SAN DIEGO — California Rep. Duncan Hunter said he plans to plead guilty to misusing campaign funds and is prepared to go to jail, a stunning turn of events for the six-term Republican who had steadfastly denied wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of a political witch hunt by federal prosecutors.
Hunter had pleaded not guilty, but in an interview that aired Monday said he will change his plea at a federal court hearing Tuesday in San Diego. He said his motivation is protect his three children from going through a trial, which was set to begin Jan. 22.
His wife Margaret Hunter also was charged in the case and in June accepted a plea deal that called for her to testify against her husband.
Hunter, who was re-elected last year and has been actively campaigning for a seventh term next year despite being under indictment, indicated he will leave office but didn’t say when.
The combat Marine veteran and an early supporter of President Donald Trump said he will plead guilty to one count of misuse of campaign funds. Federal prosecutors alleged he and his wife spent more than $250,000 in campaign money for golf outings, plane tickets and a family vacation to Italy, as well as household items from places like Costco.
Prosecutors also revealed salacious details about the congressman’s lifestyle, saying some money was used by Hunter to further romantic relationships with lobbyists and congressional aides.
Hunter said he will accept whatever sentence the judge gives, including jail time.
“I think it’s important that people know I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money,” he said. “Whatever my time in custody is, I will take that hit. My only hope is that the judge does not sentence my wife to jail. I think my kids need a mom in the home.”
Hunter’s plea sets up the prospects for a second special House election in California next year. Freshman Rep. Katie Hill, a rising Democratic star, announced her resignation from a Los Angeles-area district in October after explicit photos of her were posted online. Among those seeking the seat is Steve Knight, the Republican incumbent Hill beat in 2018.
Hunter represents the 50th Congressional District, which covers eastern San Diego County and a small part of southern Riverside County. It is the most Republican district in Southern California, an area now nearly devoid of GOP representation in Congress.
Last year Hunter narrowly survived a challenge from Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, a political unknown making his first run for office. The 30-year-old Campa-Najjar is running again and his Republican opponents include former U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and radio personality Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman.
Until now, Hunter had resisted calls to resign, calling the charges a politically motivated attempt to drive him from office in a state where Democrats are in the majority. Following his indictment in August 2018 he said the charges were brought by local prosecutors who attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, who ran against Trump in 2016.
After his wife agreed to a plea deal, Hunter said “it’s obvious that the Department of Justice went after her to get to me for political reasons.”
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
HONG KONG — China said Monday it will suspend U.S. military ship and aircraft visits to Hong Kong and sanction several American pro-democracy and human rights groups in retaliation for the signing into law of legislation supporting anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous territory.
While the nature of the sanctions remained unclear, the move followed Chinese warnings that the U.S. would bear the costs if the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was approved. The steps are “in response to America’s unreasonable behavior,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
The law, signed last Wednesday by President Donald Trump, mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.
The legislation was backed by U.S. lawmakers who are sympathetic to the protesters and have criticized Hong Kong police for cracking down on the pro-democracy movement. Police say their use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other force is a necessary response to escalating violence by the protesters, who have blocked major roads and thrown gasoline bombs back at officers in riot gear.
Hong Kong has been living with almost nonstop protests for six months. The movement’s demands include democratic elections and an investigation into the police response. More fundamentally, the protesters and others in Hong Kong fear that China is eroding the rights and freedoms they have under a “one country, two systems” framework.
Hua said China would sanction organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Human Rights Watch, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and others that she said had “performed badly” in the Hong Kong unrest.
“China urges the United States to correct its mistakes and stop any words and deeds that interfere in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs,” she said, adding that China could take “further necessary actions” depending on how matters develop.
Hua accused the groups of instigating protesters to engage in “radical violent crimes and inciting separatist activities.”
“These organizations deserve to be sanctioned and must pay a price,” Hua said.
China has long accused foreign groups and governments of fomenting the demonstrations in Hong Kong, singling out the U.S., former colonial overlord Britain, and democratic, self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
Among the groups to be subject to the unspecified sanctions, the National Endowment for Democracy receives funding directly from Congress, while others generally draw their running costs from a mixture of private and public grants.
