BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Defense Lobbyists Hope to Scare Voters Into Voting for Indicted Congressman
Duncan Hunter’s campaign is painting his opponent as a terrorist, with help from three generals with huge interests before his committee.
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Three retired U.S. Marine Corps generals signed onto a letter this week accusing a Democratic congressional candidate—a Christian of Mexican and Palestinian descent—of family ties to Islamic terrorism.
The alarmist missive was aimed at boosting Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican accused of illegally using campaign funds to enrich himself, who, until his indictment, chaired a powerful committee with major influence over U.S. military and defense policy.
And it just so happens that all three Marine veterans leveling the allegations against Hunter’s opponent are defense industry lobbyists with extensive business before Hunter’s committee.
“SECURITY ALERT,” blares the top of the letter released this week by Hunter’s reelection campaign and signed by retired Marine generals Terry Paul, Randall West, and T.L. Corwin, none of whom responded to requests for comment.
“As military officers who often served in San Diego,” they wrote, “we are writing to warn you of a candidate for Congress, Ammar Campa-Najjar who represents a national security risk.”
The family member whom the letter cites is Ammar Campa-Najjar’s grandfather, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization who participated in the terrorist attacks on the 1972 Munich Olympics and was killed by Israeli operatives.
The letter does not mention that all this occurred 16 years before his grandson was born.
“If Democrat Candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar should get elected and sees secret information on U.S. military operations that would endanger members of his Najjar family in the Middle East, would he compromise U.S. operations to protect his relatives, the Najjars?” the letter asks.
It’s a desperate campaign tactic from Hunter, who is facing a tougher than anticipated reelection fight after he and his wife were indicted in August on charges including wire fraud, conspiracy, and violations of campaign finance laws. Hunter has pleaded not guilty and blamed his wife for the scandal.
Beyond its general unseemliness, the attack—which Campa-Najjar called “pathological”—is brazen in its apparently transactional nature.
After Hunter was indicted, House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped him of his committee assignments, which included a seat on the Armed Services Committee and the chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard and maritime commerce. Ryan did so “pending the resolution of this matter,” implying that Hunter could be reinstated in those posts if he beats the charges against him. That makes him a potentially valuable investment for companies with financial interests in the outcome of legislation considered by his committees.
All three generals who signed onto the Hunter campaign’s letter have just such interests, and Hunter has actively supported some of their clients in the past.
Paul is the executive vice president of, and a registered lobbyist for, the firm Cassidy & Associates. His official biography boasts of his ability to use connections gleaned through a former post as the Pentagon’s congressional liaison to secure major legislative and administrative wins for his clients.
Hunter has been integral to those efforts. Paul is a longtime friend of the congressman’s father, Duncan Hunter Sr., who represented the same House district before retiring in 2009. Paul used his deep ties to the family to advance the legislative interests of tech giant and high-dollar military contractor Palantir, a Cassidy client owned by billionaire Trump supporter Peter Thiel.
In investigative reporter Corey Pein’s 2018 book about Silicon Valley, Live Work Work Work Die, the author described Paul as Hunter’s “mentor.” After Paul approached Hunter on Palantir’s behalf, Pein reported, “the congressman pulled out all the stops to bend the Army procurement process to Palantir’s benefit.”
Paul also represents American Rheinmetall Munitions, a defense contractor that’s sold the military hundreds of millions of dollars in ammunition and grenades since 2000, according to federal procurement records. Lobbying disclosure filings indicate that Paul is currently working to modify the dates of its Pentagon contracts “to avoid interrupted product manufacturing.”
West, too, lobbies for a host of defense contractors with obvious interests in keeping federal cash flowing. His clients include helicopter manufacturer Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, aerospace company Textron, homeland security consultancy STS International, and remote laser sensor firm Optical Air Data Systems.
Corwin also lobbies for defense interests, including a Beaufort, South Carolina, business group that pushes for federal military investment in the city, and Liberty Maritime, a deep sea shipping company squarely in the jurisdiction of the subcommittee that Hunter chaired before his indictment. Liberty Maritime’s chief executive has in fact testified before Hunter’s panel. At that 2015 hearing, Hunter endorsed efforts to “subsidize long-term the U.S.-flag cargo fleet.”
Even one of Corwin’s non-defense-related clients has managed to secure support from Hunter. Corwin’s clients include the biopharmaceutical firm Emergent BioSolutions, which got Hunter to speak at a ceremony at its Maryland headquarters in 2015 recognizing the company’s donation to a wounded warriors support group called Rivers of Recovery.
The day after Hunter was indicted—and accused, among other allegations, of using veterans groups as cover to excuse his personal expenses—he hosted a fishing tournament to benefit Rivers of Recovery.
And as industries with business before Hunter’s one-time committees seek to keep a friendly congressman in Washington, they’re also doing their best to keep him out of jail. The money in Hunter’s legal defense fund has come almost entirely from a California family behind a major shipbuilding company that does business with the Coast Guard—and for which Hunter himself has gone to bat.
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