GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter indicted for alleged misuse of campaign funds

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter indicted for alleged misuse of campaign funds
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    ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I'm Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we
    pick up online where we left off on our broadcast.
    Joining me around the table, Abby Phillip of CNN, Molly Ball of TIME Magazine, Dan Balz
    of The Washington Post, and Paula Reid of CBS News. It was a rough week for Republicans.
    Representative Duncan Hunter of California and his wife were indicted for using more than
    $250,000 of campaign money to pad his family's lifestyle.
    The charges include using the money to pay for their children's private school tuition,
    trips, and even included airfare for the family's pet rabbit.
    The Hunters attributed these charges to charity or campaign events, but of course
    campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses.
    Hunter has called the charges against him politically motivated and without merit, and
    pleaded not guilty to all of them, but he did resign from his committee positions this
    week in the House. On Thursday Hunter said this.
    REPRESENTATIVE DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA): (From video.) This is the new Department of
    Justice. This is the Democrats' arm of law enforcement. That's what happening right now,
    and it's happening with Trump and it's happening with me, and we're going to fight
    through it and win, and then the people get to vote in November. So we'll see.
    ROBERT COSTA: Up until Friday, Hunter had said he would not drop out of his race this
    fall. Another indictment for a House Republican, Paula. I mean, we saw Chris Collins of
    New York, now Duncan Hunter of California, DOJ keeping a close eye on these lawmakers.
    PAULA REID: Yes, this is what they do. And to be clear, there is no new Justice Department.
    Jeff Sessions is still running the Justice Department, and this was a U.S.
    attorney in Jeff Sessions' Justice Department. This is not Democrats doing this to him.
    And, you know, this is the bread-and-butter kind of work, the corruption-type stuff that
    the Justice Department focuses on, and this is not something that if you try to push
    through that a jury is very sympathetic about. You know, most people don't fly their
    pet rabbit anywhere or get to go on trips to Hawaii. So this is the kind of thing that's
    deadly serious and this is not a political conspiracy. I read this indictment.
    The charges are clearly supported by a significant amount of evidence, so it remains to
    be seen whether or not he wants to plea to make this go away or if he wants to fight it.
    You know, politicians who try to fight this stuff, doesn't go well with juries.
    ROBERT COSTA: Dan, maybe I'm wrong in my read of this, but when you think back to 2006,
    House Republicans struggled with this corruption argument against them.
    They lost the House to the Democrats in a wave. You would think these kind of indictments
    for House Republicans these days would maybe play into a similar narrative. But maybe it's
    because of Trump being overwhelming in the national discussion; it doesn't seem like the
    House Republicans are getting called out day in, day out on these kind of developments.
    DAN BALZ: Well, that is partly for the reason you say, which is that the president so
    dominates everything that people kind of get lost in a lot of the other things.
    But if you put what happened this week with Chris Collins and then with the various
    ethics issues involving members of the Trump administration, there is a compelling case
    that the notion of "draining the swamp," quote/unquote, has not happened under President
    Trump, and Democrats may be able to make an argument about that in the context of we need
    a check on this administration and the one way to do that is to put one of the houses of
    Congress in the hands of the Democrats. I think that's the way they try to go at it.
    MOLLY BALL: And, in fact, you do hear the Democrats using the exact same talking point
    that they used in 2006, when Nancy Pelosi was there then and she's there now, and it's
    the culture of corruption, trying to fairly or not implicate all Republicans in the sins
    of a few. And I think, you know, it works because it is partly about Trump.
    If you are a Republican member of Congress, you spend your days hiding from reporters who
    want to ask you about Trump. That's your whole life.
    And you might have some beautiful bill that you've proposed that does something for
    bunnies or something - (laughter) - and all anyone wants to talk about is Trump, so
    they're tired of that. And this does add to that, right?
    It's just more questions about where do you stand on this latest outrage the
    administration has committed, and now that your fellow Republicans also are committing.
    So I think - I think Republicans really have been on the spot for all of this, again,
    fairly or not, and that's going to continue.
