The Slatest

What Happens to George Santos Now?

The congressman-elect has admitted to lying about various aspects of his résumé. But he doesn’t want to step down.

Santos speaks at a podium.
Rep.-elect George Santos speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on Nov. 19. Wade Vandervort/AFP via Getty Images

Well, well, well, disgraced Republican George Santos finally spoke up about some pretty damning lies that surfaced following his election to Congress. The Long Island Rep.-elect came clean(ish) to the New York Post on Monday, confirming multiple falsehoods uncovered by the New York Times last week. Santos confirmed he does not have a college degree, nor did he work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. In his own words, the sin committed here was not lying but “embellishing my resume,” according to Santos. He also admitted he was “clearly Catholic” and said he never meant to refer to his heritage as Jewish, just “Jew-ish.” Seriously.

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It’s a truly unprecedented situation. Santos fabricated most of his professional biography that he campaigned on, and it worked—he won his district with an eight-point margin that helped Republicans grab a very narrow majority in the House. Now the big question is: What happens to George Santos? We have attempted to lay out some options.

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Now that he has been caught, will Santos be slinking away in any fashion?

No, probably not. He says he has no plans to resign, telling the Post he intends to deliver on his campaign promises. “I am not a criminal. This [controversy] will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good,” argued Santos, even as he admitted most of professional biography was a flat-out lie. When explaining that he never worked as an associate asset manager at Citigroup or at Goldman Sachs, Santos simply waved it off as a “poor choice of words.” When it came to admitting he did not actually graduate from Baruch College, or any college for that matter, Santos simply said he was embarrassed— “I own up to that … We do stupid things in life.”

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Has anything like this happened before?

Have congressmen lied to the public before? Sure, it happens all the time. In just this past election cycle, Republican candidate J.R. Majewski lied about being deployed to Afghanistan while serving in the Air Force. The AP found he actually only completed a six-month stint helping load planes at a base in Qatar—but he lost his race, so there’s not much to do about it. Herschel Walker became somewhat infamous for his untruthful statements—he allegedly lied while campaigning for a Georgia Senate seat about paying for multiple women’s abortions, serving in the military, and having been an FBI agent. But Walker lost his race, too, so we don’t really have to deal with him anymore, either.

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Has someone lied to the extent that Santos has and still successfully won their race? That’s more of a rarity. In many cases, lies made while campaigning are unearthed before the election comes around, so voters are armed with the facts and can make the call themselves in the voting booth. Not only did Santos manage to get away with his lies until after he was elected, but the lies themselves were pretty integral to his campaign and as credentials for serving in Congress.

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What can Congress do about this?

Not much, and certainly nothing until Santos is sworn into office in a week’s time. The House and Senate ethics committee typically investigates lawmakers for questionable actions executed while serving in Congress—not actions prior to that. There have been some exceptions, like in 2017 with former Nevada Democrat Rubén Kihuen, who was investigated over inappropriate advances made on a campaign staffer during his campaign. The ethics committee concluded Kihuen did engage in inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment—but he didn’t resign. Instead, Kihuen chose not to seek reelection in 2018.

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It’s not yet clear what Congress is going to do about Santos. Once he’s sworn in, he will be fair game for ethics investigations. Lying isn’t a crime, but where Santos could get in real trouble is if he ran afoul of any campaign finance laws. There’s reason to be suspicious: In required financial disclosure documents from his failed 2020 campaign, Santos declared basically no assets and a salary of $55,000. Fast-forward to his 2022 campaign, and his disclosure form claimed a $750,000 salary and several million in assets—but no documentation explaining that jump. There are no public details about the Devolder Organization, his alleged “family’s firm” that supposedly managed $80 million in assets, which could be a violation of federal law that requires disclosure of any compensation in excess of $5,000 from a single source.

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Obviously, Democrats are already calling on Santos to resign his shiny new, hotly coveted House seat. Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro argued that allowing Santos to enter office would set a dangerous precedent and prompt others to campaign on lies. If Santos were to step back and resign, a special election would be called to fill his seat—something Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat who lost to Santos, has challenged him to.

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Why didn’t Republicans act on Santos earlier?

A GOP senior aide told the Post that Santos was a “running joke” and that the party had assumed voters would see through his red flags. But … they didn’t, and then he won? House Speaker-hopeful Kevin McCarthy has so far largely ignored questions about Santos, probably because he’s still hoping to get Santos’ support as he locks down the vote count for his own election as speaker.

Another clue the GOP was wise to what was going on with Santos: They spent zero dollars on his race, even though the Congressional Leadership Fund dumped $1.5 million into districts neighboring Santos’. The former campaign manager for Zimmerman told the Intercept there was “simply no way that Republicans in D.C. weren’t aware” of Santos’ red flags.

We’ll just all have to wait for the new year and the next congressional term to see what happens in this particular saga!

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