Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming House Democratic leader, on Wednesday accused Representative-elect George Santos of being a “complete and utter fraud,” as a new report cast doubt on Mr. Santos’s account of his Jewish descent.
“His whole life. Made up,” Mr. Jeffries said at a news conference in Washington. “Did you perpetrate a fraud on voters of the Third Congressional District of New York?”
Hours before Mr. Jeffries spoke, The Forward, a Jewish publication based in New York City, reported that Mr. Santos, a Republican, may have misled voters about having Jewish ancestry, a claim he made on his website and in statements during his political campaign.
In his current biography, Mr. Santos says that his mother, Fatima Devolder, was born in Brazil to immigrants who “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”
But according to The Forward — which cited information from myheritage.com, a genealogy website; Brazilian immigration cards; and databases of refugees — Ms. Devolder’s parents seemed to have been born in Brazil before World War II. CNN later published a similar report that also cited interviews with several genealogists.
Ms. Devolder died in 2016, according to an online obituary. Mr. Santos said in a 2020 interview that his family converted to Christianity in Brazil, and on Ms. Devolder’s Facebook page, which links to Mr. Santos’s, she regularly shared Christian imagery and had “liked” numerous Facebook pages associated with Brazil-based Christian organizations.
Mr. Santos’s campaign, his lawyer and a political consulting firm that had been fielding reporter inquiries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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The Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential conservative group that has hosted Mr. Santos and billed him as a Jewish Republican, said that it had reached out to Mr. Santos’s office regarding The Forward’s reporting.
“These allegations, if true, are deeply troubling,” the coalition’s director, Matt Brooks, said. “Given their seriousness, the congressman-elect owes the public an explanation, and we look forward to hearing it.”
Mr. Santos, whose victory in a district covering parts of Long Island and Queens helped his party secure a narrow majority in the House next year, has not directly answered questions about his background raised by an article in The New York Times earlier this week.
The Times’s report found that Mr. Santos may have misled voters about key details of his résumé that were on his campaign website at various points during his two bids for Congress, including his college graduation and his purported career on Wall Street.
It also found that Mr. Santos did not include key details about his business, the Devolder Organization, on financial disclosure forms. The Devolder Organization, which was registered in 2021 in Florida, had been dissolved by state officials in September after it failed to file an annual report. On Tuesday, Mr. Santos filed paperwork to reinstate it.
The claim that Mr. Santos’s maternal grandparents fled Jewish persecution was added to his campaign website sometime between April and October, according to a review of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. An earlier version of Mr. Santos’s biography said simply that Mr. Santos’s maternal grandparents “fled the devastation of World War II Europe.”
Though Mr. Santos has identified as Catholic, he has more often trumpeted his Jewish heritage on the campaign trail, even as he described himself as a nonobservant Jew. As early as June 2020, when he was making his first bid for Congress, he wrote on Twitter that he was the “grandson of Holocaust refugees.”
In his remarks in Washington, Mr. Jeffries did not address the new questions about Mr. Santos’s heritage. But he said that The Times’s reporting left him with doubts as to Mr. Santos’s suitability for office that he believed the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy, needed to address.
“It’s an open question to me as to whether this is the type of individual that the incoming majority should welcome to Congress,” Mr. Jeffries said.
Mr. McCarthy, the top House Republican, who is trying to shore up support for his bid to become the House’s next speaker, has not commented on The Times’s findings.
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy has not responded to emails or phone calls about Mr. Santos, who voiced his support for Mr. McCarthy’s potential speakership hours after The Times warned him of its report on Sunday night.
Legal experts have said it is unlikely that the House of Representatives could deny Mr. Santos his seat in Congress. There are procedures that allow losing candidates to contest the results of a House election. But a Supreme Court decision in 1969 limited the House from preventing candidates from taking office unless they did not meet the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements.
Some Democrats and government watchdog groups have called for further investigation of Mr. Santos’s past claims and financial disclosure forms, either by the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics or by federal prosecutors.
Representative-elect Dan Goldman, a Democrat from New York City and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said in an interview on Wednesday that he believed there were two possible federal crimes that prosecutors should investigate.
The first issue, he said, was whether Mr. Santos had willfully and intentionally made false statements in his financial disclosure forms. Such a violation, he said, would require investigators to make sure that there was a clear and knowing intent to omit or misrepresent information.
“As someone who had to make those disclosures, they’re done under penalty of perjury,” Mr. Goldman said.
But Mr. Goldman, who was the chief investigator in the first impeachment case against former President Donald J. Trump, said that he believed the authorities should explore whether Mr. Santos’s apparent misstatements could be considered part of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Such a charge would be an aggressive approach, Mr. Goldman said. (It was used on Monday by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol against Mr. Trump, whom Mr. Santos has previously backed.)
Prosecutors would need to prove that Mr. Santos had interfered with a federal election by willfully disseminating misinformation, and that he had worked with others to do so.
“I think it’s worthy of investigation to see whether his efforts to repeatedly and pervasively lie about pretty much anything rises to the level of an effort to defraud the voters of his district to vote for him,” Mr. Goldman said.
Michael Gold and Grace Ashford