Embattled U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California vigorously defended himself Wednesday, one day after news broke that he and his wife had been indicted on charges of using campaign funds for personal expenses.
"I've done nothing wrong," Hunter told San Diego's FOX 5 after a fundraising event in Point Loma, Calif., on Wednesday.
“I’ve never used my campaign for personal expenditures – ever,” Hunter told a group of reporters at the event, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“They took legitimate campaign expenses and just tossed them all in and said these are all illegal,” he added.
Hunter asserted that “partisan Democrat prosecutors” had timed the indictment to influence November’s midterm elections.
In an interview Wednesday with San Diego’s KGTV-TV, Hunter referred to the U.S. Justice Department as “the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement.”
“This is political — period,” Hunter said, according to the Union-Tribune. “This is the U.S government — what I would call the deep state — or folks in the U.S. government that don’t care what the election does, they want to rig the election their own way, because they can’t beat me in a real election.”
“This is political — period. This is the U.S government — what I would call the deep state ... they want to rig the election their own way, because they can’t beat me in a real election.”
Hunter said he’s innocent of the corruption charges and eager to go to trial to clear his name.
A grand jury on Tuesday charged Hunter and his wife Margaret with using more than $250,000 in campaign money to pay for vacations, dental work, golf outings and other personal expenses.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the charges "deeply serious" and said Hunter will be removed from his committee assignments, pending resolution of the case. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Ryan should call on Hunter to resign.
Despite the indictment, Hunter remained a favorite to win re-election in California’s 50th Congressional District, east of San Diego. The 50th District is the most Republican in Southern California: The party holds a nearly 15-point registration edge over Democrats.
President Donald Trump won the district by the same margin while losing statewide by more than 4 million votes in 2016.
The district is near Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine base in the West, and has many active duty and retired military who feel a kinship with Hunter, a Marine who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his father, an Army Ranger who won the Bronze star during the Vietnam War.
Hunter’s father was elected to the seat in 1980 and held it until his son won in 2008. Hunter's Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, 29, has never held elective office. He won just over 17 percent of the votes in June but that was good enough for second place in the state's primary where the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party.
Prominent Democrats including Pelosi of San Francisco and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have spoken favorably of Campa-Najjar, but Pelosi was noncommittal about diverting party funds to a district whose voters still “may decide their desire for a tax cut overcomes everything else.”
Nick Kriticos, a retired salesman from El Cajon who has volunteered for the Campa-Najjar campaign, said he doesn't see Democrats flipping the district, even with Hunter's legal trouble.
"It's still very much Trump country here," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.