Retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, is accusing the U.S. attorney's office of "political misconduct" for, now that it is likely too late to remove Hunter from the ballot.
Hunter was indicted Tuesday for allegedly spending about $250,000 in campaign funds on personal trips and items and for filing false reports to the Federal Election Commission. In a phone conversation Tuesday, Issa indicated to CBS News that if there were some way for Hunter to be replaced on the ballot, Issa might be open to serving as that replacement. "I'm not really interested in remaining in Congress," he told CBS News, but "I would have to look at it and say, would I serve two more years just so we don't lose the majority because we lost that seat?"
Issa, who represents the neighboring 49th congressional district, is not seeking re-election and is set to retire from Congress at the end of this term after nearly 20 years in office.
Issa says he finds the timing of the Hunter indictment suspicious, given that it was issued after the California primary had taken place. Under the state's "jungle" primary system, the top two candidates -- regardless of party -- proceed to the general election, making it difficult to replace a candidate on the ballot, should that individual drop out after advancing from the primary to the November election. Hunter, the incumbent in the 50th Congressional District, attracted the most votes, and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar also advanced.
"I believe that the assistant U.S. attorney has totally screwed us….I believe that this is political misconduct by the assistant U.S. attorney, and I believe it simply because all deadlines, as far as I know, as far as I've been told, have passed," Issa said. "So now you have an accusation that could sink anyone, when in fact, this same information…I didn't see anything that hasn't been there for years." (It's not clear whether Issa was referring to a different federal prosecutor in the Southern District of California or to Braverman.)
He accused Braverman of holding back the indictment since last year, if not longer.
"I don't know how you make any kind of sense other than he sat on it for most of three years and certainly the last year," Issa said. "As far as I know, we've got no legal way for Duncan to get off the ballot and somebody else to get on. As far as I know that's where we stand."
Hunter has said he'll keep running for his seat. He had been expected to win re-election easily, and in the primary, he won 48 percent of the vote. Campa-Najjar was a distant runner-up, with 17 percent. While Donald Trump won Hunter's district by 15 points in 2016, Campa-Najjar has been mounting a financial challenge, raising more money than Hunter, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing.
There had been speculation earlier this year that if Hunter's legal problems were to cause his downfall, Issa, whose neighboring district has become less favorable for Republicans, might decide to run in Hunter's district instead. He would have represented one of the GOP's best chances to hold onto the seat. And on Tuesday, Issa wondered whether Duncan could be removed from the ballot, though he was doubtful.
"The important question that we don't have an answer to, but I'm pretty sure of the answer, is -- can he get off the ballot if he chose to and can anyone else get on the ballot? And I think the answer in California is no to both," Issa said. "You kind of have a situation in which, we have to assume that he would like to use his campaign funds, [to] continue to defend himself."
Issa also told CBS News he had placed a call to Chuck Bell, a California attorney who serves as general counsel for the state Republican Party, seeking clarity on the state's election laws and the party's options in CA-5-. The eight-term congressman said he's already getting ready to leave Congress, but if he were needed, he'd probably heed the call.
"It's kind of one of those things, if the president calls and says will you serve your country, the answer always is that it's very, very likely that if you're asked to serve your country, you will. I don't want to imply for a moment that this is of great interest to me. You know, I've already started packing up offices quite a bit."
Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday on charges of using $250,000 worth of campaign funds for personal use, as well as filing false reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Jack Turman contributed to this report.