It was January 2017 and partisan angst in Congress had zeroed in on a single picture. The painting, winner of a congressional art competition, was done by a St. Louis high school student and chosen by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., to grace a wall at the U.S. Capitol.
But the image sparked controversy. Nodding to the growing protests over police brutality, the picture portrayed law enforcement officers as uniformed, gun-wielding pigs. Police officials and conservative media outlets cried foul.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., did something about it. The combat veteran marched over to where the painting was hanging and wrenched it down.
"I was angry," Hunter told FoxNews.com. "I'm in the Marine Corps. If you want it done, just call us."
The move synced perfectly with the reputation Hunter, 41, had steadily built for himself as a young, San Diego-area conservative who stuck to his principles. This was the congressman who defiantly puffed an e-cigarette in a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting in 2016 to prove a point. He once said the Navy secretary's plan to put women in combat roles was "a greater threat to the Marine Corps than ISIS."
Brash, contemptuous of politically correct pieties, a red-meat conservative — it all helped cement Hunter as an on-the-make congressman strapped in for a long and influential Washington career.
That promise was shattered this week. Hunter, indicted on charges of using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal expenses, was stripped of his committee assignments by the House speaker and urged to resign by the chamber's top Democrat.
He faced the swift, bipartisan rebuke after federal prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled criminal charges against both him and his wife, Margaret, 43. The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of California, which filed the charges, said the Hunters improperly accessed more than $250,000 in campaign money to feed a lifestyle of excess. Hunter, a five-term congressman, also is accused of filing false campaign records with the Federal Election Commission.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the charges "deeply serious" and said that Hunter would be stripped of his assignments. He is a member of the Armed Services, Transportation and Infrastructure Committees and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Hunter said Wednesday the indictment was politically motivated. "We are seeing this with President Trump; we are seeing this with my case," Hunter said. "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."
The couple are scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.
The allegations detail runaway spending that included vacations to Italy and trips to SeaWorld, Mother's Day brunches and dental work, overdue cable and water bills, golf outings and NFL tickets, movie passes and private school tuition, travel to a dance competition and family funerals, a $250 plane ticket for a family pet, and $462 for 30 tequila shots and a steak during a bachelor party.
"Elected representatives should jealously guard the public's trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain," U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.
The couple's indictment represents the implosion of a once-mighty Southern California political dynasty. Hunter came to politics through his father, Duncan L. Hunter Sr., a powerful, former California congressman. "This is going to be a long, tough battle," Hunter Sr. told KUSI News after the indictment. "We're going to fight it out, we're going to win and we're going to win the election."
Hunter Sr. rose to power on Capitol Hill through 14 terms in Congress, and even made his own quixotic run for the presidency in 2008. As part of that bid, he said he would not seek re-election for his congressional seat. Instead, Hunter Jr. announced he was seeking his father's vacated position.
"I'm running under my own credentials," Hunter said in 2007. "The U.S. Congress needs more military veterans, people who have walked the walk and when they talk the talk aren't accused of being disingenuous."
Not long after, Hunter was called back to active military duty and shipped to Afghanistan. His wife served as his surrogate on the stump. "I would Google myself to try to see what my campaign was doing back in San Diego," he said.
Hunter, then 30, won the campaign, becoming the first Marine elected to Congress who had seen combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the indictment, Margaret Hunter worked on her husband's congressional runs. Between 2010 and 2017, she was paid by his campaign "$116,000 for 'management services,' 'consulting,' and 'salary.' " At the same time, she also allegedly had access to campaign funds "through campaign debit cards, credit cards, and reimbursements for funds expended on behalf of the Campaign."
But those funds were steered repeatedly to non-campaign related expenses, the government alleges. The couple allegedly attempted to hide their illegal spending by falsely inventing campaign-related reasons for the spending. For example, in the indictment, prosecutors said the couple bought personal clothing at a golf course to falsely report the expense as "balls for the wounded warriors."
Similarly, in November 2015, the couple allegedly spent more than $14,000 on a vacation to Italy. According to the indictment, in an attempt to justify the use of campaign funds for the visit, the Hunters "attempted to set up a day tour of a U.S. naval facility in Italy." Naval officials responded that they could only do so on a particular date.