Rep. Duncan Hunter faces charges he used campaign funds for vacations, airfare for pet rabbit

WASHINGTON — California Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges they used $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. Duncan was surrounded by protesters as he entered a San Diego courthouse.

Inside, they pleaded not guilty to 60 counts ranging from wire fraud to falsifying records. They're accused of using campaign funds constantly over seven years to pay for groceries, utilities, school tuition, video games, a Hawaiian vacation — even airfare for the family's pet rabbit.

Hunter's attorney tried to frame the case as an election-year hit job. But the indictment lays out dozens of examples of Hunter and his wife allegedly disguising their spending to make it seem related to the campaign.

A $700 payment to the "local dentist" was recorded as a "charitable contribution to 'Smiles for Life.'" A $200 weekly golf outing, Hunter claimed, was "a Christian thing with a supporter."

The former Marine tried to justify using campaign funds for an Italian vacation by scheduling a visit to a Navy base there. When Navy officials couldn't accommodate his chosen date, Hunter allegedly told his chief of staff, "tell the Navy to go f*** themselves."

Republicans worry the case creates an opening for hunter's Democratic challenger, Ammar Campa-Najjar.

"Washington chewed him up and spat him out and engulfed him in the corruption that has plagued Washington for too long," Campa-Najjar said.

Hunter was the second member of Congress to endorse President Trump. The first, New York's Chris Collins, was indicted earlier this month on insider trading charges. The president has had a lot to say lately about accused criminals in his orbit, but not a word so far about either Collins or Hunter.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.