The biography of newly elected Congress member George Santos seemed quite impressive. The 34-year-old son of immigrants had graduated from Baruch College, a public college in New York, before going on to work at firms like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Santos eventually became a successful financier who started an animal rescue charity. The problem is that biography was apparently a lie, and now he might be facing not only political consequences but legal consequences for his wholesale inventions.
As revealed in the New York Times on December 19, it wasn’t just that Santos exaggerated his résumé — he had allegedly invented it out of whole cloth.
The Times found that he apparently did not graduate from Baruch College, he did not work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, there were no records of him being a successful financier, nor were there of him registering his animal rescue charity. The Times also found that he had been charged with check fraud in Brazil.
Further, a number of outlets have found no evidence of Santos’s repeated claims to be Jewish, to have Jewish heritage, or to be descended from refugees fleeing the Holocaust. Santos even described himself at one point as a “proud American Jew” in a campaign position paper.
In a media tour with friendly outlets on December 26, Santos admitted to putting “a little bit of fluff” on his résumé. In other words, he conceded that he never graduated from college, never worked for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, and wasn’t Jewish (though he claimed to be “Jew-ish”). Santos brushed off lying about basic biographical information as embellishment, and he pushed back on the Times’s reporting about his criminal charge in Brazil. “I am not a criminal,” he told the New York Post.
The story has sparked one of the more bizarre political scandals in American history. Members of Congress have committed murder in office. In fact, a member of Congress has even killed another member of Congress. Even in the present day, we’ve seen every scandal under the sun, from Anthony Weiner tweeting a lewd picture of himself, to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s infamous Facebook post about Jewish space lasers. But it’s hard to think of a precedent for a scandal like this.
Who is George Santos?
There are some things we know about Santos. The openly gay son of Brazilian immigrants, he was elected in November to an open congressional seat that includes a thin slice of Queens and much of the North Shore of Long Island in Nassau County. Santos defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. This represented a major swing from 2020 when Biden had won the district by the same margin. That year, Santos ran against incumbent Tom Suozzi in a similar district and lost handily by a margin of 56 percent to 43.5 percent.
The representative-elect is also an ardent Trump supporter — so much so that he was at Trump’s Ellipse rally on January 6, 2021, and has repeatedly falsely claimed that the former president won the 2020 election.
Also, for all his alleged lying about his résumé, it is clear that one company Santos worked at, Harbor City Capital, has been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of being a Ponzi scheme. As for Santos’s other employment, he did spend a stint as a Portuguese language customer service agent for DISH Network a decade ago.
What don’t we know?
We don’t know a lot. This ranges from basic facts about Santos’s biography to details about his dealings with the Brazilian criminal justice system, and everything in between, including where he actually lives.
But most importantly, we don’t know where Santos’s money comes from. The Representative-elect loaned his own campaign $700,000 during the 2022 cycle and claimed an income of $750,000. He also listed millions of dollars in assets including an apartment in Rio De Janeiro worth up to $1 million and a seven-figure savings account. It’s a major shift in fortune for someone who was evicted twice, in 2015 and 2017, for failing to pay rent and had been taken to court for not paying debts. Even in 2020, he reported income in only one category — compensation in excess of $5,000 paid by one source — with no other assets.
Santos initially provided no information on his finances on his media tour, except to concede that he owned no property. He had previously claimed on Twitter to be a landlord who owned 13 properties. The representative-elect eventually claimed in an interview with Semafor that his newfound wealth came from “capital introduction” where he helped broker deals for the wealthy. Santos used a yacht sale as an example of how he earned a living, “If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000.”
What happens now?
Santos is already being investigated by federal and local prosecutors while the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James has been “looking into some of the issues that have come out.” Further, a complaint has been filed with the Federal Election Commission by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center alleging Santos illegally hid the source of the money he loaned his campaign through a straw donor scheme and other alleged violations, including whether he used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.
Dan Goldman, a fellow representative-elect from New York and a former prosecutor, has suggested that Santos face criminal investigation for conspiracy to defraud the United States as well as filing false statements to the Federal Election Commission.
In an interview with Vox, Goldman shied away from weighing in on whether Santos should be denied his seat in Congress. “I think the bigger question is not whether I think George Santos should be a member of Congress. The bigger question is whether Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership think that George Santos should be a member of Congress.”
A number of Santos’s Republican colleagues have expressed concerns as well. He has already been subject to criticism from several newly elected New York Congress members including Mike Lawler and Nick LaLota. One Republican member of Congress has come to his defense, though: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
However, as of now, McCarthy needs Santos almost as much as Santos needs McCarthy. McCarthy only became Speaker by the skin of his teeth on the 15th ballot. With a narrow majority — and the likelihood of frequent member absences now that that the House has gotten rid of proxy voting — McCarthy needs every vote he can get.
Further, because Santos represents one of the most Democratic seats in Congress held by a Republican, forcing him to resign under any circumstance is risky. It would be a difficult seat for a Republican to hold in a special election and a loss would further imperil an already slim GOP majority.
In the meantime, it’s a matter of waiting for the next shoe to drop. As unsustainable as the current status quo might seem, the only impetus right now for Santos to resign would be a sense of shame, and it seems unlikely that he carries that burden.
Update, January 9, 3:35 pm ET: This story was originally published on December 21 and has been updated as more details have been reported about Santos’s background.