaign, has called the charges baseless.