Over the line
The House Ethics Committee releases findings of its investigation into Rep. George Santos
On Thursday morning, the House of Representatives Ethics Committee released a 56-page report detailing the findings of a monthslong investigation into Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. The report gave credence to several allegations, particularly over misuse of campaign funds and lying to donors, that have trailed the embattled Republican since he entered Congress earlier this year. Shortly after the committee released its findings, Santos announced he would not seek reelection in 2024.
“The Committee has unanimously voted to adopt the [investigative subcommittee] report, and with it, refer the substantial evidence of potential violations of federal criminal law to the Department of Justice,” the committee wrote in a news release. “Santos’ conduct is beneath the dignity of the office and has brought severe discredit upon the House.”
Specifically, the report takes aim at how Santos allegedly used campaign donations for personal ends. Ann Ravel, who served as the commissioner of the Federal Election Commission during the Obama administration, said these kinds of violations are not uncommon. She’s seen candidates use funds for fancy vacations—trips to Disneyland and the like. But considering the scope of the report’s findings, Ravel believes Santos’s conduct is a uniquely blatant violation of federal standards.
“It’s a big issue in campaign finance law,” Ravel said. “It’s very clear that candidates who are receiving contributions for electoral purposes are not able to utilize those contributions for what is personal use.”
On its own, the report does not spell out criminal charges nor does it carry binding power. But its findings may still be enough to draw a red line through Santos’ remaining time in congress—before the end of his term in December 2024.
Despite scandal after scandal coming to light through new reports, Santos has managed to hold on to his seat because of a bipartisan hesitancy to strip him of his position without some sort of due process. No member of the House of Representatives has ever been expelled without first being convicted of a crime.
Back in May, the House voted 221-204 to launch the Ethics Committee investigation instead of outright expelling him. Then, on Nov. 1, after a fellow New York Republican introduced a privileged motion to remove him, the House vote to expel him failed 173-213.
Santos’ list of fabrications is as creative as it is extensive. In 2021, he tweeted that his mother had died in one of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. According to her visa application, she hadn’t even set foot in the United States between 1999 and 2003. Santos repeatedly contended he was Jewish, before amending his statements to say he was “Jew-ish” after his statements were called into question. And after claiming that he had worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, Santos eventually admitted to having fabricated these parts of his resume as well.
But the findings of the committee’s report extend beyond mere embellishments and into criminal activity. Last month, federal prosecutors indicted Santos on 23 criminal counts, for which he has entered a not guilty plea.
The report details how Santos lied to donors about the use of their contributions, stole money from his campaign, fabricated loans up to $80,000 to boost his numbers, and more. Santos created Red Strategies USA, a campaign organization, as a shell to funnel as much as $200,000 to his campaign. He had even used his campaign finances to purchase pornographic services through the online site OnlyFans.
Revel said that there is a little bit of a gray area when it comes to campaign funds and their use, and that sometimes it’s a little hard to tell at first glance what’s legal and what’s not.
“Well, there are some things you can use the money for that look like they’re personal but they’re not really,” she said. “For example: hiring a lawyer if you’re being attacked for something.”
Ravel pointed at Trump as a possible example. But with respect to Santos’ expenditures?
“I’d say he’s pretty far over the line,” she said. “Far, far over the line in this circumstance.”
While the House of Representatives is on recess until after Thanksgiving, Santos will likely face a third expulsion attempt sometime after the House resumes session. Fellow New York Republican Mike Lawler called on Santos to resign immediately.
“George Santos should end this farce … he must be removed from Congress. His conduct is not only unbecoming and embarrassing, it is criminal. He is unfit to serve and should resign today,” Lawler said in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.
Santos has thus far survived two critical House votes. But members like Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who voted in November to keep Santos in office, have been waiting on the committee’s findings.
“You’ve got to reach a high bar to expel a member, otherwise it becomes a political game,” Takano said. “I think the ethics report—that’s our due process.”
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