The Justice Department is looking into whether U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-50th District), who represents parts of San Diego, violated campaign finance rules.
The announcement comes after the House Ethics Committee conducted an investigation into a possible ethics violation and an inquiry launched by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
The ethics panel did not disclose the nature of the investigation, but a Washington-based watchdog group filed a complaint last spring alleging that Hunter improperly used campaign funds to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses.
The Justice Department is looking at the legality of about $60,000 going from Hunter's campaign committee toward the personal expenses.
The political funds he had spent over a nearly two-year period went to hotels as far away as Italy, posh department stores and restaurants, cigars, entertainment, jewelry, groceries, dental services, airfare, health care, school tuition, electricity, water and cable TV at his home in Alpine.
Hunter’s people cited sloppy records and bookkeeping.
On Thursday, internet traffic was busy with news that House Ethics Committee members have suspended their review of the spending, as the Justice Department investigates Hunter's actions.
Hunter’s lawyers, one a former U.S. Attorney in San Diego, issued a statement saying that Hunter "maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made, they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional."
"For his attorneys to say that this was just a case of 'Oospie'? That's not the kind of 'oopsie' we can afford," says Sean Van Diver, director of San Diego's chapter of the Truman National Security Project.
Van Diver, in an interview Thursday with NBC 7, said the Justice Department's focus on Hunter is serious business: "If you're an elected official, the buck stops with you. No matter what your staff is doing, no matter what the perception is, the buck stops with you."
Using their home as collateral, Hunter and his wife borrowed $57,000 in reimbursing his campaign committee after the payments in question came to light and created a furor.
His annual salary is $174,000.
Hunter's attorneys, Elliot S. Berke and Gregory A. Vega, said in a statement to NBC 7 that the charges were in no way hidden from the FEC, rather, Hunter’s campaign reported the personal expenses in their quarterly reports.
“Last year, Congressman Hunter became aware of expenditure issues confronting his campaign committee. Out of an abundance of caution, he took corrective action in consultation with the FEC and, ultimately, he and his wife personally repaid the campaign approximately $60,000. Congressman Hunter intends to cooperate fully with the government on this investigation, and maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional.”
Hunter, 40, represents parts of Escondido, Ramona, Alpine, Pala, Julian and other parts of East San Diego County. He won a fifth term representing San Diegans last fall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.