Written by JULIE WATSON Associated Press
(AP) — A judge Monday refused to dismiss federal corruption charges against U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter or move the trial outside his Southern California district, saying he found no evidence that the Republican lawmaker cannot get a fair trial here.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan in ruling from the bench said Hunter — a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump — easily won re-election to a sixth term in 2018 after being indicted and therefore he should be able to be tried fairly in the district.
Defense lawyers argued prosecutors were politically motivated when they indicted the 42-year-old congressman only months before the 2018 election and the case should be dismissed. Whelan said he found no evidence of that.
Hunter and his wife were indicted in August on charges they used more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses ranging from groceries to golf trips and family vacations, and then lied about it in federal filings.
Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty last month to one corruption count and agreed to cooperate with investigators and could end up testifying against her husband.
Rep. Hunter is also accused of illegally using campaign money to finance romantic flings with lobbyists and congressional aides, spending thousands of dollars on meals, cocktails and vacations.
Hunter’s lawyers argued that the presence of prosecutors tied to the case at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in August 2015 compromised their impartiality.
The government says the prosecutors attended in an official capacity to assist law enforcement. Whelan agreed with the government.
Hunter’s attorneys also had asked for the trial to be moved to the Eastern District of California, the location where Trump in the 2016 presidential elections won counties in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.
They said the extensive press coverage — and most of it negative — will make it near-impossible to find impartial jurors in San Diego. Attorneys told the judge one only needs to look outside the courthouse Monday where a dozen or so protesters were carrying signs that read “Lock him up!”
Whelan pointed out the media coverage and editorials by The San Diego Union-Tribune did not stop him from winning re-election.
The trial begins in September.
Prosecutors have revealed salacious details about the congressman’s lifestyle, saying he used campaign money to illegally finance a string of extramarital affairs with lobbyists and congressional aides.
Last week, Whelan ruled that jurors can hear that evidence.
In an interview with Fox News last year, Hunter said his campaign made mistakes, that he gave his wife power of attorney when he deployed as a Marine to Iraq in 2003, and that she handled his finances during his last five terms in office.