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After release of ethics report, Santos says he won’t seek reelection

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House investigators found “substantial evidence” that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) knowingly violated a litany of ethics guidelines, House rules and criminal laws, according to a House Ethics Committee report released Thursday that prompted Santos to declare he would not seek reelection next year.

The report detailed an array of alleged misconduct that included Santos stealing money from his campaign, deceiving donors about how contributions would be used, creating fictitious loans and engaging in fraudulent business dealings. Santos, the report alleged, repeatedly used funds intended for his campaign for personal enrichment, including spa charges and paying down his own credit card debt.

“Representative Santos’ conduct warrants public condemnation, is beneath the dignity of the office, and has brought severe discredit upon the House,” Reps. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the committee’s chairman and senior Democrat, said in a joint statement.

Santos railed against the ethics committee Thursday in a lengthy post on X in which he called the report a “disgusting politicized smear” and claimed that he was being “stoned by those who have flaws themselves.” He added he would not be seeking reelection to a second term in 2024 after all, reversing course from a previous announcement in April that he would. Santos stepped down from his committee assignments in January.

According to the report, Santos was given an opportunity to submit to investigators a signed written statement responding to the allegations, but he did not do so. Santos also did not respond to the committee’s requests for documents, to voluntarily testify or to provide a statement under oath. Investigators noted that they thought any testimony from Santos “would have low evidentiary value given his admitted practice of embellishment.”

The long-awaited report lays out the conclusions of the committee’s months-long investigation in scathing language. According to the committee, investigators compiled more than 170,000 pages of documents and testimony from dozens of witnesses, including financial statements, to reach its conclusions.

“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit. 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,” the report stated.

It continued: “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.”

Some of the more egregious findings were centered on a consulting company called RedStone that was founded by Santos under the guise of being an outside group helping Santos’s election campaign. However, RedStone was not registered with the Federal Election Commission, and documents showed thousands of dollars from RedStone were transferred to one of Santos’s personal checking accounts. The funds were used, among other things, to pay down personal credit card bills, to make a $4,127.80 purchase at luxury brand Hermes, and to make “smaller purchases” at OnlyFans, a subscription site that contains adult content, according to the report.

Investigators also zeroed in on several expenditures that were paid for with campaign funds that “could not be verified as having a campaign nexus,” the report stated. Those expenditures included $1,500 and $1,400 charges on Santos’s campaign debit card at different spas, both noted as “Botox” in expense spreadsheets.

Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), a member of the ethics committee, said it was the breadth of the alleged misconduct detailed in the report that surprised him the most.

“You know, we have a lot of these cases come through [the ethics committee] where somebody made one mistake here or maybe crossed the line,” Ivey told The Washington Post. “This was repeated, over a long period of time and very intentional. I think that’s part of why this report, unlike most other ethics committee reports, was really pretty scathing.”

Guest will file a motion to expel Santos on Friday morning, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. The House can consider the motion upon its return from the holiday break on Nov. 28.

By filing the expulsion motion himself, Guest adds credibility to the resolution after lawmakers were hesitant about voting to expel Santos earlier this month when the question was brought forth by fellow New York Republicans. Almost 200 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against expelling Santos in fear that it would establish a precedent to oust lawmakers without receiving due process.

Raj Shah, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), said in a statement Thursday that Johnson wants lawmakers to “consider the best interests of the institution” when and if action is taken based on the findings of the report.

“Speaker Johnson thanks Ethics Committee Chairman Guest for the thorough investigation which was released today,” the statement said. “The Speaker has reviewed the report and its very troubling findings. As members from both parties, members of the Ethics Committee and Representative Santos return to Congress after the Thanksgiving break, Speaker Johnson encourages all involved to consider the best interests of the institution as this matter is addressed further.”

Hours before the House was set to vote on the expulsion resolution earlier this month, the House Ethics Committee stated its intention to release its report by Nov. 17 in a move considered by many lawmakers as a sign to temporarily postpone consideration of the measure and add the due process argument once their findings were released.

At least two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.) and Dan Goldman (N.Y.), have said they will file privileged resolutions to expel Santos upon their return from the Thanksgiving break, but it’s likely that Republican leadership will prioritize the measure brought forth by Guest.

After the report’s release Thursday, several lawmakers who voted against expelling Santos earlier this month said they would now vote to expel him. Wild — who previously voted present on the expulsion resolution, as all ethics committee members did — also said Thursday she would now be in support of expelling Santos.

If removed by the House, Santos would be the first lawmaker expelled without having been convicted of a crime. Under New York law, a vacancy of Santos’s seat would require Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to call for a special election within 10 days of the vacancy and that special election would be held between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s call. The campaign for the seat in 2024 had already attracted several candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Santos was charged by federal prosecutors in May on 13 counts, including defrauding his donors, using their money for his personal benefit and wrongfully claiming unemployment benefits. In a superseding indictment made public in October, Santos was indicted on 10 additional charges, including stealing the identities of family members and using donors’ credit cards to spend thousands of dollars. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The initial indictment and Santos’s penchant for perpetuating falsehoods — including a claim that he’s the grandson of Holocaust survivors and that he worked at companies that never employed him — led Democrats to pursue expelling him from the House. The matter was referred to the House Ethics Committee, where an evenly split panel of Republicans and Democrats had already been investigating Santos.

The House Ethics Committee announced its investigation in March, with its members voting unanimously to look into a long list of claims against Santos, including about his past business practices, campaign finance expenditures and an allegation of sexual misconduct.

The committee expanded its investigation in June to include allegations that he fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits, which marked a departure from the panel’s typical practice of staying out of matters that coincide with federal charges against lawmakers. And at the end of October, the committee said in a statement that its investigation’s jurisdiction included the “23 counts charged over two indictments, as well as multiple allegations of criminal and ethical violations that are beyond the scope of the indictments.”

The federal charges — with the second batch coming while House Republicans were debating electing a speaker to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — also motivated five Republican freshmen from New York to introduce an expulsion resolution to be considered by relevant committees. The motion failed earlier this month.

During his tenure as House speaker, McCarthy repeatedly said Santos deserved due process. Johnson has also said Santos deserves due process while acknowledging the difficult spot Republicans are in because of their slim majority in the chamber.

Appearing on Fox News the day after his election as speaker, Johnson was asked by host Sean Hannity whether he supported the censure or removal of Santos or Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who at the time faced calls to be censured over her comments related to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, was ultimately censured this month.

“Here’s the reality … we have a four-seat majority in the House,” Johnson said. “It is possible that number may be reduced even more in the coming weeks and months and so we’ll have what may be the most razor-thin majority in the history of the Congress. We have no margin for error and so George Santos is due process, right?”

“We have to allow due process to play itself out,” he continued, referring to Santos’s case. “That’s what our system of justice is for … if we’re going to expel people from Congress just because they’re charged with a crime, or accused, that’s a problem.”

Two individuals in Santos’s orbit pleaded guilty in recent months to charges related to campaign actions.

Last month, former Santos treasurer Nancy Marks pleaded guilty to filing false reports with the FEC. And earlier this week, an aide to Santos pleaded guilty to a federal charge of fraud in connection with a scheme that included impersonating the then-chief of staff for McCarthy to attract donors to Santos’s campaign.

Paul Kane and Azi Paybarah contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post