California congressman convicted in corruption case to resign next week

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a leading California Republican who pleaded guilty last month to a federal corruption charge of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, announced on Tuesday that he would resign from office effective Jan. 13.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter leaves federal court after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds in San Diego, California, U.S., December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Hunter, 43, whose conviction set off a scramble within the Republican Party to succeed him while seemingly boosting Democrats’ chances to gain his seat, notified Governor Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by letter of his departure date.

The U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and six-term congressman, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, faces sentencing next month.

A spokesman, Michael Harrison, said there was no particular significance to the Jan. 13 date.

Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted in 2018 on charges of misappropriating $250,000 in campaign donations to pay for personal expenses, including their children’s private school tuition, lavish travel, expensive meals at restaurants, groceries and clothing.

After insisting for months that he was wrongly accused and the victim of a politically motivated prosecution, Hunter pleaded guilty on Dec. 3 to a single count of conspiring to convert campaign funds to personal use.

He did so, Hunter said, to spare his family the spectacle of a trial that had been scheduled to begin this month.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 17, and he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern told Reuters last month that if the court abides by prosecutors’ recommendation, Hunter likely “will be doing upwards of 14 months in jail.”

At the time of his guilty plea, Hunter indicated that he would not seek re-election to the San Diego congressional seat he first won in 2008, succeeding his father and fellow Republican, Duncan Lee Hunter. But he had yet to give a firm resignation date.

The uncertainty caused some consternation among Republicans, who hold a strong registration edge over Democrats in California’s 50th congressional district but nearly lost the seat to a Democratic challenger last year, while Hunter was under indictment.

The San Diego County Republican Party has made no endorsement for the seat in 2020.

Reporting by Jennifer McEntee in San Diego; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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