Prosecutors argued in court filings that his reelection, fueled by lies and attacks on the Justice Department, warranted a stiff sentence. They argued for a term of 14 months.
“Our very democracy is at risk when a criminal like Hunter wins an election by weaponizing the tropes of fake news and the deep state,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing recommendation. “This is not a mere philosophical debate in the 50th Congressional district; it is a fact.”
Hunter was initially charged alongside his wife, Margaret, though she pleaded guilty last year and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors — a devastating blow to her husband’s defense. She is scheduled to be sentenced April 7, if the proceeding is not delayed over coronavirus fears. Prosecutors said in court Tuesday that they had been willing to delay Duncan D. Hunter’s sentencing due to the public health crisis, though he preferred to move forward.
Hunter’s defense had argued for a term of home confinement. Devin Burstein, one of his attorneys, said in a statement that the case was not what prosecutors made it out to be.
“The Court saw this case for what it was,” Burstein said. “Far from the attack on democracy the government claimed, this was simply about misspending. . . . Congressman Hunter is ready to put this behind him and to continue helping veterans in every way possible.”
Hunter was ordered to report to prison by May 29, authorities said.
Hunter, 43, who represented an area near San Diego, served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine. Sworn in at age 32 to the congressional seat once held by his father, Hunter had shown a strong interest in national security issues, though he also was a famously outspoken advocate for e-cigarettes, once even using a vape device during a House Transportation Committee hearing to discuss a proposal from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to ban vaping on airplanes.
He was one of the first congressman to support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, and after he was charged, he took a Trump-like approach to the case, attacking the prosecutors as politically motivated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip L.B. Halpern said in an interview after the sentence that Hunter’s accusations “pose a threat to our society,” and prosecutors believed that U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan’s sentence was “appropriate and wise.”
“If people don’t have respect for our institutions, that’s when democracies begin to crumble,” Halpern said.
Halpern added later, “Today’s sentence reinforces the notion that truth still matters, that facts still matter. After all, a system that is willing to abandon facts must also be willing to abandon justice.”
When a reporter observed that Trump similarly has attacked the Justice Department, Halpern returned to Hunter’s allegations about the case against him.
“We know that [his accusations] in this case are not true,” he said.
Asked his thoughts on a possible Trump pardon for Hunter, Halpern said, “Those decisions are above my pay grade.”