SAN DIEGO (CBSLA/AP) — U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter plead guilty Tuesday to the misuse of campaign funds and has indicated he will leave Congress.
Hunter, 42, changed his not guilty plea in federal court in San Diego. He faces up to five years in prison.
The California Republican was accused of looting campaign cash to finance vacations, golf outings and other personal expenses.
He told KUSI television in San Diego in an interview that aired Monday that he is changing his plea to protect his three children from going through a very public trial.
“I think it would be really tough for them,” he said. “It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure. I think it’s time for them to live life outside the spotlight.”
Hunter said he will accept whatever sentence the judge gives.
He said he wants his seat to remain in Republican hands and he will try to ensure a smooth transition, indicating he will be leaving Congress.
Hunter has served 11 years in Congress. He was re-elected last year after being indicted on federal corruption charges in the misuse of more than $250,000 in campaign funds.
Since then, several Republicans have jumped in to run against him.
Until now, Hunter has resisted calls to resign even after his indictment, which he calls politically motivated.
Hunter has been in the spotlight ever since he and his wife, Margaret, were indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy, wire fraud, and illegal use of campaign funds in 2016.
Six months ago, his wife agreed to plead guilty to illegally converting more than $200,000 in campaign funds, admitting that she improperly used more than $10,000 on a family vacation to Italy, $2,448.27 on a personal “couples” vacation in Las Vegas, $399 for zip lining for Hunter and his children, and $250 in airline travel charges for the families pet rabbit.
Prosecutors revealed salacious details about the married congressman’s lifestyle, saying he used campaign money to illegally finance a string of romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
In a separate court filing, federal prosecutors alleged that Hunter spent campaign money to carry out a series of intimate relationships involving five women including a ski vacation, a “double date” road trip to Virginia Beach, and a $1,008 hotel tab.
“Not a single dime of taxpayer money is involved in this,” Hunter said.
Defense attorneys tried to get those allegations blocked by the court, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ruled the allegations were relevant to whether campaign money was spent illegally and spoke to motive and intent.
“Life throws challenges at you,” Hunter said Monday. “…I think the most important thing is to keep your head down, chin up, and face those challenges head-on, and that’s what I’ll be doing.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)