DemDaily: Santos Scandal. The Con is Up!

May 11, 2023

Republican Congressman George Santos has been indicted on 13 federal crimes, setting off the next chapter in the bizarre story of the embattled freshman.

The scandal-ridden congressman from New York's Third Congressional District has been plagued by allegations of blatantly falsifying his resume, as well as questionable business, campaign and personal expenditures since winning the seat in November.

On Wednesday, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York indicted Santos on seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the US House.

This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations. Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself. He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives." - US Attorney Breon Peace

An ardent Trump supporter and 2020 election denier, Santos spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally the day before the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol -- claiming that, like Trump, he was the victim of voter fraud.

Santos had unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Thomas Suozzi (D) in 2020, losing 43.5% to 56%. After 2020 redistricting, Suozzi chose to retire and Santos and Democrat Rob Zimmerman faced off in the new 3rd CD in 2022. Santos unexpectedly won the North Long Island-based seat 53.8% to 46.2%.

Six weeks after his 2022 victory, several news outlets reported that large parts of Santos' self-published biography appeared to be false, fabricating his education, employment and income, among other decrepancies. It was subsequently revealed that a vulnerability study commissioned by Santos' own campaign in late 2021 confirmed the same deceptions later reported in the press.

That included evidence of Santos' past criminal record and aliases, which were first reported to national Republican leadership in 2020. They were ignored, however, by then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Congresswoman, now-House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (NY), who helped him raise funds for his second run for Congress.

Despite calls for his resignation from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Santos has remained defiant, benefitting from the support of the GOP House leadership who rely on Santos's vote to support their narrow Republican majority.

Santos was assigned to the Small Business, and Science, Space and Technology Committees, but on January 31 “temporarily” recused himself from committees until “things get settled.” It was only after a sexual harassment claim was added to the list of Santos' purported criminal and ethical violations that the House finally acted.

On March 2, 2023, the US House Ethics Committee announced its unanimous decision to establish a subcommittee to investigate whether Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”

member of Congress may be removed upon a two-thirds vote by their colleagues. Since the Civil War era, only two members have been formally expelled: Michael Myers (D-PA) in 1980, after conviction for bribery, and Jim Traficant (D-OH) in 2002. after conviction for bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. At least seven others have resigned rather than face certain expulsion from their colleagues.

Santos was released on a $500,000 bond, ordered to surrender his passport, and must receive permission to travel outside of Washington, DC, New York City and Long Island. He is due back in federal court on June 30, where prosecutors will reveal any new charges steming from their ongoing investigation.

In addition to the US Attorney's case and Ethics Committee probe, Santos is facing numerous investigations and/or potential prosecutions by the Nassau County District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General, the Queens District Attorney, Federal Election Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Internal Revenue Service, and Brazilian authorities.

Throughout the unfolding scandal, Speaker McCarthy has refused to call for Santos' resignation, deferring to the legal outcome. After yesterday's indictment, however, McCarthy amended his stance to say he will not support Santos' reelection effort, and if the Ethics Committee determines Santos broke the law, he would call for him to resign.

Santos, who has admitted only to lying about his education and employment, took a page from the Trump playbook, decrying the indictment as part of a “witch hunt,” and confirming he is planning to run for re-election.

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: NPR, CNN, US Attorneys office, New York Times, Time

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