Derek Mitchell, the president of the National Democratic Institute, said in Hong Kong last week that accusations it was colluding with protesters were “patently false.”
The institute has no role in the current protests, and “to suggest otherwise spreads misinformation and fails to recognize the movement stems from genuine grievances,” he said.
While China has in the past suspended U.S. military visits, the sanctions on the various groups could bring conditions for civil society in Hong Kong one step closer to those in mainland China.
Beijing imposes restrictions on non-governmental organizations, and is particularly concerned about those involved in humanitarian causes, gender equality, the environment or minority rights.
In Hong Kong, several hundred people who work in advertising started a five-day strike Monday to show support for the anti-government protests. They said they would not go to work, respond to work emails or take part in conference calls.
Some held up signs with protest slogans at an early afternoon rally to launch the strike in Chater Garden, a public square in the central business district.
Antony Yiu, an entrepreneur in advertising and one of the organizers, said they want other business sectors to join them.
“The government seems to be still ignoring the sound of the majority of the people,” he said. The advertising industry wants “to take the first step to encourage other businesses to participate in the strike to give more pressure.”
More than 10,000 people marched on Sunday to try to pressure the government to address the demands after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in district council elections one week earlier.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she’ll accelerate dialogue but hasn’t offered any concessions since the elections.
The protests are blamed for driving the economy into recession. Tourism, airline and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard, with retail sales down about 20%.
“The willingness of tourists coming to Hong Kong has been significantly affected,” the city’s financial secretary, Paul Chan, said Monday.
He said the government will run a budget deficit for the first time in 15 years because of falling tax revenues and greater spending to try to offset the economic slowdown.
Associated Press journalists Dake Kang and Katie Tam contributed to this story.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
VILLA UNION, Mexico — A small town near the U.S.-Mexico border began cleaning up Monday, gripped by fear after the killing of 22 people in a ferocious weekend gunbattle between drug cartel members and security forces.
A 72-year-old woman living near Villa Union’s city hall recounted how she huddled with two of her grandchildren inside an armoire during the shooting. The street in front of her home was littered with shell casings, and her walls and door were pocked with bullet holes.
“I’m still trembling,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for her safety. “We’ve never seen anything like this. It was as if they just wanted to sow terror.”
Around midday Saturday, armed men in a convoy of dozens of vehicles arrived in Villa Union and began shooting up city hall.
Many of the vehicles were emblazoned with the cartel’s initials — CDN, for Cartel del Noreste, or Northeast Cartel — as were the attackers’ bulletproof vests.
Coahuila Gov. Miguel Riquelme said state security forces arrived within an hour and surrounded the town, about 35 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas. Sixteen gunmen were killed, along with four state police officers and two civilians, he said.
On Monday morning, the town of about 6,000 people was strewn with burned-out vehicles, and the city hall’s facade was so riddled with bullet holes it looked like a sieve.
Workers swept up glass and rubble out front and began to plaster over the holes, while others collected important documents. Broken glass covered the floor, a crucifix had fallen from a wall, furniture was destroyed, and portraits of local politicians were pierced by bullets.
Shops nearby cleaned up rather than open for business. Despite the presence of soldiers and federal police patrolling the quiet streets, no one sent their children to school, and residents did not want to give their names for fear the gunmen could return.
“They wanted to send a message” to the state government, Riquelme told the Mexican network Radio Formula.
He said the Northeast Cartel, based in nearby Tamaulipas state, has made 15 attempts to establish itself in Coahuila since he became governor two years ago.
“We have not permitted the entrance of these criminals in our entity,” he said. “They thought they were going to enter, strike and exit, something that didn’t happen.”
The Northeast Cartel is an offshoot of the Zetas, a cartel with roots in elite military units. The Zetas long dominated Nuevo Laredo and Tamaulipas state and were known for military-style operations and grotesque violence intended to intimidate their enemies.
Villa Union is 12 miles from the town of Allende, the site of a 2011 massacre involving the Zetas in which officials say 70 died.
Villa Union residents wondered why their town was targeted with such fury. A woman who declined to give her name likened the attack to being in a war zone and said, “They caught us off guard.”
