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George Santos’s Problems Are Just Getting Started

It’s not a lie if you believe it?
December 23, 2022
George Santos’s Problems Are Just Getting Started
New York Congressman-Elect George Santos looks on after speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Annual Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 19, 2022. The meeting comes on the heels of former President Donald Trump becoming the first candidate to declare his intention to seek the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential race. (Photo by David Becker for the Washington Post)

The seemingly never-ending revelations of how newly elected Congressman George Santos invented much of his resumé, accomplishments, and identity out of thin air, are likely to become the subject of ethics probes and investigations.

Santos, who handily defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November thanks to Republicans’ over-performance in New York, has created significant problems for Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, the House Ethics Committee, and the Republican Conference as a whole. What is there to be done with a member of Congress who has apparently fabricated so much of his life and background?

Historically speaking, the House and Senate ethics committees have not typically probed lawmakers for actions conducted prior to serving in Congress. That precedent recently changed, when the House Ethics Committee went after then-Nevada Democrat Ruben Kihuen.

BuzzFeed News first reported in late 2017 accusations that Kihuen had repeatedly sexually harassed and made advances on a campaign staffer prior to being elected. These allegations came to light after he had already been serving in Congress for nearly a year.

The allegations prompted an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which until that point had traditionally avoided probes into activities conducted by lawmakers before they came to Congress.

The Ethics Committee concluded that Kihuen engaged in inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. Kihuen’s case occurred at the height of the Me Too movement, which could explain the reason for Congress jumping in to investigate pre-congressional activities.

In the end, Kihuen refused to resign despite widespread calls by his colleagues; instead he decided to not seek reelection in 2018.

The allegations against Kihuen differ from the Santos’ situation, but provide insight into how House watchdogs might address one of their incoming members being a serial fabulist.

Outside of Congress, New York Attorney General Leitita James said Thursday she intends to investigate some of Santos’ inflated background.

Santos’ particular case is truly unprecedented. Members of Congress are caught lying all the time, but never for fabricating so much of their identity and personal history.

Lying isn’t usually a crime. (Though there are exceptions for perjury and fraud.) Many of Santos’ alleged misrepresentations, such as his education and work history, that his employees were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting, or that his family fled Nazi Germany, are inactionable by any authoritative body.

Where Santos’ pattern of misleading and outright dishonesty could become more serious is in his highly irregular financial disclosures.

Santos ran a failed campaign in 2020, during which he filed a financial disclosure declaring virtually no assets and a salary of $55,000. In his 2022 campaign, his disclosure claimed a $750,000 salary and several million in assets, including an apartment in Brazil valued at nearly $1million.

These massive jumps in income and assets have not been explained or documented. In both financial disclosures, Santos signed statements that his claims were “true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

Whether that massive jump in income is accurate has yet to be determined, but can be cause for further investigation. Lying on official documents can bring legal scrutiny in ways that fake Winston Churchill quotes do not.

Beyond investigations, Santos puts Republican leadership in a bind over whether to keep him for their slim majority, or force him out and risk New York’s 3rd District falling back into Democratic hands. A special election in a district that could swing in the opposite direction is a major risk for Republicans trying to hold onto their newfound (and narrow) control of the House.

So far, McCarthy has ignored questions on Santos from reporters in the Capitol.

But there might be more answers after Christmas. Santos has vowed to clear things up, writing on Twitter “I have my story to tell and it will be told next week.”

“I want to assure everyone that I will address your questions and that I remain committed to deliver the results I campaigned on; Public safety, Inflation, Education & more,” he added. “Happy Holidays to all!”

Anything short of a full, detailed, and documented explanation is unlikely to stave off investigations.

Joe Perticone

Joe Perticone is national political reporter at The Bulwark. Follow him on Twitter: @JoePerticone. He can be reached at: [email protected]