    ABBY PHILLIP: But what is also potentially problematic for Republicans is what Duncan
    Hunter is doing, which is taking Trump's argument against the DOJ and using it as a
    blanket explanation for some pretty apparent grift, and that's not just a Duncan Hunter
    phenomenon. I think we've seen down ballot a lot of Republican lawmakers under siege
    for various, you know, alleged illegalities are using Trump language - you know, Trump
    tone, Trump arguments - to try to defend themselves, and I think that's what also makes
    it about the president. It's that they are really just adopting his whole ethos around
    dealing with his own legal problems. And not every problem is the same.
    I think some voters will see through certain things. As Paula pointed out, it's
    pretty clear that flying around your pet rabbit with campaign money is not appropriate.
    ROBERT COSTA: You think, Dan, back to corruption in political history, right?
    This seems like the characters are somewhat unique, to say the least.
    You have Chris Collins of New York trading stock tips, getting called out for insider
    trading, alleged insider trading. And then you've got Duncan Hunter of California,
    when his wife is somewhat blamed for this, he kind of goes along with the blame on
    his own wife on television this week. What a scene.
    DAN BALZ: Well, it is, although in a sense it's not that new. I mean, there has been
    public corruption throughout history. And, you know, as Paula said, you know, U.S.
    attorneys for many, many years have pushed this. I mean, Chris Christie, when he was
    the U.S. attorney, put a lot of people in jail for various kinds of things.
    Misuse of campaign funds is not - you know, Duncan Hunter isn't the first person to have
    been charged with that. Insider trading.
    I mean, these are things that human beings do, and some of them happen to be elected
    officials, and when they get caught they get - they get more attention and more bright
    light shined on them than if an ordinary person has that done.
    PAULA REID: And I don't think voters forget when you sort of throw your wife under the
    bus as part of your defense. I mean, Governor McDonnell, that was part of his defense,
    right? Oh, it was my wife, she did it. That didn't sit well with people.
    When you talked - they really didn't like that. That was a reflection of not so
    much criminality, but character. So he's got to be careful with that.
    ROBERT COSTA: You wonder how long he stays on the ballot.
    MOLLY BALL: Well, and to - and to Paula's point, juries aren't necessarily sympathetic
    to this argument, and we've seen with Trump's political argument as well.
    It doesn't really work for people who aren't Donald Trump, right?
    You get Republicans going out there in, say, the Virginia gubernatorial election trying
    to say, yeah, my political message also is about MS-13 and Confederate statutes and crime
    and immigration; it didn't work for them the way it worked for Trump.
    So it may be also that this argument about the legal system, the argument that the
    Justice Department it out to get me and it's all a conspiracy and there's a rigged witch
    hunt, that also may be a particular type of magic that only works for Trump and doesn't
    work for all of his acolytes.
    ROBERT COSTA: President Trump made a surprise announcement on Twitter on Friday that he
    is asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cancel his fourth trip to North Korea.
    The president said he didn't think the North Koreans were making enough progress on their
    nuclear agreement with the U.S., and said China was partially responsible for this, and
    attributed that to the administration's trade battle with China that's been ongoing.
    But the president's not ruling out upcoming talks. He tweeted: "Secretary Pompeo looks
    forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading
    relationship with China is resolved." "I would like to send my warmest regards and
    respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!" the president tweeted.
    Trump has hailed the June Singapore summit with the North Korean leader as a huge success
    and said the country no longer posed a nuclear threat to the world, but the agreement was
    vague and would be hard to verify.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report this week that said North Korea
    was continuing its weapons activities, nuclear weapons activities, and it has been unable
    to conduct the inspections that it wants to. Who's conducting foreign policy in this
    administration? Reports that State Department was shocked by how this all played out on Friday.
    ABBY PHILLIP: They were. They were planning to go on this meeting.
    I mean, Pompeo had actually just announced it publicly, State Department officials were
    working behind the scenes to, you know, brief their allies in Europe and elsewhere about
    their objectives for the meeting, and then suddenly it's called off.
    But it's called off because there has been a longstanding situation with North Korea in
    which there has been no progress, and the president has denied that publicly but
    privately it's been a source of frustration. And I think everyone looking at the
    situation has been talking about that. The administration has been denying it.