The governor said that all hostages taken Saturday, including five minors, had been rescued. Cartel members had taken some locals with them as guides as they tried to make their escape along back roads.
Of the 25 vehicles seized, four carried .50-caliber machine guns. Dozens of homes were damaged.
On Monday afternoon, the family of a civil defense worker who was one of the two civilians killed in the shooting held a wake for the father of four children. Still terrified, all declined to speak or be identified. His widow said only, “He didn’t do anything bad.”
Mexico’s homicide rate has increased to historically high levels this year. After a string of massacres, critics have charged that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government does not have a coherent security strategy.
López Obrador was scheduled to meet on Monday with about 30 relatives of the nine women and children, all dual U.S.-Mexican citizens, killed by gunman from the Juarez cartel in the border state of Sonora in November.
“We’re going to provide support to erase the signs of this unfortunate incident so that the people of Villa Union can return to their normal and daily lives,” Riquelme said.
WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts appeared Monday to be the key vote in whether the Supreme Court considers expanding gun rights or sidesteps its first case on the issue in nearly 10 years.
The court’s dismissal of the case would be a disappointment to gun-rights advocates and a huge relief to gun-control groups. Both sides thought a conservative Supreme Court majority fortified by two appointees of President Donald Trump, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, might use the case to expand on landmark decisions from a decade ago that established a right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.
The arguments dealt with a dispute over New York City restrictions on taking licensed, locked and unloaded guns outside the city limits. New York has dropped its transport ban, but only after the high court decided in January to hear the case.
The justices spent most of the hour trying to determine whether anything is left of the case brought by the National Rifle Association’s New York affiliate and three city residents, after the change in New York law.
Roberts sought assurances in a handful of questions to the city’s lawyer that New York police would not refuse to issue gun licenses to people who have may have violated the old law.
“Would the fact of a violation of the prior law be used against them?” Roberts asked Richard Dearing, the lawyer representing the city.
“It will not. It absolutely will not,” Dearing replied, as part of his argument urging the justices to get rid of the case.
The four liberal justices made clear they are likely to vote for dismissal. “So what’s left of this case? Petitioners have gotten all the relief they sought,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the bench for the first time since a recent two-night hospital stay.
Paul Clement, representing the gun owners, said his clients are entitled to an order from a federal court, not just the representations of the city’s lawyer. In one example, Clement said it is unclear whether a gun owner headed to a shooting range could stop for coffee or a bathroom break without breaking the law.
His argument appeared to win favor with at least two conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Gorsuch. When Dearing said coffee and rest stops are permissible, they asked about whether a gun owner would be at risk by stopping at his mother’s house.
Dearing replied he was less sure about other kinds of stops, but that people could challenge such a restriction in a new case.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who has lamented the court’s reluctance to take on gun cases, asked no questions, as is his custom. Kavanaugh also was silent throughout the arguments, but his record in guns cases includes a dissent when his federal appeals court upheld the District of Columbia’s ban on semi-automatic rifles.
“Gun bans and gun regulations that are not longstanding or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right,” Kavanaugh wrote in 2011.
For years, the NRA and its allies have tried to get the court to say more about gun rights, even as mass shootings may have caused the justices to shy away from taking on new disputes over gun limits.
The lawsuit in New York began as a challenge to the city’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, either to a shooting range or a second home.
Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case caused officials at both the city and state level to scramble to find a way to remove the case from the justices’ grasp. Not only did the city change its regulation to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons to locations outside New York’s five boroughs, but the state enacted a law barring cities from imposing the challenged restrictions.
But those moves failed to get the court to dismiss the case.
The city does contend that what it calls its “former rule” did not violate the Constitution, although Dearing conceded that police determined the rule could be repealed without making New York’s streets more dangerous.
He added that police would have to “work harder” to verify that people legally have their guns with them.
That comment prompted a display of the justices’ intimate knowledge of the city and surrounding area. Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor are New York natives, as is Ginsburg. Gorsuch spent his college years at Columbia University in Manhattan and Alito worked many years in nearby Newark, New Jersey.
Alito wanted to know why it’s harder for police to check on a Manhattan resident with a gun who says he’s headed to “a firing range in Jersey City, which is right across the river,” than one in the city’s Staten Island.
