Hunter didn’t just claim he’s innocent. He tried to throw the whole legal system under the bus to protect his name and job, saying the federal prosecutors who meticulously researched his alleged wrongdoing were political hacks out to get him. “Witch hunt,” he said, without any evidence whatsoever. (Sound familiar?) In the middle of this, he even asked voters in the San Diego area to reelect him. And they did (barely) in November 2018.
A year later, Hunter is admitting he’s not entirely innocent of the charges against him. He will plead guilty Tuesday to one count of misuse of campaign funds, he told San Diego’s KUSI News on Monday. He, however, didn’t say he’ll resign his seat, raising the possibility that San Diego residents’ member of Congress will be in jail rather than in Congress to serve them.
Hunter’s plea should be an example of how laws apply to the powerful as well as the powerless.
But he isn’t acknowledging any of that with his guilty plea. He’s refusing to acknowledge how his initial defiance came at a high cost for the rest of his community. He also hasn’t expressed a change of heart about the validity and integrity of the justice system that caught him.
What seems to be the turning point for Hunter was the increasing legal jeopardy he was under if he took his case to a trial in January. His wife and campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiring with her husband to misuse his campaign funds. She named her husband as a co-conspirator, and she struck a plea deal with prosecutors, setting her up to testify against her husband in a trial.
When that happened, Hunter said this: “It’s obvious that the Department of Justice went after her to get to me for political reasons. ... We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case.”
Hunter now says that he is pleading guilty to protect his three children from a trial and that he hopes it spurs a judge not to sentence his wife to jail. She faces up to five years.
Trump is a not-insignificant player in Hunter’s story. Hunter’s 180 on his criminality isn’t a coincidence in the era of Trump. As I wrote last year after another Republican congressman, then-Rep. Chris Collins (N.Y.), was arrested for insider trading, Republicans seem especially prone to falling into this perception of invincibility right now. They have one role model for that: the president of the United States, who reflexively fights and denies and twists facts when anyone dares accuse him of wrongdoing.
Hunter and Collins were two of Trump’s first supporters in Congress. Collins also maintained his innocence and ran for reelection, and won, before resigning and pleading guilty.
Hunter relied on his well-known family name in the congressional district; his dad was a member of Congress, and for 39 years the Hunter family has represented the San Diego area. “The people who have known and trusted the Hunters for years might be more inclined to consider him innocent until proven guilty,” said Morgan Cook, a San Diego Union-Tribune watchdog reporter who originally broke the story about Hunter.
Hunter is now acknowledging he was guilty in part when the indictment came out more than a year ago. His initial defiance now looks like a symptom of the invincible mind-set so many politicians have these days.