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Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California is facing federal charges. The Justice Department announced last night that it had indicted Hunter and his wife for converting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use and falsifying campaign finance records. Hunter is the second Republican in Congress to be charged with federal crimes this month. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, this has given Democrats a big issue to go on as they try to win back control of the House.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The 47-page indictment charges the Hunters of using a quarter million dollars in campaign money for everything from dinners to family dentist visits to foreign travel. They allegedly paid their children's private school tuition, flew the family's pet rabbit across the country and spent $500 on shots of tequila at a bachelor party with campaign money. Hunter is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The indictment alleges he told his wife to buy him a pair of shorts from a golf shop so he could claim them as golf balls for wounded warriors. And it says he tried to claim a trip to Italy as an official expense by visiting a naval base. And when told the Navy couldn't accommodate him on a particular day, he said, quote, "tell the Navy to go F themselves." Hunter told San Diego TV station KGTV the charges against him were politically motivated.
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DUNCAN HUNTER: This is the new Department of Justice. This is the Democrats' arm of law enforcement. That's what's happening right now. And it's happening with Trump. And it's happening with me. And we're going to fight through it and win. And the people get to vote in November. So we'll see.
NAYLOR: Hunter, whose father was also a congressman, was the second GOP House lawmaker to endorse Donald Trump. The first was New York Republican Chris Collins, who himself was indicted earlier this month for insider trading. Democrats have already begun using Washington corruption as an issue in the fall campaign. Here's an online ad from an outside group supporting Democrats, the House Majority PAC.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here's who Republicans might have to answer for that next - Jim Jordan - remind you of Joe Paterno? - Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan's protege with a lot of baggage, and Steve Scalise, linked to KKK leader David Duke. No wonder they aren't looking out for you.
NAYLOR: Democrats have their own concern over ethics. In New Jersey, Senator Bob Menendez is facing a tougher-than-expected race after charges of corruption ended in a mistrial. But overall, Doug Thornell, a Democratic political consultant, says Democrats have a ready-made message.
DOUG THORNELL: I think Democrats have everything they need to make a very compelling case to the American people that in order for us to bring some accountability back to Washington, oversight, checks and balances with this administration, then they're going to have to elect Democrats to a majority in the House.
NAYLOR: Focusing on corruption has worked before. Various scandals involving Democratic incumbents helped Republicans win control of the House in 1994. And in 2006, corruption among Republican lawmakers was a big factor in the Democrats' win. The party is hoping history will repeat itself this year. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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