“How about somebody who lives in the north Bronx says, ‘I’m going across the border to Westchester County.’ That’s tougher for you to look into than, ‘Yes, I’m going all the way to Staten Island?” Alito asked.
A decision is expected by late June.
ALBANY, N.Y. — A seemingly endless winter storm that hindered travel across most of the country over the long holiday weekend is delivering a last wallop as it swoops through the Northeast, dumping heavy snow, shuttering hundreds of schools and bedeviling commuters in the region Monday.
The storm dropped more than a foot of snow on parts of the region late Sunday and Monday and could bring 10 to 24 inches total by Tuesday from Pennsylvania to Maine, forecasters said. Heavy snow was also expected in the Appalachian Mountains down to Tennessee and North Carolina.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged drivers to use caution during the Tuesday morning commute when the storm was expected to be at its height with snow falling at 1 to 2 inches an hour in some places. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said city schools were canceling classes and afterschool activities Tuesday.
“It’s moving very slowly, so the snow is just going to continue through the day,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Vogt said Monday.
By Monday afternoon, the storm had dropped 27 inches of snow in rural Delanson, New York, 25 miles northwest of Albany — the highest snow total in the Northeast so far. Forecasters predict accumulations near 30 inches by Tuesday morning in parts of Vermont’s Green Mountains.
The same storm has pummeled the U.S. for days as it moved cross country, dumping heavy snow from California to the Midwest and inundating other areas with rain.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Monday for seven counties in eastern New York and assigned 300 National Guard members to assist with snow removal. State police had responded to more than 740 storm-related crashes statewide since the snow started falling.
“We’re tough, we’ve seen it all, we can handle it all,” Cuomo said at a storm briefing before urging people to stay off the roads. He told nonessential state employees to stay home.
But some workers had no choice but to trudge through knee-high snow and brush off their cars before heading out on the slushy roads.
“I just hate driving in snow,” Kaia Jansson said as she raked snow off her car in Albany. “It’s always a mess and it’s cold and not fun.”
In Nashua, New Hampshire, Alana Kirkpatrick didn’t enjoy her 5 a.m. “workout,” which consisted of removing heaps of snow from her car.
“Why do I still live in New England?” she said.
Hundreds of schools were closed in advance of the region’s first significant storm of the season, a nor’easter so named because the winds typically come from the northeast.
“It’s going to be a long, difficult storm,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said.
At least four counties closed schools Monday in West Virginia, where 2 inches to a foot of snow was forecast. Closer to the heavily populated, coastal Interstate 95 corridor, a wintry mix was more likely. The National Park Service said parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and U.S. 441 through Great Smoky Mountains National Park were closed because of heavy snow predictions.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday at a news conference that the worst was still ahead. He closed state government for nonessential workers at noon.
Only 3 inches of snow was forecast for New York City, where schools were expected to remain open, and 5 inches for Philadelphia.
The National Weather Service on Monday predicted that the Boston area could get 7 inches of snow with lower amounts to the south and into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Communities north of Boston could see a foot in the storm expected to reach its peak Tuesday morning, snarling the morning commute.
Rowe in western Massachusetts received 16 inches of snow from the storm that started Sunday night.
More than 780 flights into or out of the U.S. were canceled Monday, with more than 5,600 delays, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. Airports in the New York and Boston areas accounted for many of them. There were 950 cancelations and 8,800 delays on Sunday.
The storm also caused major traffic disruptions. Tractor-trailers were banned or lower speed limits put in place on stretches of highway in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York also posted lower speed limits on some highways.
Many buses from New York City to Pennsylvania and upstate destinations such as Ithaca and Binghamton were canceled.
A commuter ferry on its way to Boston, where it was rainy and windy Monday morning, hit a wave and listed heavily, sending some passengers to the floor. No injuries were reported.
The trouble began in the East on Sunday as the storm moved out of the Midwest after days of pummeling parts of the U.S.
Duluth, Minnesota, is still cleaning up more than 21 inches of snow that dropped over the weekend. Major highways reopened in Wyoming and Colorado after blizzard conditions and drifting snow blocked them.
Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany, New York, and Jeff McMillan in New York contributed to this story.