U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, center, leaves court Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in San Diego. Hunter and his wife Margaret pleaded not guilty on Aug. 23 to charges they illegally used his campaign account for personal expenses. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Indicted congressman makes court appearance before midterms

September 24, 2018 - 1:45 pm

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Democratic opponent of California's Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter released a new TV ad Monday aimed at conservative voters in deeply red District 50 as the indicted congressman made his last court appearance before midterm elections.

The narrator of the 30-second spot by Ammar Campa-Najjar's campaign says the Democrat will put "country over party." It contends Hunter blamed his wife for spending donor money on family vacations and "drunken parties."

The couple has pleaded not guilty to charges of misusing more than $250,000 in campaign funds. Hunter told Fox News in August that his campaign made mistakes and his wife was his campaign manager.

The couple appeared Monday in San Diego before a federal judge, who set a status hearing for Dec. 3 after defense attorneys for Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, told the judge the prosecution had handed over a large amount of material from the 2 1/2 -yearlong investigation, including 12,000 pages of FBI reports.

That means the congressman will not appear in court again until after the elections.

Hunter and his wife arrived and left the court separately Monday as they have done since the 47-page grand jury indictment was handed down in August.

They are accused of using campaign money for a spending spree that included purchases at Costco exceeding $11,000 and more than $2,000 at Michael's along with theater tickets, tequila shots, private school tuition and trips to Italy and Hawaii. They are accused of trying to conceal the spending by passing them off in federal records as donations to wounded warriors and other charities.

Outside the courthouse, protesters set up liquor bottles on a table and hung shopping bags next to a sign that read: "Hunter Stolen Loot."

About a dozen demonstrators yelled "lock him up" as the congressman left the building. A truck with a U.S. flag, Trump flag and Hunter campaign sign circled the courthouse.

Even with the charges, Hunter is considered to have a strong chance of winning his sixth term on Nov. 6. The 50th Congressional District east of San Diego is the most Republican in Southern California, where the party holds a nearly 15-point registration edge over Democrats.

Democratic candidate Campa-Najjar, a 29-year-old former Obama administration employee, is making his first run for Congress. He has made the indictment a central issue in his campaign in the hopes of unseating the five-term congressman, a former Marine.

In the ad that started airing Monday — the third one his campaign has made focusing on the indictment — the narrator describes the charges and says of Hunter: "He's so in it for himself, it's criminal."

Then the music changes, and Campa-Najjar is described as a hard-working, small businessman who once worked as a janitor in a church. It ends with him shaking the hand of a veteran in a cowboy hat.

Hunter has called the indictment by a grand jury a political witch hunt. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the new TV ad.