Despite widespread attention to dubious claims about his personal story, Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., remains a member of Congress. But with the Nov. 16 release of a scathing House Ethics Committee report, Santos’ days in the House may be numbered.
The committee report found “overwhelming evidence of his misconduct,” including several matters it referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The referrals go beyond the charges Santos was already facing in federal court, including counts of wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, false statements, records falsification, identity theft and conspiracy. Santos has pleaded not guilty to all charges; a trial is scheduled for September.
After the committee released its report, Santos said he would not run for reelection. The report also accelerated House lawmakers’ efforts to expel him, which would take a two-thirds majority.
As journalists dedicated to determining what is true and false in politics, we at PolitiFact were struck by how much the committee’s report addressed not just possible criminal and ethical violations by Santos but his falsehoods as well.
The 64-page document uses a variation on the word “lie” nine times, and a variation on the word “false” more than 30 times.
“A fundamental tenet of government service is that public office is a public trust,” the report said, concluding that Santos “cannot be trusted.”
The committee added that “while it is not uncommon for committee investigations to involve multiple allegations and a pattern of misconduct, the sheer scope of the violations at issue here is highly unusual and damning. … Most significantly, Rep. Santos’ fraud on the electorate is ongoing — he continues to propound falsehoods and misrepresentations rather than take responsibility for his actions.”
Here, we’ll take a closer look at what the report said about Santos’ problems with the truth.
Santos’ dubious personal story
Earlier this year, we covered the breadth of Santos’ questionable claims about his personal background. We found that he only rarely acknowledged fabrications or falsehoods; instead, he mostly reiterated them or ignored any questions about their veracity.
In most cases, lying about one’s background would be outside the Ethics Committee’s purview. But the committee’s report recapped Santos’ litany of apparent fabrications, adding its voice to those who have said they are false.
“Rep. Santos’ congressional campaigns were built around his backstory as a successful man of means: a grandson of Holocaust survivors and graduate from Baruch College with a Master’s in Business Administration from New York University, who went on to work at CitiGroup and Goldman Sachs, owned multiple properties, and was the beneficiary of a family trust worth millions of dollars left by his mother, who passed years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a result of long-term health effects related to being at one of the towers.
“No part of that backstory has been found to be true.”
These falsehoods, the committee found, were a gateway into more serious acts.
“Rep. Santos’ ‘omissions’ are more than just embellishments intended to cover up his embarrassment about not having the academic pedigree he claimed,” the panel wrote. “His missing disclosures hid his disreputable business dealings that coincided with his campaign for Congress.”
Falsehoods about money
Much of the report addressed problems with the mandatory campaign finance disclosure forms that Santos and his campaign filed. The investigators found “systemic errors and omissions” that it concluded were “part of an overall scheme to avoid transparency.”
For instance, the report noted a financial disclosure form in which Santos said he owned an apartment in Brazil; a checking account worth as much as $250,000; a savings account worth between $1 million and $5 million; and ownership of the Devolder Organization, a company worth between $1 million and $5 million. None of these claims were close to accurate.
The committee interviewed several witnesses who said Santos would “boast of significant wealth and claim to have access to a ‘trust’ managed by a ‘family firm’” when in fact he “was frequently in debt, had an abysmal credit score, and relied on an ever-growing wallet of high-interest credit cards to fund his luxury spending habits.”
The report added that Santos “referenced a background in finance as part of his qualifications for election to the House. That background was largely fictional.”
Santos’ lack of candor during investigation was ‘just another fraud’
The report didn’t just take Santos to task for failing to provide a full accounting to the committee; it also accused him of lying when he said he would cooperate.
“Shortly after the committee announced that it had impaneled (a subcommittee) to review allegations relating to Rep. Santos, he told news outlets: ‘I’m going to comply 100% with’ the committee’s investigation,” the report said. But “despite his public assurances, Rep. Santos provided limited documents … often following lengthy delays.”
The report characterized this as “clear” evidence that Santos’ promise to cooperate with the investigation “was just another falsehood.”
The report also knocked Santos for claiming the committee never told him to correct his financial disclosure filings. The report said the committee had told him clearly that he should do so.
“This is just another fraud on the electorate,” the report said.
Dishonesty to his staff
The report details multiple instances in which Santos was dishonest with his staff.
During his campaign, his team presented him with a 141-page “vulnerability report” that flagged numerous concerns about his personal and financial background.
“As a result of the report, Rep. Santos was encouraged by his campaign staff to drop out of the race and, when he refused, three staffers quit his campaign altogether,” the report said. “This was a key moment wherein Rep. Santos could have put an end to all the lies he told, or at a minimum, taken steps to correct the record about his background and personal and campaign finances. Instead, he downplayed the significance of the report,” telling his aides that it was inaccurate.
One particularly bold claim concerned a sports car. “At no point does Rep. Santos appear to have owned a Maserati, despite telling campaign staff otherwise,” the report said.
The committee concluded that despite such statements, Santos’ aides eventually became wise to his ways: “Members of Rep. Santos’ own campaign staff viewed him as a ‘fabulist’ whose penchant for telling lies was so concerning that he was encouraged to seek treatment.”
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.