The New York Republican congressman, fabulist and criminal defendant George Santos said he would not seek re-election next year, after the US House ethics committee issued a report detailing “grave and pervasive campaign finance violations and fraudulent activity” and recommended action against him.
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“I will NOT be seeking re-election for a second term in 2024 as my family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time,” Santos said, calling the report “biased” and “a disgusting politicised smear”.
But after the report detailed his conduct, moves to introduce a new expulsion resolution began.
“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” the committee said.
“He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit.
“He reported fictitious loans to his political committees to induce donors and party committees to make further contributions to his campaign – and then diverted more campaign money to himself as purported ‘repayments’ of those fictitious loans.
“He used his connections to high-value donors and other political campaigns to obtain additional funds for himself through fraudulent or otherwise questionable business dealings. And he sustained all of this through a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience.”
Santos was elected last year, as Republicans retook the House in part thanks to a strong performance in New York. But as his résumé unraveled amid increasingly picaresque reports about his life before entering Congress, including questions about his actual name, he admitted “embellishing” his record.
Allegations of criminal behaviour also emerged. Santos has pleaded not guilty to 23 federal criminal charges, including laundering funds and defrauding donors.
He has survived attempts to expel him from the House, including from members of his own party. Most recently, 31 Democrats voted against making him only the sixth member ever expelled, saying he should not be thrown out without being convicted. Three congressmen were expelled in 1861, for supporting the Confederacy in the civil war. Two have been expelled after being criminally convicted, the last in 2002.
Republican leaders, beholden to a narrow majority, had said they would wait for the ethics report.
On Thursday, the New York Democrat Dan Goldman said: “More than 10 months after Congressman [Ritchie] Torres and I filed a complaint … the committee has … concluded that George Santos defrauded his donors, filed false Federal Election Commission reports, and repeatedly broke the law in order to fraudulently win his election last November.”
Promising to “file a motion to expel Santos from Congress once and for all” after the Thanksgiving break, Goldman said Republicans “no longer have any fictional excuse to protect Santos in order to preserve their narrow majority”.
Mike Johnson, the new Republican speaker, has said Santos deserves due process. Speaking to Fox News last month, he also said Republicans had “no margin for error”.
But according to the Washington Post, citing an anonymous source, Michael Guest of Mississippi, the Republican committee chair, planned to file a motion to expel Santos on Friday, setting up a possible vote after the Thanksgiving holiday next week.
Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she “intend[ed] to vote yes on any privileged expulsion resolution … as the work of the committee is now complete, and I am no longer obligated to maintain neutrality”.
Santos said: “If there was a single ounce of ETHICS in the ‘ethics committee’, they would have not released this biased report. The committee went to extraordinary lengths to smear myself and my legal team about me not being forthcoming (my legal bills suggest otherwise).
“It is a disgusting politicised smear that shows the depths of how low our federal government has sunk. Everyone who participated in this grave miscarriage of justice should all be ashamed of themselves.”
Somewhat optimistically, he called for a constitutional convention to formalise action against Joe Biden for the president’s supposed crimes. More contritely, Santos said he was “humbled yet again and reminded that I am human and I have flaws”.
The report was accompanied by extensive appendices of evidence, including plentiful evidence of apparent financial malpractice.
Among more bizarre exhibits, one showed a suggestion by a staffer to place a microphone under a table bearing free donuts for reporters, an offering that made headlines when Santos was at the centre of scandal earlier this year.
The committee said Santos had not co-operated with its investigation, “continues to flout his statutory financial disclosure obligations and has failed to correct countless errors and omissions in his past [financial disclosure] statements, despite being repeatedly reminded … of his requirement to do so.
“The [committee] also found that, despite his attempts to blame others for much of the misconduct, Representative Santos was a knowing and active participant in the wrongdoing.
“Particularly troubling was Representative Santos’ lack of candour during the investigation itself.”
Members of Congress, the committee said, should now take any action they “deem appropriate and necessary, based on the [committee’s] findings, to fulfill the House’s constitutional mandate to police the conduct of its members”.
From outside Congress, Brett Edkins, of the pressure group Stand Up America said: “This report has one clear conclusion: Santos is wholly unfit to hold office.
“If George Santos had any shame or remorse over deceiving hard-working New Yorkers and his colleagues in Congress, he would resign immediately. Instead, he continues to use every possible lie and excuse to cling to power, leaving his constituents without real representation in Congress. Since he refuses to step down, House Republicans should grow a backbone and expel him.”