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George Santos Looks All Done

George Santos
George Santos. Credit: MSNBC Screenshot.

One of the most hair-raising political stories of 2022 arrived at the very end of the year. It’s that of George Santos, who in November was elected to Congress as a Republican from a district that mostly represents Long Island in New York. 

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Only 34 years old, Santos had a biography that seemed too good to be true: It represented him as a Hispanic Republican, openly gay, and a man of considerable wealth, having worked for Wall Street firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He even claimed Jewish ancestry and stated that his grandparents on his mother’s side had fled Ukraine during the Holocaust. 

Winning on Election Day, Santos made some history, becoming the first openly gay non-incumbent ever elected to Congress as a Republican. It was part of a surprisingly strong showing for the GOP in New York, as the seats won in that deep-blue state helped the Republicans recapture the House majority. 

Weeks later, the entire story Santos told began to unravel. 

On December 19, The New York Times reported on numerous inconsistencies in Santos’ biography. Santos did not graduate from college, nor did he ever work for Goldman or Citigroup. Nor does he control any real estate properties, contrary to his claims, nor is his animal rescue charity, Friends of Pets United, registered as a charity. It even reported that Santos might have an unresolved criminal case in Brazil. 

Subsequent reports have raised doubts about whether Santos can accurately claim any Jewish ancestry. And while Santos calls himself openly gay, he was also married to a Brazilian woman, as recently as 2020, leading some observers to ask which is more likely: That Santos took part in a sham marriage or that he’s not actually gay. 

It all led many to compare Santos to the protagonist in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the 1999 Matt Damon movie, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, about a young gay man of modest background who embellishes his credentials to join the social elite in the 1950s. Although because Santos has not been implicated in any murders, the analogy is not perfect. 

In the original Times report, Santos’ lawyer responded with Trump-like defiance, stating that it was “no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations,” although the specific charges were not rebutted in any way. 

Over the weekend, Santos tweeted that  “I have a story to tell to the people of #NY03 and will tell it next week,” and he began telling it Monday. 

First came an interview with the New York Post, in which the Congressman-Elect admitted that several of the charges were true: He did not graduate from college, he never worked for either Wall Street firm, and he owns no rental properties. Santos did claim that, in his role at another financial firm, he sometimes introduced clients to people who did work at Goldman and Citigroup. 

As for Judaism, Santos told the Post that he “never claimed to be Jewish,” but rather called himself “Jew-ish,” holding Jewish ancestry while practicing Catholicism. That last claim got Santos denounced by the Republican Jewish Coalition, which announced Tuesday that Santos was no longer welcome at their events. 

“He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage. In public comments and to us personally, he previously claimed to be Jewish,” RJC head Matt Brooks said in a statement. “He has begun his tenure in Congress on a very wrong note. He will not be welcome at any future RJC event.”

Another interview Tuesday went even worse. Santos went on camera, appearing on a Fox News show that was being guest-hosted by Democratic Congresswoman-turned-Fox News Contributor Tulsi Gabbard. But if Santos was expecting a friendly interview, that’s not what he got.

“If I were one of those in New York’s 3rd District right now, now that the election is over, and I’m finding out all of these lies that you’ve told, not just one little lie or one little embellishment — these are blatant lies — my question is, do you have no shame?” Gabbard said. 

Goerge Santos tried to turn it around, stating “Look at Joe Biden. Joe Biden has been lying to the American people for 40 years,” but Gabbard wasn’t having it. 

Santos also gave an interview with probably the only living New York Congressman more disgraced than he is: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who talked to Santos on WABC Radio. 

Left unanswered are several questions, including how, exactly, Santos became wealthy, as well as what the story is with that marriage to a woman. 

“I am not a criminal,” Santos told the Post. “This [controversy] will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good.”

Which leaves perhaps the most pressing question of all: Will Santos still take his Congressional seat as scheduled, when the new Congress begins next week? 

Unless he chooses to resign in the next week or so, Santos will take the oath and become a sitting Congressman. And with both the Republican majority itself and the possible voting margin for Kevin McCarthy’s speakership campaign razor-thin, members of the GOP are unlikely to start calling for his immediate ouster. 

Whether Santos stays through his full term is another matter altogether. A House Ethics Committee investigation is very likely in his future, and considering how many revelations have already come to light, there may very well be more. In the meantime, chances are good Santos will continue to be asked about this any time he appears in public for the foreseeable future. 

Another incoming member of the Republican Congressional class from New York, Rep.-elect Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), this week called for an investigation of Santos. 

“House Republicans like me are eager to be sworn in and focus on our Commitment to America and our respective districts,” LaLota said in a statement earlier this week. “Yet, over the last few weeks, I have heard from countless Long Islanders how deeply troubled they are by the headlines surrounding George Santos.”

Believe it or not, lying during a campaign is not a crime; if it were, it might be difficult for Congress to even hold a quorum. Nothing that has come to light about Santos, to date, appears to constitute a clear-cut crime. 

However, there’s always a chance further investigation will uncover more wrongdoing. If Santos, at any point, lied on a financial disclosure document, he’s facing major trouble. That also goes if he ever perjured himself, or if his web of lies related to his businesses ever crossed a line into doing any type of financial malfeasance. 

But even in the best-case scenario for him, if he doesn’t resign, get expelled from Congress, or face criminal charges, Santos will still have to face the voters of the New York 3rd Congressional District in two years, in a swing district that was held by a Democrat until Santos flipped it. If Santos runs for re-election, all of those biographical lies will likely find their way into campaign commercials. 

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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.