Congressman Pleads Guilty to Using Campaign Funds for Rabbit Travel

It's a rabbit

Let me be clear: U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA, for now) did not plead guilty only to using campaign funds for rabbit travel. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, which was only one of the 60 counts in his indictment. But the rabbit travel was one of the 200 overt acts alleged in that count:

This was a rabbit. As previously discussed—back when Hunter was adamantly denying the charges and saying prosecutors were engaged in a Trump-related “witch hunt”—Hunter’s own spokesman admitted that records showed campaign funds had indeed been spent for “in-cabin rabbit-transport fees” (hyphens added; unbearable otherwise). See Campaign Funds Used for Rabbit Travel” (Aug. 27, 2018). This is not something a spokesman makes up. I therefore felt and still feel comfortable saying that the “family pet” mentioned in Overt Act #98 was, in fact, a rabbit, as had been reported elsewhere.

Now, Hunter’s plea agreement does not specifically mention the rabbit. Technically, on paper, he admitted to only two of the alleged overt acts: spending $511 in campaign funds for a “family celebration” in 2011 (#43), and $409 for “a social outing with several of his closest friends” in 2016 (#191). So is it accurate to say that he “pleaded guilty to” the other 198 alleged overt acts? Which, by the way, included but were not limited to:

  • $351 to rent a car for a “personal ski trip with Individual 14” (#2);
  • $1008 for expenses during said ski trip (#3);
  • $704 for 12 tickets to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (#19);
  • $142 to have Men’s Wearhouse “re-cut” two pairs of pants (#32);
  • $162 for a night at the Liaison Hotel with Individual 14 (#33);
  • $1,400 in expenses for a family member’s dance competition (#46–48);
  • $10,000 for a family vacation in 2012 (#59);
  • $59 for a pair of Under Armour shorts (#67);
  • $36 for Uber rides to the residence of Individual 15 (#83);
  • $2,217 to pay for a family trip to see a Steelers game (#89);
  • $3,166 for cable TV (ten payments) (#95);
  • $399 for zipline rides (#99);
  • $1,528 via Steam for 82 video games (#113);
  • $6,289 for a family vacation in Hawaii (#119);
  • $995 to fly his mother-in-law and her boyfriend to Warsaw (#121);
  • Again, $995 to fly his mother-in-law and her boyfriend to Warsaw, Poland (#121);
  • $203 for dinner with a group including Individual 16 (#124);
  • $14,261 for a family vacation to Italy (#156);
  • $835 for family tickets to see “Riverdance” (#162);
  • $815 for a bachelor party (#171–72);
  • $1,200 for a garage door (#177); and, of course,
  • $250 for rabbit travel.

Did he “plead guilty to” all these? One might argue the answer is no, because the plea agreement only mentions two specific acts, and many of the expenditures were actually made by Hunter’s wife and co-conspirator, Margaret. But another might argue the answer is yes. This was a conspiracy count, meaning each co-conspirator is responsible for all acts in furtherance of the conspiracy even if he or she didn’t personally do them. And unless Hunter breaches the plea agreement, he can’t be prosecuted for any of the charges in the indictment, so I assume he would (if necessary) take the position that all the acts are included. The plea agreement certainly doesn’t deny responsibility for any of them, I assume partly for this reason.

I don’t know (yet) which of those two people would be right, but until told otherwise I’m going with the second.

As for why Hunter changed his position now after denying guilt for so long, the Washington Post notes that his “legal situation” had “become more precarious in recent months.” That’s because wife and co-conspirator Margaret pleaded guilty in June, agreeing as part of the deal to testify against Duncan. Why’d she do that? Well, guilt is one explanation. But her decision was probably made much easier by learning about Individuals 14, 15, and 16 (see above), as well as Individuals 17 and 18, also mentioned in the indictment. Because all of those individuals were female, and none of them were Margaret Hunter.

So that might have something to do with it.

The Liaison Hotel. Seriously.

Anyway, when he announced yesterday that he was changing his plea to guilty, Hunter said there were “three reasons” for that, “and those three reasons are my kids.” (Sparing them the need to see Dad on trial, that is.) Those are three good reasons, no doubt, but they’re hardly the only ones. In the interview, Hunter unsurprisingly minimized the extent of his wrongdoing, saying he had “made mistakes” but that there was “no taxpayer money involved.” Except for the taxpayers who thought they were contributing to his campaign, presumably, and not buying him shorts or picking up the tab for two or three or five extramarital affairs or flying his rabbit across the country.

“Life throws challenges at ya,” Hunter said of the experience, with a straight face, apparently referring to the challenge of trying not to break the law literally hundreds of times by using campaign funds for personal expenses.

I should mention that like former Rep. Chris Collins—who also complained of a witch hunt (see “‘Dumbest Insider-Trading Crime I’ve Ever Seen’ Was Pretty Dumb” (Aug. 9, 2018)) only to later plead guilty—and like several other politicians of both parties, Hunter ran for re-election while under indictment and won. See Assorted Election Stupidity” (Nov. 8, 2018). Collins said he wouldn’t resign, but then he did. Hunter hasn’t said whether he’ll resign, but he almost certainly will. See “Can a Convicted Felon Serve in Congress? (Dec. 24, 2014) (answer: probably, but they usually don’t).

I’m not saying a politician who cries “witch hunt” is necessarily lying. I’m just saying that politician is probably lying.