Update on Dec. 23: President Trump added another 29 pardons and sentence commutations to his list on Wednesday, including one for Duncan Hunter's estranged wife, Margaret, who was also tied up in the campaign use scandal. More here.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted a full pardon to embattled former California Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego), who was convicted in Dec. 2019 on a conspiracy charge for stealing campaign funds for personal use.
Hunter's 11-month sentence was scheduled to begin in January 2021 after his self-surrender date was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The President said in a statement the pardon was requested after it was requested by "many Members of Congress."
"Mr. Hunter has dedicated much of his adult life to public service. Mr. Hunter represented California’s 50th Congressional District from 2013 to 2020. Prior to his time in Congress, Mr. Hunter was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Inspired to enlist after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Mr. Hunter saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan," Trump said.
Hunter was one of more than a dozen people pardoned by the President on Tuesday.
In response, his attorney, Devin Burstein, said "Duncan Hunter served this country with honor and distinction in both the military and Congress. The good he has done far outweighs his mistakes. The pardon today recognizes this fact and clears his name.”
Minutes after his pardon, Hunter told media outlet KUSI that he was surprised by the decision and learned of the news through friends.
"I think that this president out of a lot of former presidents knows what a political Witch Hunt looks like and I think he was able to see through the political bologna in this case and God, God bless him again. I mean, there's no better Christmas present than this, especially for my family," Hunter said.
His one-time opponent for Congress, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar called the pardon "disappointing and predictable."
"Hunter stole from his supporters, blamed his wife, left an entire district without representation for a year, and launched the most xenophobic attack in modern politics," Campa-Najjar's statement read in part. "This pardon exonerates someone who defiled the formal and moral authority of a congressman, and sets a dangerous example. Trump's disregard for the rule of law is absolute."
San Diegans had mixed reactions after learning that Trump had pardoned the corrupt former Congressman.
"It's totally ludicrous," said El Cajon resident Diane Yarborough. "Like my grandaughter said: No significance. He wasn't there for the country; he was there for himself."
The news was welcomed by some, though, including Dean Gabrelcik of Alpine.
"Maybe he did something wrong, but should he have been charged and taken out of office?" Gabrelcik said. "No."
The former congressman, who represented the 50th district encompassing San Diego's East County for nearly six terms, pleaded guilty on Dec. 3, 2019, to misusing $150,000 in campaign funds for his own personal expenses between 2010 and 2016 -- everything from outings with friends to $511 on his daughter’s birthday party at the Hotel Del Coronado.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, were originally charged with 60 criminal counts. The complaint alleged he misused the campaign funds for golf outings, plane tickets and a family vacation to Italy. Prosecutors also said the money went to household items and airline tickets for their pet rabbit.
Prosecutors said that despite their lavish spending, the couple were in dire financial straits, overdrawing their bank account more than 1,100 times over a seven-year period.
Margaret Hunter -- who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and, as part of her plea deal, agreed to testify against her husband -- was sentenced to 8 months home confinement, which started in late August.
Margaret Hunter did not receive a plea deal. Her lawyer released a statement on her behalf.
"It’s an absolute shame that Margaret cooperates with the government and that same government frees Duncan and continues to label her a criminal. I hope that the people who reached out to help Duncan reach out to help Margaret, too," attorney David C. Beavans said.
For years before his plea deal, Hunter, a vocal Trump supporter, repeatedly denied wrongdoing, at one point suggesting his wife may have been responsible for the misspending, as she was the campaign manager and in charge of those finances.
Hunter resigned from his Congressional seat, where he represented a staunchly Republican district for years, more than a month after pleading guilty.