NEW YORK – Republican Rep.-elect George Santos of New York, who is accused of lying about large swaths of his background and accomplishments, will have to wait to add one thing with certainty to his resume: U.S. congressman.
Santos arrived in Washington to be sworn in Tuesday, but his swearing-in was delayed after Republicans who control the House failed in multiple rounds of voting to elect a speaker. Incoming members cannot be sworn in until a speaker is chosen.
Santos, who faces a spiral of investigations from federal and local prosecutors into his campaign spending and lies about his family history, resume and education, declined to respond to questions from reporters inside and outside the Capitol, including one question about whether he planned to resign. Santos sat by himself on the Republican side of the House floor during Tuesday's votes, largely keeping to himself and looking at his phone.
He joined most Republicans in backing Kevin McCarthy for speaker, but McCarthy fell short of the majority needed to claim the gavel. Voting ended for the day after three rounds Tuesday and was set to resume Wednesday.
Initially, the victory by Santos, an openly gay Republican who flipped a Long Island House seat held by Democrats for a decade, was seen as one of his party's bright spots in an otherwise underwhelming midterm election. But as reports began to emerge that he had lied about having Jewish ancestry, a career at top Wall Street firms and a college degree, Santos turned into a distraction and embarrassment to the party as it prepares to take control of the House.
While some fellow Republicans have called for ethics investigations or for Santos to resign, GOP House leaders, including McCarthy, have notably remained silent. For his part, Santos apologized for his fabrications but downplayed them as “sins” over embellishing his resume, telling The New York Post that “we do stupid things in life.”
Santos' financial disclosure forms show that he accrued a quick fortune despite recent financial problems and that he spent large amounts of campaign funds on travel and hotels.
Federal prosecutors in New York have started to examine Santos’ background and his financial dealings, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The New York attorney general’s office said it’s looking into the allegations surrounding Santos, while local district attorneys’ offices in Queens and Long Island have also said they are reviewing whether Santos broke any laws.
Court records in Brazil, first uncovered by The New York Times, show Santos was the subject of a criminal charge for using two stolen checks in 2008, when he would have been 19, to buy about $1,350 worth of items at a clothing shop in the city of Niteroi, including a pair of sneakers that he gave to a friend.
Santos in a signed confession admitted having stolen the checkbook of his mother’s former employer from her purse and making purchases, according to court documents reviewed by the AP.
A judge accepted the charges against Santos in 2011, but subsequent subpoenas for him to appear personally or present a written defense went unanswered. With authorities repeatedly unable to determine his whereabouts, the case was suspended in 2013. But in a statement on Tuesday, state prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro said now that Santos’ location is known they will petition to reopen the case. The state courts are in recess until Friday.
Democrats in Congress are expected to pursue several avenues against Santos, including a potential complaint with the Federal Election Commission and introducing a resolution to expel him once he’s a sitting member.
Until 2020, Santos had no assets and an income of $55,000 from LinkBridge Investors, according to financial disclosure statements filed with the clerk of the House.
Two years later, in a similar filing, Santos reported income between $1 million and $5 million for each of 2022 and 2021 — all coming from the Devolder Organization, of which he had total interest. He described the entity as a “capital intro consulting company.”
Federal campaign records show that he loaned his campaign more than $700,000.
The North Shore Leader, a newspaper on Long Island, raised questions before the election about Santos’ finances and campaign spending, a report that drew little notice at the time. In announcing it was endorsing his opponent, the newspaper cited Santos’ behavior and called him “sketchy” and “most likely just a fabulist — a fake.”
But his statements about his background, his financial disclosures and campaign spending didn’t attract widespread attention until December, when The New York Times examined the narrative that Santos presented to voters during his campaign.
Since then, Santos has admitted lying about working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as having earned a degree in finance and economics from Baruch College in New York.
Beyond his resume, Santos invented a life story that has also come under question, including claims that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”
During his campaign, he referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”
He backtracked on that claim, saying he never intended to claim Jewish heritage, which might have raised his appeal among his district’s significant ranks of Jewish voters.
“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos told the Post. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington, Bobby Caina Calvan in New York and David Biller and Diane Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.