At the end of what was certainly the most chaotic 331 days in Congress, Republican Rep. George Santos of New York was appropriately expelled by his peers after a 311-114 vote Friday morning. He became the sixth member to ever be expelled and only the third since the Civil War.
Good riddance to a phony who has lied to everybody, including the people who elected him.
Santos’ job was in peril even before he was sworn in: On Dec. 19, 2022, five weeks after he was elected, The New York Times dropped a bombshell story detailing just a few of the many lies that we’d soon learn Santos told. According to the Times, he claimed jobs at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, neither of which had records of his ever having worked there. He claimed he graduated from Baruch College in 2010, but the school had no record of him, either. He said he founded a nonprofit called Friends of Pets United, but the IRS had no record of that. He reported a $750,000 salary — from a company with no clients. He claimed his family had made a fortune in real estate, but there were no records backing up that claim. And Brazilian court records showed that he was accused of stealing the checkbook of an elderly man when he was 19 and living in that country.
Days after Santos was sworn in, Santos’ Democratic colleagues from New York, Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres, submitted a written request to the House Ethics Committee requesting an investigation “for violations of the Ethics in Government Act by failing to file timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports as required by law.” The two congressmen would remain at the forefront of the battle to get Santos out, even as interest in the matter appeared to wane.
A combination of institutional factors allowed him to fall through the cracks and seize one of the country’s most prestigious jobs, but the?damning House Ethics Committee report issued just before Thanksgiving was the last straw. Just as quickly as he ascended, he was brought back down to Earth with a thud, and with a criminal trial still awaiting him.
Before becoming a household name, Santos was a 34-year-old from Queens who’d unsuccessfully run for Congress in 2020. Because he was a Republican in the historically Democratic Queens and Long Island district, it didn’t seem like he’d be long for the politics world. But his fortunes changed when the New York congressional district maps were redrawn in 2021. Suddenly the seat was competitive, and Republicans needed a guy. So they tapped Santos, pretty much the only one they had waiting in the wings.
Before his improbable electoral win, Santos began planting seeds with far-right Republicans locally and nationally. After losing by 12 percentage points in 2020, he launched a campaign recount committee in the vein of his personal hero, fellow Queens native Donald Trump. He then attended Trump’s New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, held in apparent violation of local Covid-19 restrictions (and claimed his then-fiance, a pharmacist, was fired from his job because of the publicity). And on Jan. 5, 2021, he attended and spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, the precursor to the Capitol insurrection.
Santos’ shocking 2022 victory was made possible by the improbably popular Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, who was on that ballot,?as well as an ever-reddening Long Island and Queens district and the fact that Democrats let that district slip?under their radar.?Santos’ win helped Republicans retake control of the House by a razor-thin margin, but he quickly became a bomb that would not stop exploding.
After the initial batch of revelations, many more began pouring out. We learned that he lied about being a star on the volleyball team at a college he never attended; he allegedly defrauded a disabled veteran and his dog; he lied about his mom working in the World Trade Center and surviving 9/11; and perhaps most disturbing of all, as part of his bid to get elected in one of the most Jewish districts in the country, he lied about being Jewish and having Holocaust survivors in his family.
His lies, fabrications, exaggerations and chaotic past unfolded so quickly that I was able to write a near-daily newsletter during his first first few weeks in office for my Substack, The Handbasket. Suddenly my life was consumed by all things Santos, and I? appeared on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” to talk about it.
By March, he was officially under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. In April, he announced his plans to run for re-election in 2024. On May 10, he was federally charged with 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, and arraigned two days later.?After a relatively quiet summer, he was hit with a superseding indictment in October. That’s when the clock really started ticking.
There would be two failed votes to expel Santos in the weeks preceding the release of the House Ethics Committee report. But once the 56-page ethics report detailing his conduct went public, the writing was on the wall. The ethics investigation, according to that report, “revealed a complex web of unlawful activity involving Representative Santos’ campaign, personal, and business finances.” According to the committee, “Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”
He reportedly used campaign funds for credit card payments, luxury items, payments to OnlyFans and for Botox treatments. There was no more convincing necessary: Santos’ peers had confirmed he was everything people have suspected him to be.
“For 11 months, House Republicans wrapped their arms around an admitted fraudster, liar, and thief. For the sole reason of protecting their narrow majority, Republican leadership abandoned the people of New York’s Third Congressional District, leaving them without real representation in Congress,” Rep. Goldman wrote in a statement released after Friday’s vote. “Despite their best efforts, the Congress of the United States won today. But more importantly, the people of NY-03 will now have a real representative in the House.”
Even though his congressional days are over, anyone who has covered Santos knows better than to write him off just yet. As?Mark Chiusano, fellow Santos beat reporter and author of the new book “The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos,” recently told me, “I think that he’s the kind of guy who would really relish a second act, whether that’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’ or being on Cameo,” a service where users can pay celebrities to record a personalized video message.
A drag mentor of Santos’ told me in January that Santos “did not have what it takes to be a professional. George did not have the glamour for that.” But Santos still made it as a performer.
He has no legislative record to speak of, nor examples of him fighting for his constituents during his 331 days in office, but he’s a regular character on “Saturday Night Live,” has a name synonymous with lying and scheming, and is an icon to phonies everywhere. He’s achieved what so few others have: infamy.
And while we wait to see if he’s convicted on one of the 23 federal charges he’s facing, and for which he’s scheduled to stand trial in September, we’re left to contend with the cold, hard truth: Santos was a symptom and not the cause of governmental rot. And it’s going to take more than kicking out one bad apple wrapped in a Burberry scarf to fix the problem.