FBI searched campaign office tied to Duncan Hunter

The FBI in late February raided the offices of GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter’s former campaign treasurer as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations he used tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses, court documents show.

Federal law-enforcement officials on Feb. 23 seized several computers, tablets and iPads, bills and disbursement records, as well as a computer hard drive, from Election CFO, an Alexandria, Va.-based company that handled the California Republican’s campaign finances.

The raid was disclosed in a search and seizure warrant filed with the Eastern District of Virginia and signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff.

Hunter and his lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. The three-term lawmaker and his wife personally repaid more than $60,000 in charges following news reports suggesting he used campaign funds to cover personal expenses, which would be in violation House rules and federal campaign law.

Hunter has denied any wrongdoing.

The warrant directed FBI agents to seize information regarding Hunter’s campaign committee disbursements, including dates, amounts, purposes and receipts; records related to disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission; and communications between Hunter, his wife Margaret, former chief of staff Victoria Middleton, current chief of staff Joseph Kasper, former office manager Carline DeBeikes, as well as Election CFO founder Christopher Marston and employee Brenda Hankins.

The warrant also instructed agents to look for any evidence that campaign funds were used for personal gain or any suggestion of mail and wire fraud, in addition to whether Hunter tried to defraud First National Bank by suggesting charges for $1,300 in controversial video game purchases were false.

The warrant also directed law enforcement officers to search for any evidence of falsified FEC reporters or suggestions that anyone was trying to impede the investigation.

The search warrant filings were first disclosed Wednesday by George Washington University researcher Seamus Hughes.

Court personnel indicated to POLITICO that the records were not supposed to be made public but were released due to an error.

The information — which does not explain the protocol the FBI used to separate Hunter-related data from other Election CFO records — was taken off of the court’s public system Wednesday afternoon shortly after POLITICO inquired about the case.

The search warrant suggests the FBI’s investigation into Hunter has taken a serious turn. While the records do not include the arguments an FBI agent made in order to obtain the warrant, investigators must show probable cause to raid private property.

The Justice Department’s probe of Hunter’s finances was made public in late March after the House Ethics Committee announced it would delay its own investigation of Hunter’s campaign finance practices due to the federal probe.

Campaign records show Hunter spent tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of campaign funds on items that appear to be personal in nature from 2015 to 2016, including groceries, outdoor equipment, a visit to a nail salon, and dental services and a hotel in Italy and Arizona.

While Hunter later repaid nearly $60,000 to his campaign, the Office of Congressional Ethics last August recommended that the Ethics Committee begin a full-scale investigation. The Justice Department, however, asked the Ethics Committee to hold off while it continued its own probe.

Hunter’s attorneys have argued in the past that that any improper use of campaign funds was "inadvertent and unintentional."

“Last year, Congressman Hunter became aware of expenditure issues confronting his campaign committee. Out of an abundance of caution, he took corrective action in consultation with the [Federal Election Commission] and, ultimately, he and his wife personally repaid the campaign approximately $60,000," Hunter’s lawyers, Elliot Berke and Gregory Vega, said in a late-March statement when the Justice Department probe first came to light.

"Congressman Hunter intends to cooperate fully with the government on this investigation, and maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional.”

The lawyer for Election CFO did not respond to request for comment.

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