SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Days after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds, Congressman Duncan Hunter has announced he will resign from Congress.
Hunter, who represented the 50th District, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds for personal use. Though after the plea, it wasn't clear if the embattled Congressman would resign.
“Shortly after the Holidays I will resign from Congress. It has been an honor to serve the people of California’s 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years," Rep. Hunter said in a statement Friday.
Hunter faces a possible five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced March 17.
Friday was the last day for Hunter to resign in time to force a special election. The timing of his decision now leaves the door open for Gov. Gavin Newsom to leave the seat vacant until after the 2020 election. Newsom can also still choose to proceed with a special election or consolidate the special election with a regularly scheduled election, such as the March 2020 Primary.
Under California law, Newsom has 14 calendar days after a vacancy occurs to call for a special election, which must then be held within 140 days. Per Hunter's statement, a specific date of resignation wasn't given.
Newsom told 10News that California has already had two special elections in the past two weeks, but that they would try to "avoid redundancy."
"We’d make that determination and the law is pretty prescriptive in terms of making a determination in a very prescribed period of time," Gov. Newsom said Wednesday. "Obviously the one focal point always is to avoid redundancy, to avoid waste as it relates to a cost to taxpayers and fatigue of having election after election. Our goal is to always line them up with existing elections to the extent legally possible."
The San Diego County Registrar's Office tells 10News the longer Hunter waits, the more complex it could make the March election process.
The Congressman said earlier this week he had decided to take a plea deal for the sake of his family. Hunter's wife and former campaign treasurer, Margaret, has already admitted to her role in the finance scandal and faces five years in federal custody and a fine of up to $250,000. She is set to be sentenced in April.
Prosecutors alleged Hunter and his wife went on expensive family trips and made several other improper purchases over the course of six years. Supposed campaign-related events were planned around the family outings to justify using the funds. He and his wife were facing criminal charges including wire fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records ahead of a Jan. 22 court date.
Before changing his plea, Hunter continued to maintain his innocence and accused the U.S. Attorney's Office of making a politically motivated case against him, saying two prosecutors were supporters of then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Hunter had planned to seek another term in the November 2020 election. He was re-elected last November with 51.7 percent of the vote despite being indicted in the case just three months prior.
Hunter, a Republican from Alpine, was first elected in 2008. He succeeded his father, Duncan Hunter Sr., who had held the seat for 28 years.
Currently, three Republicans — former city council member Carl DeMaio, former member of Congress Darrell Issa, and State Senator Brian Jones — and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar are vying to be the district's next representative.
After Hunter's announcement, DeMaio blasted the Congressman and called the timing of his decision "an intentional effort to manipulate the election timetable."
“By intentionally delaying his resignation past the deadline for the calling of a Special Election, Congressman Duncan Hunter is silencing the voice of the voters of the 50th District for a full year in Congress. The voters of the 50th District deserve having their voice back in Congress as soon as possible and only a Special Election can give the voters a voice again," DeMaio said in a statement. "I urge Congressman Hunter to reconsider the timing of his resignation to provide a better and more expeditious transition of his office.”
Campa-Najjar only said that his campaign was ready for the "early phases of this election."
“Our campaign is full speed ahead and ready to take our working class, commonsense, country over party message to Congress. I actually live in this district — so as the only leading candidate who can actually vote in this race, I’m confident that we will outperform in the early phases of this election and go on to win the general election. I’ll stack my lived working-class experience against the other coastal elitist, millionaire candidates any day," Campa-Najjar's statement read.