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SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California is staying silent on when he will resign after he pleaded guilty to using campaign money for personal expenses, drawing the ire of a fellow Republican who wants to replace him.
The six-term congressman said last month that he would step down “shortly after the holidays" but has not been more specific. Hunter spokesman Mike Harrison said Friday that he didn't have a date and referred to Hunter's earlier comments.
Carl DeMaio, a talk-radio host and former San Diego city councilman, said Hunter has denied voters a say on issues. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was not required to call a special election after a Dec. 6 deadline to file for the primary.
“By intentionally delaying his resignation past the deadline for the calling of a special election, Duncan Hunter is silencing the voice of the voters of the 50th District for a full year in Congress," DeMaio said in a statement. “He should have resigned as soon as he pleaded guilty.”
Members of Congress are paid monthly, on the first day of the month. By waiting until after Jan. 1, Hunter apparently pockets another month of his $174,000 annual salary. Prosecutors have said Hunter and his wife were in financial disarray.
Republicans enjoy a strong lead in voter registration, making the district an stronghold in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar narrowly lost to Hunter in a 2016 vote that came less than three months after Hunter's indictment, while Donald Trump carried the district by 15 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.
Campa-Najjar is running again in California's March 3 primary and vying against three well-known Republicans to represent the district stretching across San Diego's eastern and northeastern suburbs and parts of Riverside County. If no one wins a majority, the top two finishers advance to a November runoff. The winner will not take office until January 2021.
Another GOP candidate is Darrell Issa, a former congressman who was one of former President Barack Obama's chief antagonists when he represented another district, who did not immediately respond Friday to a question left with his campaign on when he believes Hunter should step down. Neither did Brian Jones, a former state assemblyman.
Hunter pleaded guilty to a single corruption charge on Dec. 3. He and his wife were initially charged with 60 criminal counts, accused of spending about $250,000 in campaign funds on family vacations to Italy and Hawaii, private school tuition for their children, airline tickets for their family’s pet rabbit and other items.
The congressman acknowledged in a plea agreement that he and his wife dipped into election funds more than 30 times between 2010 and 2016 and falsely reported expenses as campaign-related from their daughter’s birthday party at the posh Hotel Del Coronado to an outing with friends at a French bistro.
Congress reconvenes Tuesday after its winter break.
Last month, House leaders wrote Hunter urging him not to vote in the chamber following his guilty plea, citing legislative rules. An early supporter of Trump's 2016 campaign, Hunter was one of only three members who didn't cast a vote on the president's impeachment.
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