George Santos is set to be sworn into office on Tuesday afternoon along with other members of the 118th Congress, amid roiling controversy regarding a string of falsehoods and fabrications he told about himself to propel his congressional campaign.
Santos, who will represent the 3rd Congressional District covering parts of Nassau County and Queens, faces the threat of multiple investigations. Over the holiday weekend, prosecutors in Brazil pledged to reopen a 2008 check cashing fraud case involving Santos, The New York Times reported.
Some Republicans who make up New York’s congressional delegation have voiced concerns about the inconsistencies, though they’ve stopped short of calling for Santos’ resignation. Others, like Rep. Elise Stefanik, the head of the House Republican Conference who campaigned heavily on Santos’ behalf, have remained silent, Gothamist reported.
Here’s what you need to know.
What did Santos lie about?
Santos lied about his religion, where he went to school, where he worked, running a nonprofit, and employing four people who were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting, to name a few. Here’s a list. He’s made other dubious claims that are difficult to confirm or disprove — such as being mugged on the way to pay back rent, that he had a brain tumor, and that his mother passed away from cancer related to the 9/11 attacks.
How did no one catch this, say, before the election?
Actually, some people did. Reporters at the local Long Island weekly paper The North Shore Leader covered a lot of these irregularities a month ahead of the election. The paper wrote that it wanted to endorse a Republican but instead picked his opponent Robert Zimmerman. It went on to call Santos “bizarre, unprincipled and sketchy” and dubbed him “Scam-tos.” But their reporting went largely unnoticed. Following all the revelations about Santos, the publication ran another op-ed titled “The Leader told you so.”
Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said the situation makes everyone look bad.
“It’s embarrassing for the Republicans, but it’s also embarrassing for the Democrats. I think there should be questions about New York state Democratic leadership across the board,” Greer said. “At what level or levels did this ball get dropped?”
In an interview with Jay Jacobs, the head of New York state’s Democratic Party, Jacobs defended the party’s handling of the congressional race, saying oppositional research had dug up some inconsistencies about Santos’ involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots.
Zimmerman, who lost by 20,420 votes, said the research had raised some concerns about Santos’ biography, but wasn’t able to paint the full picture that the Times had.
“Opposition researchers are not investigative journalists, they’re not private eyes,” he told Gothamist. “A campaign can’t hire a genealogist and dispatch people to go to Brazil.”
Zimmerman said his campaign had a hard time convincing national outlets that the race was competitive and merited further scrutiny.
How has Santos responded when confronted about biographical inconsistencies?
Santos has granted a handful of interviews to City & State, The New York Post, and Fox News since the Dec. 19 Times investigation. In those interviews he admitted to certain inaccuracies and résumé embellishments but remained defiant, accusing critics of nitpicking.
Federal prosecutors are reportedly examining the case. So are the district attorneys in Queens and Nassau Counties. Authorities in Brazil had reportedly reopened the old criminal case against him. New York Attorney General Letitia James has promised to look into the situation. There are concerns about campaign finance irregularities, where he got a sudden windfall of thousands of dollars in income, and the source of a $700,000 loan he made to his congressional campaign.
Can he just report for work as usual?
The House has the power to expel its own members if it finds they engage in “disorderly behavior,” but that’s only ever happened five times in U.S. history.
In order for an expulsion to occur, two-thirds of the body’s members would have to support ousting Santos, but it is hard to imagine Republicans would get behind this given their narrow majority. Alternatively, the House could censure or reprimand Santos, which registers members’ disappointment and frustration, but allows him to continue serving in Congress. That process would be spearheaded by the House’s ethics committee — the only true bipartisan committee — but would likely drag out over months. The ethics committee also faces an uncertain future as Republicans are poised to push for a slate of changes that could effectively gut the office.
“The quickest outcome is he resigns as part of a plea bargain,” Rep. Ritchie Torres told Gothamist. “Even if he's arrested or indicted it does not immediately result in his expulsion from the institution. He could cling on. He could be calculating that it's in his interest to wait for a plea bargain.”