    Now I think they're acknowledging it because they have really no choice.
    He may very well be right about the fact that China's not helping him out here, but at
    the same time that's because he chose to wage a singlehanded war against China on trade
    at a time when he's also trying to get China to help him with North Korea.
    It's a foreign policy strategy that is not entirely coherent, and now we're seeing the
    consequences of that.
    MOLLY BALL: Yeah, I mean, I think it actually reveals in a way the failure of two
    separate policy initiatives, right?
    On the one hand it is - it is, as Abby said, a tacit acknowledgement that the North Korea
    deal wasn't really a deal at all and there hasn't been very much progress there.
    It is also a tacit acknowledgement that this trade war with China is having a lot of
    unpredictable effects, and one of the effects - although I suppose it could have been
    predicted, and was by a lot of people - but one of the effects is when you're waging a
    trade war on someone, they don't want to be your friend in other ways and help you with
    other things you're trying to do.
    There's no way to get a deal with North Korea without the assistance of Beijing.
    And so - you know, he also did call off the North Korea summit like five minutes before
    he actually went to the North Korea summit - (laughter) - so this may all be a false alarm.
    ROBERT COSTA: And the president just can't pull back on trade, even if it would help him
    with North Korea. He continues to plow forward. Why is that?
    DAN BALZ: It's pat of his DNA. I mean, if there's - I mean, we've talked about this before.
    If there is one issue where he has been consistent over a long period of time, it is on trade.
    He has a view of the world about trade and the United States that is entirely negative,
    that is postured on a belief that we have been taken advantage of by everybody, but
    particularly by the Chinese, and he's determined to do something about that.
    The problem is what he's determined to do is kind of, you know, blow things up without a
    clear strategy of how to get to a conclusion. For whatever reason, he may have
    thought he could - he and the Chinese could compartmentalize North Korea here,
    cooperation; trade here, combat. But it has not worked out that way.
    And, as we know, for whatever he had to say about the meeting in Singapore with the North
    Korean leader, there was nothing concrete that came out of that that would lead you to
    believe that there was, in fact, an enforceable agreement.
    So they've been dealing with kind of a mirage on that and it's been left to Secretary
    Pompeo to try to put flesh on those bones, and that's been very, very difficult.
    ABBY PHILLIP: And the last time Pompeo went to North Korea he was embarrassed very
    publicly. He was expecting to meet with Chairman Kim and didn't. They were late to meetings.
    I mean, they clearly made it so that it was an uncomfortable meeting for him the last
    time around. There was a risk of a repeat performance this time around. So I think
    the administration has been back on their heels on this issue for quite some time now.
    ROBERT COSTA: When you walk around the West Wing and you walk up to the Press Office
    area, there are these pictures - big blowup pictures - of Chairman Kim and President
    Trump. And in some ways it appears behind the scenes the administration already got what
    it wanted, which was that picture, even if the details are still being worked out.
    PAULA REID: Well, that picture may not age very well. I mean, I think one of the
    things - one of the reasons you see that is because that is something that he believed
    was a foreign policy accomplishment. To him, he thought this was an achievement. I know
    for a time it certainly took the attention off of all of his legal and political problems here
    at home. But it will be interesting to see if that picture is still hanging up in six months.
    ROBERT COSTA: Have you seen it over there?
    ABBY PHILLIP: Well, they rotate them pretty frequently. But -
    ROBERT COSTA: Oh, really? Maybe it's rotated out. (Laughter.)
    ABBY PHILLIP: I think it was also astonishing -
    ROBERT COSTA: I saw it, though. I did.
    ABBY PHILLIP: It was astonishing to people that this man, who is accused of mass murder
    and all kinds of horrific crimes, is just literally hanging up in a place of prominence
    in the West Wing.
    ROBERT COSTA: Right on the way to the Oval Office.
    ABBY PHILLIP: Right on the way to the Oval Office so the president can see it.
    ROBERT COSTA: We'll leave it there. That's it for this edition of Washington Week Extra.
    While you're online, check out our Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
    I'm Robert Costa. We'll see you next time.
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