Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., pleaded not guilty in federal court Wednesday to 13 criminal counts, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House of Representatives.
Santos was arraigned in Central Islip, N.Y., after surrendering to federal authorities there earlier Wednesday afternoon. He was released on $500,000 bond, and his next court date was set for June 30. Santos could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse after the arraignment, Santos said he has "plenty of evidence" proving his innocence and vowed to clear his name.
"This is a witch hunt," Santos said, adding that he has no plans to resign — and still intends to run for reelection.
Here’s everything we know about the charges and what led to his arrest.
What’s in the indictment?
The charges, which were filed in the Eastern District of New York by the Justice Department and unsealed Wednesday, include seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives. Prosecutors allege that Santos solicited campaign funds under false pretenses and used the money for personal expenses, including designer clothes and credit card and car payments. They also allege he stole pandemic unemployment money.
Federal investigators had been probing fraud allegations stemming from the 34-year-old freshman congressman’s campaign finances, a credit card scheme and a pet charity he used to run.
“This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself. He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic.”
A litany of lies and falsehoods
Even before he was sworn into Congress, the Long Island Republican had faced calls to resign from both Republicans and Democrats over the numerous lies he has told about his biography.
Included among the lies and accusations, he:
Said he was Jewish and that his grandparents had escaped the Holocaust before revising his statement to say he was Catholic but “Jew-ish.”
Claimed he had degrees from Baruch College and New York University before conceding he had not graduated from any college. He also said he attended the elite Horace Mann preparatory school, something the school could find no records to support.
Said in an interview that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., told him “something to the effects of, ‘Hang in there, buddy’ or something like that” at the State of the Union. Sinema’s office told Yahoo News that statement was a lie.
Allegedly stole $3,000 from a GoFundMe fundraiser meant to go to a dying service dog owned by a disabled veteran.
Was charged for writing bad checks to dog breeders in Pennsylvania. Those charges were later dropped but the lawyer who represented Santos at the time told Politico that she no longer believes his claim that his checkbook was stolen.
Claimed his mother was present at the World Trade Center for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack while immigration records show she was not in the country at the time. Santos had said that the attacks claimed his mother’s life, although she died in 2016.
Told a judge he worked at Goldman Sachs when he did not.
Actually worked at Harbor City Capital, which has been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of operating a Ponzi scheme.
Reaction to the charges on Capitol Hill
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that Santos deserved to have his "day in court" and that he would wait for the outcome.
McCarthy had previously refused to join members of his caucus who called for Santos to resign, saying he would allow the House Ethics Committee to conclude its own investigation into Santos’s conduct. Santos supported McCarthy’s lengthy bid for the speakership, voting for him all 15 times.
At a press conference Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., argued that Santos is innocent until proven guilty.
“He was already removed from all his committees,” Scalise said. “In America, there is a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”
But other Republicans said Wednesday that they’ve seen enough.
“Oh, absolutely,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., told reporters when asked if he thought Santos should resign. “It’s a distraction. And it’s a punchline for a lot of commentary regarding the Republican Party that we don’t need.”
“He needs to go right away,” Rep. Nicholas LaLota, R-N.Y., said. “I hope that he resigns. I want to concentrate on things like the border, China and debt. He’s a complete embarrassment.”
Fellow New York Republican Rep. Mike Lawler agreed, telling CNN: “I reiterate my call that he should resign.”
“We owe the American people answers,” Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., told CNN. “The ethics committee needs to act on it now.”
Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, of Texas, echoed calls for Santos to resign on Twitter, writing: “The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress. George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date.”
Other Republicans argued that whether Santos remains in Congress should be up to the voters in his district to decide, with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer saying, “his constituents will deal with whatever issue.”
The news of Santos’s arrest also prompted reaction from Democrats on the Hill.
“The party of George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene cannot be trusted to govern,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “Not now. Not ever.”
The Republican-led House could choose to expel Santos from his seat at any time with a two-thirds vote, which would trigger a special election in New York's 3rd Congressional District, which President Biden won in 2020.
That means his replacement — likely a Democrat — could threaten to cut into the thin GOP majority McCarthy is presiding over.