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California congressman pushes for delay of corruption trial

Duncan Hunter AP
Posted at 10:31 AM, Aug 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-13 13:31:41-04

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter wants to push back his trial on charges of spending campaign cash on vacations and extramarital affairs while attorneys for the California Republican keep pressing to get the case dismissed.

His lawyers plan Tuesday to ask a federal judge in San Diego who refused to toss the corruption case to push the Sept. 10 trial back to Oct. 29. They want to postpone so the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can rule on whether the charges should be dropped, according to court documents.

Hunter and his wife were indicted in August 2018 on charges they used more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses ranging from groceries to golf trips and family vacations. Prosecutors also have said Hunter spent campaign money on a string of extramarital affairs.

The Marine combat veteran has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty this summer to one corruption count and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Defense lawyers argued before U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan last month that the case should be dismissed because the congressman was protected under a section of the U.S. Constitution that prevents lawmakers from being prosecuted for something that is considered a legislative activity.

Attorneys called a 2015 trip Hunter made to Italy a legislative act. Whelan dismissed that argument, saying it was clearly a family vacation.

The appellate court usually does not rule on an appeal in a criminal case before a trial. In Hunter’s case, the judges are allowing his attorneys to show why the court should make an exception. The 9th Circuit set a Sept. 6 deadline for the defense to submit their arguments — four days before his trial is scheduled to begin.

Attorneys also have argued that prosecutors were politically motivated and got the 42-year-old congressman — a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump — indicted only months before the 2018 election.

Hunter’s lawyers say that if a trial happens, it should be moved out of San Diego to a more Republican friendly area.

Whelan said Hunter easily won a sixth term after being indicted and therefore he should be able to be tried fairly in San Diego County. The judge also disagreed that prosecutors were on a political hunt and refused to toss the case.