SAN DIEGO (AP) — The wife of U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter is planning to change her not-guilty plea in a federal corruption case alleging the couple spent more than $250,000 in campaign funds on vacations and other personal expenses, setting up the possibility she will testify against her husband, a close ally of President Donald Trump.
Margaret Hunter, who was her husband’s campaign manager, was scheduled to appear Thursday in federal court in San Diego to change her plea.
The congressman’s attorney, Gregory Vega, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Margaret Hunter’s decision should have no impact on his client’s case.
Former federal prosecutor Jason A. Forge disagrees. Forge prosecuted California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who resigned from Congress in 2005 and served more than seven years in prison for one of the worst bribery scandals to ever bring down a federal lawmaker.
Forge said it’s rare for one spouse to plead out when the other’s case has not been resolved.
“I would say it’s a virtual certainty that she’s cooperating with the government and therefore will be testifying against her husband,” Forge said, adding he believes that makes the case “winnable.”
Forge said Margaret Hunter may be ready to testify about the status of their marriage and how much sway she had over the spending.
Her lawyers did not respond to a request by The Associated Press seeking comment, nor did attorneys for the six-term congressman.
Hunter has said his wife oversaw their finances. Since the indictment last year, the couple have entered federal court in San Diego separately with their own attorneys and also have left separately.
The couple, who have three children, pleaded not guilty last year after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of dipping into campaign cash to bankroll trips to Italy and Hawaii, golf outings, school tuition, theater tickets and other personal expenses between 2009 and 2016.
They also are accused of trying to conceal the illegal spending in federal campaign finance reports. Duncan Hunter’s lawyers said in 2017 that the couple repaid the campaign about $60,000.