Monday, August 27, 2018


There's fine reporting and writing in The New York Times. Then there's this -- a piece on Duncan Hunter that's meant to be read as a straight news story, but that acts largely as a brief for his defense.

Like good defense attorneys, Times writers Tim Arango, Adam Nagourney, and Jose Del Real acknowledge what can't be denied -- that Hunter dipped into campaign funds to pay personal expenses; that some of those expenses went beyond basic food, clothing, and shelter for him and his family; and that Hunter disguised spending on himself as spending for charities, especially military charities. But the facts are embedded in a story that offers multiple reasons why we should pity rather than censure Hunter.

(1) He was a decent guy corrupted by Washington.
In Alpine, Calif., a suburban Southern California enclave, Duncan Hunter was a good neighbor. He’d help people do yard work, or move heavy furniture. He drove the same dented-up truck for years. At parties, he’d have a beer, two tops, and he might go off and sneak a cigarette so his wife wouldn’t see. He rarely talked about his job as a congressman.

In Washington, Mr. Hunter was a fixture on the bar scene, and spent lavishly — over $400 for 30 tequila shots at a bachelor party, and countless fancy dinners. He visited one of his favorite bars sometimes multiple times a day, piling up thousands of dollars in tabs.
He would have been an upstanding citizen if that sinkhole of corruption hadn't gotten to him, Arango et al. seem to say.

(2) He was living a life that was forced on him, a life he never wanted.
Mr. Hunter, 41, once boasted a glittering political résumé that touched all the right notes in his conservative district: war hero, father to three young children, scion of a political dynasty in Southern California, where his father held power for almost 30 years....

For all his apparent appeal as a congressman, the unspooling of Mr. Hunter’s life has laid bare the reservations among associates and friends who long wondered whether politics was a career path he had ever wanted to fulfill.
Hunter is 41 years old. He's running for his sixth term in the House. A younger man might have felt pressure to take the seat his father held. But what prevented Hunter from quitting -- with all the opportunities a Republican ex-congressman has for cashing in -- if he didn't like the life?

(3) It's hard out here for a congressman.
While Mr. Hunter was in Washington, his wife, Margaret, mostly stayed in California, where she managed the campaign’s finances and struggled to keep up appearances with things like private school tuition, all on a $174,000-a-year congressman’s salary....
This is classic Times: Feel the pain of people struggling on six-figure incomes! And see (2) above -- if money was so tight, why not move to a cushy job in the private sector?

(4) It's not as if the Hunters were living it up.
The expenses outlined in the indictment were often quotidian — not the luxurious things that often produce titillating political corruption scandals. There was no $15,000 ostrich jacket, no antique rugs or a mansion in the Hamptons, to mention some of the more headline-grabbing expenses that enlivened the recent corruption trial of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman. For the Hunters, it was often everyday expenses: the cable bill, the dentist, prescription medication, fast food restaurants like In-N-Out, trips to Walmart.

In one sense, the Hunters’ story is one of financial woe not unlike that faced by countless American families struggling to pay the basics.
"The basics"? So what about the $400 bar tab and "countless fancy dinners" mentioned in the opening paragraphs? And what about the other expenses, some of which are noted here, but more of which enumerated in this L.A. Times story?
They dropped more than $14,000 on a family vacation in Italy.... Over the years, prosecutors allege, Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, picked up ... a $250 airplane ride for the family rabbit....

“Our treat,” Hunter (R-Alpine) and his wife told their friends when they picked up the $1,164 tab at the Montage resort in Laguna Beach for food and drinks....

It was more than $1,300 in video game purchases that first drew the newspaper’s attention....

They spent $2,000 to send a family member to a Pittsburgh Steelers game for a birthday celebration.
(5) Oh, did we mention diminished capacity?
Mr. Hunter has been a regular at a number of bars near Capitol Hill, from the private Capitol Club to the congressional watering hole, Bullfeathers, just next door. There, the congressman could often be found on the patio with colleagues, drinking beer or vodka.

“He was here a lot, some days he was in here multiple times a day,” said Stephanie Connon, a manager at the bar.

Amid the allegations, associates in Washington have raised questions about whether Mr. Hunter was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When asked about this earlier this year by a television station in San Diego, Mr. Hunter said, “I did three tours. I take my experiences with me, but I never filed for post-traumatic stress. It’s not an issue.”

Ammar Campa-Najjar, Mr. Hunter’s challenger in November, told Fox News after the indictment was issued, “I think that man who served our country never made it back from the battlefield, and I think Washington chewed him up and spat him out and he lost his way.”
Well, even his opponent is giving him that out.

I'm sure Hunter will be found not guilty with the help of defense counsel that makes one or several of these arguments. Hunter's defense may also echo his own claim of a "deep state" conspiracy to destroy him. At least the Times story doesn't give credence to that argument. But the paper seems to have carefully laid out every other line of defense.

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