Just months after taking office, embattled Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has been charged with at least one federal offense, a source familiar with the investigation.
The federal investigation into Santos’ behavior has been handled by the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
Before winning office as a freshman last November, Santos lied about his professional accomplishments, his education and his family’s history.
Once the deceptions were made public, Santos faced growing controversy and calls for his resignation.
Critics have also questioned how he raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for his political campaign.
Phone calls to Santos’ congressional offices and to his attorney went unanswered Tuesday evening. Santos also hasn’t commented on Twitter.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declined to say whether he would move to push Santos from office.
“I’ll look at the charges,” McCarthy said.
Santos, who represents communities on Long Island and in Queens, previously gave up all committee assignments because of the scandals he faces.
Santos, who has previously admitted to “embellishing” his resume, has repeatedly denied any criminal wrongdoing.
Separate probes are also underway by the Nassau County district attorney in New York and the House Ethics Committee in Washington, D.C.
The New York Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street background, college degrees and a history as a star volleyball player. Serious questions about his finances also surfaced — including the source of what he claimed was a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands of dollars in back rent.
Santos has resisted calls to resign and recently announced he was running for reelection. He said his lies about his life story, which included telling people he had jobs at several global financial firms and a lavish real estate portfolio, were harmless embellishments of his resume.
Pressure on him to quit, though, has been intense. Reporters and members of the public hounded him. He was mocked on social media and late-night television. Fellow New York Republicans demanded he resign, saying he had betrayed voters and his own party with his lies.
Nassau County prosecutors and the New York attorney general’s office had previously said they were looking into possible violations of the law.
Besides questions about his life story, Santos’ campaign spending stoked scrutiny because of unusual payments for travel, lodging and other items.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and urged regulators to investigate Santos. The “mountain of lies” Santos propagated during the campaign about his life story and qualifications, the center said, should prompt the commission to “thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money.”
In his filings with the FEC, Santos initially said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000 — money he claimed came from a family company.
Yet, the wealth necessary to make those loans seems to have emerged from nowhere. In a financial disclosure statement filed with the clerk of the U.S. House in 2020, Santos said he had no assets and an annual income of $55,000.
His company, the Devolder Organization, wasn’t incorporated until spring 2021. Yet last September, Santos filed another financial disclosure form reporting that this new company, incorporated in Florida, had paid him a $750,000 salary in each of the last two years, plus another $1 million to $5 million in dividends. In one interview, Santos described the Devolder Organization as a business that helped rich people buy things like yachts and aircraft.
Court records indicate Santos was the subject of three eviction proceedings in Queens between 2014 and 2017 because of unpaid rent.
Some Republicans, including those in his district, have sharply castigated Santos for his dishonesty. The Nassau County Republican Committee, which had supported his candidacy, said it would not support Santos for reelection.
Santos has admitted to making some misleading claims about his education and financial status, but continues to deny the more serious allegations.
During his victorious campaign last year, Santos ran according to the Republican midterm playbook, hammering his Democratic opponent over crime and inflation. The message resonated in the New York suburbs, where GOP candidates flipped four seats on their way to winning a narrow House majority.
But as Santos’ past came under closer scrutiny, with large chunks of his official biography revealed to be conjured from nothing, he increasingly adapted the persona of a right-wing troll.
He played up his support for former President Donald Trump and once claimed that Democrats were “trying to ban toilet paper.”
Can remain in Congress
The charges do not, from a legal standpoint, affect Santos’ status as a member of Congress. Nothing in the Constitution’s requirements for congressional office bars individuals under criminal indictment or conviction from serving, except for the 14th Amendment prohibitions for certain treasonous conduct committed after a member has taken the oath of office.
Under the formal rules for the US House of Representatives, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “an indicted Member may continue to participate in congressional proceedings and considerations.”
However, if a member is convicted of a crime that could result in a punishment of two or more years in prison, they are instructed under House rules not to participate in votes on the floor or in committee votes.
McCarthy, when asked whether he would continue to stand by Santos Tuesday his policy is that a member of Congress should resign after being found guilty of charges and referenced former GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned after being convicted of concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities in connection with a probe into illegal campaign contributions.
“Just like we had before with Jeff Fortenberry, he had the same ability, I removed him from committees, but he was found guilty and then I told him he needed to resign. That is my policies and principles on this,” McCarthy said
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