SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — President Trump's pardon of former Congressman Duncan Hunter came as no shock to the man who successfully prosecuted the case.
“While I am appalled as a citizen, I am not surprised given the prior conduct of the president,” said Phil Halpern, who left the Justice Department after the case concluded.
Halpern was one of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret in 2019. They were accused of misusing $250,000 of campaign contributions on everything from basic living expenses to lavish vacations, then falsifying reports.
Hunter called the charges a political hit job, but in December 2019 pleaded guilty to one felony count, ultimately resigning. His 11-month prison term was set to start in January, but President Trump pardoned him Tuesday.
Halpern said seeing the case through was still worth it to demonstrate that the people who write the laws are not above them.
“It was important not only that he be convicted, but he admit his wrongdoing. He spent too much time claiming that his prosecution was political,” Halpern said.
On Wednesday, Hunter's father, former Congressman Duncan Lee Hunter, maintained the charges were political and that the issue should have been handled civilly by the Federal Election Commission, as spelled out in a letter of support from former FEC commissioner Bradley Smith.
“At the end of the line you've got one last receptacle of justice, and that's the President of the United States,” Duncan Lee Hunter said. “And he looked at this, a Marine Corps marathon, First Lady’s luncheon. They’re going to try to put this guy in jail for that? (President Trump) saw the injustice of that.”
Duncan Hunter is now working for a construction company, his father said.
Halpern said the case was not politically motivated, noting that the Justice Department was run by a Republican in William Barr. He said he never felt pressure to ease off, and that the dollar amounts were well beyond anything that could be handled by the commission.
On Wednesday, Trump also pardoned Margaret Hunter, who was sentenced to eight months of home confinement. Speaking before that announcement, Halpern said Margaret should be pardoned if Duncan is as well.