Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y., refused to answer questions from reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday amid a firestorm of controversy over his stunning admission that he fabricated key parts of his life story.
Wearing a backpack and walking alone through the halls of Congress upon his arrival, Santos did not respond to multiple questions, including whether he felt he was qualified to serve in Congress or how his constituents could trust him given he misrepresented his résumé during the campaign.
Santos avoided the press assembled outside his new office before heading to the House chamber for a leadership vote. The 34-year-old New York Republican had pledged his support for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in his bid to become House speaker and, seated by himself, voted for him in three successive ballots. But McCarthy failed to secure enough votes to become speaker, and the House adjourned for the day before Santos, or any other incoming freshman, was given the oath of office.
Last month, the New York Times published a report suggesting that Santos lied to voters about his college graduation, his criminal and employment history, his family-owned business, his animal rescue charity and his relationship with four victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. The Forward, a New York City-based Jewish publication, subsequently published a report suggesting he had misled voters about having Jewish ancestry.
In an interview with the New York Post, Santos admitted he “embellished” much of his biography. But he also tried to defend himself. (“I never claimed to be Jewish,” he told the Post. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”)
Prosecutors at the county, state and federal level are now looking into his claims.
Santos is also facing an international investigation. On Monday, the Times reported that Brazilian prosecutors were reopening a 2008 case against him for alleged fraud around a stolen checkbook. The matter had been suspended because Rio de Janeiro authorities had been unable to locate him, but a spokesperson said they would be formally requesting that the U.S. Justice Department notify him of the charge. Santos has denied the charge, telling the Post last week, “I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world.”
The other investigations into Santos are likely to focus on his campaign finances. When he ran for a House seat in 2020, he listed an income of $55,000 from LinkBridge Investors and no major assets. In 2022, he listed an income of $750,000 from the Devolder Organization and millions in assets.
Santos told the outlet Semafor that he made his money doing “deal building” and “specialty consulting” for “high net worth individuals,” but didn’t provide the names of any clients. In an interview with City and State New York, he said he had opened his own firm and “it just worked, because I had the relationships, and I started making a lot of money. And I fundamentally started building wealth,” adding, “I decided I’d invest in my race for Congress. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Santos lent his 2022 campaign more than $700,000. He has also attracted scrutiny for receiving tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a Russian businessman with Kremlin ties, while criticizing President Biden’s support for Ukraine in defending itself against Russia’s invasion.
Additionally, Santos admitted to the New York Post that he owed a former landlord thousands of dollars in back rent. The New York Times had reported that a judge ordered him to pay more than $12,000 to the landlord for several months of unpaid rent and that Santos had written a check that bounced. The Times also reported that Santos owes $5,000 to a former roommate.
The North Shore Leader, a Long Island outlet, reported in September that Santos had filed his disclosure 20 months late and with an “inexplicable” rise in his net worth to $11 million. One place where he did actually work recently, Harbor City Capital, was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of operating a Ponzi scheme. The next round of financial disclosure forms for congressional members and their senior staff members is due on May 15.
McCarthy himself has not responded to questions about Santos. But other House Republicans, including Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, were vocal in their disdain.
Comer, the incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, told Fox News on Thursday that he was “pretty confident” that the House Ethics Committee would open an investigation into Santos.
“What Santos has done is a disgrace,” Comer said. “He’s lied to the voters.”