— -- The Department of Justice is investigating Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., for potentially violating campaign finance laws by using tens of thousands in those funds for personal use, according to the House Committee on Ethics.
In a statement released today, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee, explained that they are deferring their investigation at the request of the DOJ. Hunter has denied any intentional wrongdoing.
According to a House ethics report, Hunter allegedly "may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, healthcare, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries, and other goods, services and expenses."
Among the campaign expenses that may have raised Ethics Committee eyebrows -- a $600 charge to campaign credit card to buy an airline ticket to transport the family's pet rabbit, as reported by the San Diego Tribune in January.
CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint about Hunter's expenses with the Congressional Ethics office in April and also requested an audit by the Federal Election Commission.
The group pointed to payments that included a purchase for hundreds of dollars at a jewelry store in Florence, Italy billed as "food/beverages."
"This is the most egregious Congressional spending scandal since Aaron Schock,” CREW said in a statement. Schock, a Republican congressman from Illinois who resigned, was indicted last year for wire fraud and other charges, which his lawyer called "made-up allegations," according to the New York Times. Schock has not yet been tried in court.
The attorneys for Hunter, Elliot S. Berke and Gregory A. Vega, said in a statement that Hunter and his wife learned about his campaign committee's expenditures issues last year and "out of an abundance of caution" repaid the committee "approximately $60,000."
"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," Hunter's attorneys said in a statement.
While the committee's report on Hunter does not indicate any violation of the law, the House Ethics Committee is strict on how members can use campaign money, specifically saying "members have no discretion whatsoever to convert campaign funds to personal use."