Faced with a 47-page indictment that details -- in excruciating specificity -- allegations that he and his wife repeatedly misused campaign funds for personal use, Republican California Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. offered up this response: This is all just one big Democratic conspiracy.
OK, I'm over-simplifying but not by much.
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"This is the Democrats' arm of law enforcement, that's what happening right now," Hunter said in an interview with a San Diego TV station. "It's happening with [President] Trump, it's happening with me. We're going to fight through it and win and the people get to vote in November ... I think they've used every dirty trick in the book, so it'll go to court when they want it to."
(Did I mention that Hunter gave this interview on his way to a fishing trip in advance of his court appearance on Thursday?)
Hunter sounded a very similar note in a formal statement in response to the indictment. "The fact is that there is a culture operating within our Justice Department that is politically motivated," he said. "We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case. This is evidenced by the fact that after two years of investigating, the Department of Justice decided to take this action right before my election."
Before we go any further, let's go over a few facts, shall we?
Fact #1: The Justice Department is run by Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama Republican senator. He was nominated to that job by President Donald Trump, a Republican. His nomination as attorney general was approved by the Senate, which is controlled by, wait for it ... Republicans.
Fact #2: The charging document in Hunter's case alleges that he and his wife overdrew their personal checking account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period as they spent lavishly and well beyond their means. It lists 200 examples of the Hunters allegedly dipping into funds for personal use. 200!
Those facts -- just the two! -- fundamentally undermine Hunter's pushback on the charges. And yet, there will be a bloc of people (and Hunter undoubtedly knows this) who will believe his denial solely because it is premised on the idea of a so-called "deep state" conspiracy against prominent conservatives. This may well be what legal (and political) fights look like in the age of Trump -- one side armed with facts, the other armed with conspiracy theories.
In lieu of a factual pushback against the charges against him, Hunter is simply throwing his arms around Trump and telling conservatives "See, I'm just like him! We're both victims of the deep state!" Aside from making the direct comparison between himself and Trump, Hunter's official statement makes several other clear attempts at mimicking Trump:
- Hunter describes the investigation as a "witch hunt."
- He makes mention of the fact that Hillary Clinton was never indicted for her role in establishing a private email server when she served as secretary of state
- He throws out some red meat for conspiracy theorists -- noting that two prosecutors involved in his case went to a fundraiser at a private home during office hours.
In short; Hunter is laying the image of himself as a Junior Trump -- a victim of a corrupt Justice system -- on very, very thick. If Hunter were a comedian, he would not only tell the joke, but then come into the audience and explain it to you, and then borrow a cocktail napkin and diagram exactly why the joke works. Like, dude, enough already! We get it!
There's one big difference between Trump and Hunter, of course. Hunter has been indicted and faces a legal proceeding in which a jury and a judge will decide whether prosecutors are running some "deep state"-sting operation, or whether Hunter and his wife drastically abused the powers of his office. Trump has not -- and, according to Justice Department protocols, can't be. (A sitting president can't be indicted according to the Justice Department; special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly told Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that he abides by that view.)
Trump, because of that status, is free to say what he likes about his own Justice Department and the alleged "deep state" conspiracy embedded within it who is out to ruin his presidency. Those claims can be made without a shred of proof. Hunter will face a much higher bar. It remains to be seen if he can come close to meeting it.
Regardless of how Hunter's case ends up, however, you can bet that he won't be the last Republican politician who, when backed into a corner, leans on the conspiracy theories that Trump has helped to build and fortify during his life in politics. The idea of a being a victim of an unforeseen -- but hugely complex and nefarious -- state apparatus is a powerful one. Like all good conspiracy theories, it can't be disproven. Any fact that runs counter to it is yet more evidence of how dug-in the "deep state" perpetrators actually are.
These are the lesser-known effects of Trumpism on the country. And now that the genie is out of the bottle, it won't easily go back in.