Duncan Hunter, the California representative who voted last January for an ultimately thwarted effort to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics that once investigated him, is now being investigated by the Department of Justice.
Both the OCE and the Federal Election Commission were looking into allegations that Hunter misused tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds for decidedly non-campaign-related items like video games ($1,302) and plane tickets for pet rabbits ($600). The OCE referred the matter to the House Committee on Ethics, which announced on Thursday that its investigation into Hunter's activities is being deferred. Which would be good news, except that the reason why it is being deferred is because the Committee was asked to do so by the Department of Justice so it can launch its own investigation into Hunter.
Hunter has never denied that he misused the funds but has said he did so by accident through a series of mix-ups that ultimately resulted in at least $60,000 in accidental charges, most of which was repaid after Hunter's alleged mistakes became public.
The Committee on Ethics on Thursday released a brief report on Hunter from the OCE which said that he "may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law" and that there was "substantial reason to believe that Rep. Hunter converted campaign funds to personal use to pay expenses that were not legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures." The Department of Justice has not commented, but using campaign funds for personal expenses can and has resulted in criminal and civil punishments for other politicians in the past.
Some of the details of Hunter's allegedly accidental purchases were not widely known until his spokesperson used them as examples of the OCE being overly aggressive in its investigations, which were triggered by complaints from partisan organizations. He cited the rabbit tickets as a simple error that was blown out of proportion.
However, House Rabbit Society president Margo DeMello told Vocativ back in January that $600 seemed like an excessive amount of money to spend on rabbit travel.
"I'm still surprised to hear that a congressman used his campaign funds on this, and that he spent quite so much money," DeMello told Vocativ. She added that rabbits are the third most popular companion mammal in the United States, and that it was unfortunate that many airlines still did not allow them to travel in cabins.
Some federal prisons allow inmates to live with and help train animals as service pets, but it does not appear that rabbits are among the animals used in such programs.
Aside from accidentally using campaign funds to buy $600 worth of plane tickets for rabbits, Hunter is best known for vaping in Congress, removing an award-winning student portrait from a wall of the capitol building because he found it personally offensive, and being an early supporter of Donald Trump's presidential run.