George Santos Dodges Questions as Democrats Label Him ‘Unfit to Serve’
Representative-elect George Santos on Monday faced a barrage of questions, as well as an uncertain future, after an article in The New York Times revealed that he may have misrepresented key parts of his résumé on the campaign trail.
The Times’s report found that Mr. Santos, a Republican whose victory in Long Island and northeast Queens last month helped his party clinch a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, may have misled voters about his college graduation and his purported career on Wall Street and omitted details about his business from financial disclosures forms.
House Republicans and state party leaders were largely silent on Monday. But Joseph G. Cairo Jr., the Nassau County Republican chairman, said in a statement that The Times’s reporting raised “serious” issues that he believed Mr. Santos should address.
“Every person deserves an opportunity to ‘clear’ his/her name in the face of accusations,” Mr. Cairo said. “I am committed to this principle, and I look forward to the congressman-elect’s responses to the news reports.”
Mr. Santos, 34, has declined numerous requests to be interviewed. On Monday evening, he used Twitter to recirculate a short statement that his lawyer, Joseph Murray, had released on Friday, with one small addition. On Monday, Mr. Murray characterized the Times article as a “shotgun blast of attacks,” but did not provide specific criticisms of what he had called The Times’s “defamatory allegations.”
The statement was Mr. Santos’s first public acknowledgment of the questions surrounding his background since Sunday night, when — hours after he had been notified of The Times’s plans to publish its findings — Mr. Santos said on Twitter that he enthusiastically backed Representative Kevin McCarthy of California to be the next House speaker.
Mr. McCarthy has been working to quell an effort by hard-right lawmakers to threaten his bid to become speaker when Republicans take control of the House. He has not addressed Mr. Santos’s remarks or The Times’s reporting. A spokesman did not respond to emails and phone calls asking for an interview.
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Following the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats maintained control of the Senate while Republicans flipped the House.
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Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat of California, questioned on Twitter whether Mr. McCarthy might “strike a corrupt bargain” with Mr. Santos, suggesting that Mr. McCarthy would refrain from taking action against Mr. Santos in exchange for his vote as House speaker.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who will be the House Democrats’ leader when the next Congress begins in January, said in a statement that Mr. Santos was “woefully unqualified” and “clearly unfit to serve.”
But Mr. Jeffries, whose caucus is days away from falling out of power, stopped short of calling for action on the part of Republican leaders, even as some state Democrats pushed for further investigation.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of the government reform group Common Cause, called on Mr. Santos to step down and urged the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics and federal prosecutors to investigate.
With a razor-thin majority, Republicans have few reasons for challenging or investigating Mr. Santos, and many for defending him. If Mr. Santos were to resign, there is no guarantee that a Republican would win a special election to fill his seat.
Mr. Santos, who ran unopposed in his primary this year, was already expected to face a challenging re-election in 2024 in a largely suburban district that, until this year, had recently favored Democrats.
Over the course of his campaigns, Mr. Santos claimed to have graduated from Baruch College in 2010 before working at Citigroup and, eventually, Goldman Sachs. But officials at Baruch said they could find no record of his having graduated that year, and representatives from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs could not locate records of his employment.
Experts in ethics noted that Mr. Santos’s campaign disclosures revealed little about the source of his fortune, in particular failing to name any client who paid more than $5,000 to his company, the Devolder Organization. Such an omission could be problematic if it were to become clear that he had intentionally avoided disclosing his clientele.
Mr. Santos’s candidate disclosures show that he paid himself $750,000 annually, and earned dividends of more than $1 million while running for Congress.
There are several avenues by which an ethics investigation could take place within the House of Representatives, but none would be likely to affect Mr. Santos’s ability to assume office in January.
Any process would require bipartisan cooperation and would be likely to be lengthy. There is also the question of whether the House would claim jurisdiction over behavior that took place before the subject assumed office, though some recent actions suggest that they might be inclined to take a more expansive approach, if the behavior was campaign-related.
Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Party chair, said that Mr. McCarthy should delay seating Mr. Santos pending an investigation. The state party has been under siege since Democrats underperformed in November, particularly on Long Island, and faced new criticism on Monday over its failure to identify or effectively publicize the inconsistencies in Mr. Santos’s résumé before Election Day.
Mr. Jacobs acknowledged that the revelations would have had more impact during the campaign. “The opposition research wasn’t as complete as The Times investigation,” he said, but said that attention would be more appropriately directed at Mr. Santos rather than the party.
Several of Mr. Santos’s future constituents said they were shocked and disappointed at the disclosures of his apparent misrepresentations.
Andres Thaodopoulos, 36, the owner of a Greek restaurant in the Whitestone neighborhood of Queens, said that he did not vote in November, but that he had welcomed Mr. Santos’s promises to fight crime and cut taxes.
“I feel disappointed because the people trust our lives to these leaders,” he said.
On Monday night, after Mr. Santos posted his lawyer’s statement, Mr. Swalwell criticized it for insufficiently addressing the questions raised by The Times’s story, including a criminal case for check fraud in Brazil that officials there said remained unresolved.
Of the 132 words in the statement, Mr. Swalwell said, “not one addresses the mountain of evidence that you’re a wanted international criminal who lied about graduating college and where you worked.”
Others pointed to another seeming inaccuracy. In the last sentence of his statement, Mr. Santos’s lawyer closed with a quote he attributed to Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. It means that you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
According to the fact-checking website PolitiFact, the words probably were not said by Churchill. PolitiFact instead attributed the original sentiment to the French writer Victor Hugo.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.