WASHINGTON — Darrell Issa, the former nine-term congressman from California, will try to return to Congress by challenging Representative Duncan Hunter, who was indicted last year, setting up a clash among two Trump allies for one of Republicans’ most endangered seats.
Mr. Issa is expected to announce his challenge at a news conference on Thursday morning in the San Diego County district, according to two sources familiar with his decision. He had been publicly mulling for months whether to make a bid to return to Congress, and started an exploratory committee in August.
“I have received such a tremendous outpouring of encouragement from supporters inside the district, and around the state and across the nation,” Mr. Issa said in August in a statement posted to the committee’s website.
Mr. Issa will likely bill himself to Republicans as a safer alternative than the incumbent. Mr. Hunter was indicted last August. He and his wife, Margaret, are accused of spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses — including a vacation to Italy, fast food runs and plane tickets for a pet rabbit — and then lying to the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Hunter has remained defiant and has called the indictment a politically motivated attack. His campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Issa’s looming challenge.
Mr. Hunter, a Trump ally, managed to win re-election last year despite the release of the indictment, a 48-page document that detailed how the Hunters lived beyond their means and in at least two instances used the United States military to justify their spending. He defeated his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, by three points in a district that went for President Trump by 15 points in 2016. Mr. Campa-Najjar has pledged to challenge Mr. Hunter again and win.
Mr. Issa is just the latest Republican planning to challenge Mr. Hunter as California conservatives fear that the incumbent lawmaker will be convicted. Five other candidates, including Carl DeMaio, who hosts a conservative radio talk show and is openly gay, have thrown their hats in the ring, though three of those candidates are expected to appear in support of Mr. Issa on Thursday.
Mr. Issa is perhaps best known in Washington as the hard-charging former chairman of the House Oversight Committee who used his position to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks in Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups and the “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking scandal. In 2018, Mr. Issa announced he would not run for re-election in the 49th congressional district, after narrowly winning against his Democratic challenger in 2016.
President Donald Trump tapped Mr. Issa last September to head the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, but Mr. Issa’s confirmation stalled earlier this month in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the top Democrat on the panel raised concerns about an incident the Federal Bureau of Investigation included in Mr. Issa’s classified background check. That delay, paired with polling released last month showing Mr. DeMaio leading other Republicans, propelled Mr. Issa’s decision to run, according to Republicans familiar with his thinking.