What happens when George Santos, a New York state representative-elect, goes to Washington, DC, in January will be a real test for the Republican Party of today. Does it matter at all to be honest, and have integrity? Or is the GOP leadership so hungry for power that they will let a serial liar stay in office even though he lied to the public and the people who voted for him about essential parts of his life?
Santos was elected in a district in New York that includes Long Island suburbs and parts of Queens. While running for office, he had either lied or been strangely vague about where he lived, where he worked, his religious background, and where he went to college.
The New York Times investigated Santos’s web of lies earlier this month. Santos’s lawyer, in a very Trumpian move, attacked the messenger instead of denying the facts. He said, “It’s no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are trying to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations.”
In addition to what the Forward had said, a CNN KFile report showed that he had likely lied about his Jewish roots when he said that his grandparents “survived the Holocaust” as Jewish refugees from Ukraine who changed their last names to stay alive.
But Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, told the KFile, “There’s no sign of Jewish or Ukrainian heritage, and there’s no sign of name changes along the way.” When this article was written, Santos’s lawyer refused to say anything.
More than a week later, Santos has admitted that the media were primarily suitable and that he did lie on his resume and in much of his biography. But he’s still not being honest, saying in a WABC interview that “a lot of people overstate or lie a little bit on their resumes.”
He said, for example, that he worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and gave details about what he did at each company. He says he talked to both companies as part of his job at Link Bridge and that a “poor choice of words” gave the wrong impression.
That bad word choice? On his campaign website, it said that Santos “began working at Citigroup as an associate and quickly moved up to become an associate asset manager in the real asset division of the firm” and “was then offered an exciting opportunity with Goldman Sachs, but what he thought would be the peak of his career was not as satisfying as he had hoped.”
Santos told the New York Post, “I didn’t graduate from any college or university, even though I said I went to Baruch College and New York University and got degrees in finance and economics.” I’m ashamed of and sorry that I lied on my resume.” But he also acted like he didn’t care about this lie. “In life, we do stupid things,” he said.
Santos also didn’t care about the news stories that said he was lying about being Jewish. Santos told the Post, “I’ve never said I was Jewish.” “I am a Christian. I said I was “Jew-ish” when I discovered my mother’s family was Jewish. “I never said I was Jewish; I said I was Jew-ish” is quite a way out.
Santos had also said that four of his employees died in the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Even though he now says it was four potential employees, he didn’t say who they were or give any other information.
Even about his good deeds, Santos seems to have lied. He says he started the Friends of Pets United animal rescue group, which was not registered as a charity in New York or New Jersey. The IRS has no record of it, according to a report in the New York Times.
The person who was supposed to get the money from a $50-a-head fundraiser for Friends of Pets United says that she never got the money. This is what the Times also reports. Now, Santos is less clear about what he did. He says he helped the charity and found homes for the animals.
One thing that Santos flatly denied was a report from the Times that he was charged with fraud in Brazil because he used stolen checks to pay for things. The New York Times says, “In the court file, Mr. Santos’s full name, date of birth, and the names of his mother and father are listed.”
The papers show that Mr. Santos admitted to the crime and was charged, but the case remains open because the police couldn’t find him later. Santos told the Post, “I am not a criminal here, in Brazil, or anywhere else in the world.” “No way, no how. That didn’t happen.”
The Santos saga is fascinating in the same way that stories about con artists and scammers are often fascinating. What makes someone lie so often and with such confidence? Why would someone whose resume is mainly made up run for office and put themselves in the public eye and under a microscope from the media? How is it that when this person is finally caught, they don’t run away in shame but instead acts defiantly and refuses to face any consequences?
Santos lied to the people in his district. At least some of what he said to support his candidacy was based on his experience and resume. And he has shown that he can’t be trusted at all, which is especially important since there are still a lot of questions about his money and net worth.
So why should the public trust anything further, he says, given his egregious pattern of lying, hypocrisy, and then downplaying his lies? And how should the GOP respond? Republican Party leaders could certainly pressure Santos not to take office. They could publicly denounce him and say that their party stands for honesty and will not stand for brazenly lying to constituents.
That may end with their party losing the seat in a special election, but that’s hardly a foregone conclusion; at some point, principles have to trump power. If he insists on taking office, they could launch an ethics investigation and withhold his committee assignments.
It’s a sad reflection of today’s GOP, though, that I assume they won’t do any of this. And so far, party leaders have largely stayed silent. Nassau GOP Chair Joe Cairo, one of the few Republican leaders to speak out, said Santos would have to do a lot to regain trust but added that Santos should be able to serve his term in Congress.
But let’s be clear – Santos is exactly who you don’t want in office. He is a man who seemingly has no problem lying for self-aggrandizement and personal gain; a man who, even when caught, demonstrates little remorse or accountability; a man who still insists that he should be vested with significant political power. New Yorkers deserve better. And the Republicans should ask for more.
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