The U.S. House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
Santos has come under scrutiny for fabricating parts of his biography and for alleged campaign finance violations.
The 10-member committee voted unanimously on Thursday, March 2, to create an investigative subcommittee looking into allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against Santos.
The committee said in a statement that the subcommittee would look at whether Santos failed to properly disclose information on his House financial disclosures, violated federal conflict of interest laws, or engaged in other unlawful activity during his 2022 congressional campaign.
That subcommittee will also look into an allegation of sexual misconduct made by Derek Myers, a prospective congressional aide who briefly worked in Santos’s office. Myers alleges Santos, the first out gay Republican elected to Congress as a non-incumbent, retaliated against him after he rebuffed a sexual offer from the congressman.
The subcommittee will contain two Democrats and two Republicans, being led by U.S. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio). The other members include Reps. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), John Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Glenn Ivey (D-Md.).
In a tweet from Santos’s official congressional account, the congressman’s office said he was “fully cooperating” with the House Ethics investigation and would not comment further.
The timeline of the Ethics Committee’s investigation remains unclear.
Critics say that the committee often moved too slowly, with congressional representatives preferring to see fellow lawmakers resign or reach the end of their terms rather than taking action against them, according to The New York Times.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has refused to call for Santos’s resignation — despite several of Santos’s fellow New York Republicans doing so — instead deferring to the Ethics Committee to determine whether to take action.
If the committee does find that Santos committed an ethics violation, it could impose fines or recommend that the House pass a resolution censuring or reprimanding Santos.
In extreme cases, the committee could recommend expulsion, but such an occurrence is rare, and could only be achieved if two-thirds of House members voted to remove Santos from office.
While Santos’s biographical fabrications are concerning to some, they are not illegal.
However, the congressman is currently the subject of a number of investigations launched by the Nassau County District Attorney, the Queens District Attorney, the New York State Attorney General and reportedly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, reports The Hill.
The local and state investigations appear to be broader, looking into any possible legal violations, while the federal investigation appears to have fixated on accusations that Santos was part of an alleged scheme to steal thousands of dollars from a fundraiser held for a veteran’s dying service dog.
Santos is also being investigated by the Federal Election Commission for possible campaign finance violations.
He has faced questions about the source of personal loans he made to his campaign, which he said came from working at his company, the Devolder Organization.
But the amendments to those finance reports are confusing and appear to contradict each other, and have raised questions whether he falsified numbers on his disclosure reports and whether he may have taken part in a straw donor scheme to hid the original sources of the loans.
Santos’s reported increase in salary from when he first sought office in 2020 and when he ran again in 2022 — going from $55,000 to $750,000 — has also raised eyebrows among campaign finance experts.
Additionally, the congressman faces scrutiny for a high number of campaign expenses listed at $199.99, one cent shy of the $200 threshold that would require him to keep receipts and invoices, leading to questions about whether he wrongfully used campaign funds for personal reasons.
Santos previously worked at Harbor City Capital Corp., which the Securities and Exchange Commission previously accused of being a Ponzi scheme and was shuttered in 2021.
Although Santos was not charged in connection with the SEC case and has denied allegations of wrongdoing, The Washington Post previously reported that he stayed at the firm after a prospective investor told him the company was using a fraudulent bank document.
Another investor, Andrew Intrater, who invested money with Harbor City Capital, told the political magazine Mother Jones that he had reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission complaining about Santos’s dealings.
Intrater also donated $175,000 to a political action committee, Rise NY PAC, which he said he was made aware of by Santos, that purported to be focused on registering and engaging Republican voters in traditionally Democratic-leaning voting districts.
However, Intrater told Mother Jones he did not know that Santos’s sister was the committee’s president, and claims to have been surprised that Rise NY PAC donated more than $55,000 to help underwrite a GOP-affiliated website, Outspoken Middle East, focusing on news of LGBTQ human rights abuses in countries that criminalize homosexuality.
Authorities in Brazil have reportedly reopened a criminal investigation into Santos dating back to 2008, in which the then-19-year-old Santos is accused of stealing a checkbook from a man for whom his mother worked as a housekeeper at at-home nurse, and using it to purchase $700 in merchandise, including a pair of expensive shoes, from a clothing store.
A spokeswoman for the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor’s office told The New York Times last month that it planned to formally request that the U.S. Justice Department notify Santos of the charges against him so that the office could continue prosecuting the case.
Santos has denied the allegations against him, saying that he is not the subject of any criminal investigation, either in the United States or in Brazil.
Due to the number of investigations against him, Santos recused himself from his two committee assignments on the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees. Santos will not participate in committee hearings until ongoing investigations against him are resolved.
Two Democrats from New York, U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres and Dan Goldman, were the first to request an ethics investigation into Santos’s dealings back in January.
Following news of the investigation, the two subsequently issued statements demanding that the House Ethics Committee take its responsibilities seriously and fully investigate their Republican colleague.
“After filing a complaint with the House Committee on Ethics in January, Congressman Torres and I are encouraged that the Committee has unanimously agreed that George Santos’s conduct warrants a full investigation,” Goldman said. “It is imperative that the committee proceed with this investigation quickly and expeditiously. More importantly, Mr. Santos must fully cooperate with the investigation as he has promised to do and as is his duty and obligation as a member of the House of Representatives. If he does not fully cooperate as required, he should immediately be expelled from Congress.”
“Given everything we know that Rep. George Santos has lied about with respect to his personal and professional life, and his blatant violations of federal campaign finance and securities laws, I don’t see how the House Ethics Committee could’ve reached any other decision but to launch this investigation,” Torres said.
“Rep. Santos, by his own admission, is a terrible liar who’s done a great disservice to the people of his district and whose presence in Congress continues to represent a grave threat and danger to our democracy and national security,” he continued. “Fortunately, we’re one step closer to holding him accountable for his corruption and deception and hopefully removing him from office once and for all.”
While agreeing to cooperate with the ethics investigation, Santos has denied all of the allegations against him.
In a recent interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Santos suggested that calls from some constituents for him to resign are not representative of the views of his constituents in his district, which covers a number of middle-class and working-class communities in Queens and Long Island — the type of district that, while once Democratic, has begun shifting more Republican in recent election cycles.
But a poll released by Siena College earlier this week found that two-thirds of New Yorkers, including 58% of Republicans, would like to see Santos resign from office.
“The ‘good’ news for Santos is that even in these hyper-partisan times, he’s found a way to get Democrats, Republicans and Independents to agree about a political figure,” pollster Steven Greenberg said in a statement accompanying the survey. “The bad news for Santos is that the political figure they agree on is him, and they overwhelmingly view him unfavorably.”
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