Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.
Bill Clark/Getty

Another House Republican, Trump ally pleads guilty in corruption case

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/2/19, 9:00 PM ET

First Trump endorsements in Congress indicted, plead guilty

Rachel Maddow reports on the fates of Rep. Duncan Hunter and Rep. Chris Collins who were the first two members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president and have since, in unrelated cases, been federally indicted and admitted criminal guilt.
The first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). Two years later, the New York Republican was indicted on multiple corruption counts, which he blamed on a political witch hunt. Collins was re-elected despite the criminal charges, only to eventually plead guilty and resign in disgrace.

The second member of Congress to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign was Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Two years later, coincidentally, the California Republican was indicted on multiple corruption counts, which he blamed on a political witch hunt. Hunter, like Collins, was re-elected despite the criminal charges.

And Hunter, like Collins, eventually pleaded guilty. The NBC affiliate in San Diego reported:

California Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds.

The change of plea was a stunning shift for the six-term congressman, who spent the last two years denying wrongdoing, shifting blame to his wife, Margaret Hunter, and claiming he was the victim of a political witch hunt.

Duncan Hunter, 42, who was originally charged with 60 counts and could have faced up to decades in prison before the plea deal, said he will accept whatever sentence the judge gives, which could be up to five years or lessened to probation, a fine, house arrest or even community service.

Corruption stories about members of Congress aren’t as uncommon as they should be, but the Hunter scandal is pretty extraordinary, even by cynical standards. The California Republican’s indictment accused him, of among other things, stealing campaign funds for personal use and clumsily trying to cover it up. As part of the case, prosecutors also alleged Hunter illegally used contributions to help finance his extramarital affairs, including some with lobbyists.

His apparent plea deal looks like a relative gift under the circumstances. What I’m most interested in now, however, is what to expect from the GOP lawmaker’s near future.

On the steps outside the courthouse today, Hunter did not answer questions, including those about his future. That said, the local NBC report added, “The congressman indicated he will leave office but did not say when.”

There is no statutory requirement that forces convicted criminals to resign from congressional service, but if Hunter intends to serve on Capitol Hill in 2020 while awaiting sentencing, he should expect quite a bit of pressure to resign.