Democrats call for probe into G.O.P. congressman-elect’s biography

December 21, 2022

The chairman of New York’s Democratic Party called on Monday, December 19,  for a House ethics investigation into George Santos, a Long Island Republican elected last month, following a report questioning whether he misled voters about key details in his background, reports The Washington Post.

The story—originally released by The New York Timescast doubt on Santos’s claims that he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and on the basis of his reported wealth, as he loaned his campaign more than $700,000 before notching a surprise win that helped provide the G.O.P. with a slim majority.

“This is about one of the biggest messes I’ve ever seen from anyone who is about to become a member of the Congress,” said Jay Jacobs, the New York Democratic Party chairman, adding later, “I think that had voters seen this information, understood the ramifications and how egregious it really was, I don’t see how he would have won the race.”

In a statement, Santos’s attorney criticized the Times without addressing the substance of the report.

“It is no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at the New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations,” Joseph Murray said in a statement posted to Santos’s Twitter.

Santos, a staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump who said he attended a rally on the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, defeated Democrat Robert Zimmerman in November. He claimed in an archived version of his campaign website that he “began working at Citigroup as an associate and quickly advanced” and that he “was then offered an exciting opportunity with Goldman Sachs but what he thought would be the pinnacle of his career was not as fulfilling as he had anticipated.”

Representatives for both Citigroup and Goldman Sachs confirmed to The Washington Post that they had no record that Santos worked for either company. References to Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are not on Santos’s current biography page of the website.

Zimmerman, in an interview with The Post, echoed Jacobs’s calls for a probe into whether Santos made false statements on the personal financial disclosure form that candidates are required to file with the clerk of the House.

“An investigation is merited because of the serious allegations of filing false information on his financial disclosure documents and … questions about his finances [and] where his funds came from,” said Zimmerman, calling on the House Ethics Committee and the U.S. attorney’s office to look into the claims.

Some Democrats expressed disbelief on Monday that questions about Santos’s background didn’t surface more clearly during the campaign. Representative Mondaire Jones (D-New York) a member of the House Ethics Committee, noted his surprise that the issues hadn’t emerged in prior reporting and opposition research—particularly, given that Santos had unsuccessfully run for Congress in 2020.

“As someone who’s had every case I’ve ever worked on vetted by opponents in both cycles, it’s difficult to overstate how many people would’ve had to drop the ball in not even verifying the mere fact of Congressman-elect Santos’ prior employment as he ran to flip a key House seat,” Jones tweeted. Jones’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Zimmerman said the allegations in the Times story are “not a shock to me.” He said his campaign learned about “many of these issues but were drowned out in the governor’s race where crimes was the focus and the media had other priorities.”

An 87-page opposition research report on Santos released during the race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not mention some of the issues raised in the Times story. The group’s opposition research relies on public records to verify employment and education, said a Democratic operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal processes. The operative also said Democrats had less time and resources than usual to scrutinize Republican nominees’ records in New York because this year’s primary was delayed until August amid a redistricting fight. Even then, Santos was considered a long shot and Democrats had other priorities.

Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said that “there are a lot of red flags” that may merit an investigation. She cited questions about whether Santos made false statements in his financial disclosure report, a potentially serious offense that could be governed by a number of laws.

However, with the slim Republican majority in the House, some ethics experts doubted whether Santos would face any serious repercussions in Congress.

“The House is responsible for determining the qualifications of its own members and, if we had a system that was genuinely built around integrity, they would refuse to seat this guy and have a special election,” said Norman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute who helped create the Office of Compliance and the Office of Congressional Ethics. “Of course the odds of that happening are zero.”

Santos previously has been the subject of scrutiny over his attendance at the January 6 rally, at which Trump falsely claimed he won the election. Santos later said on a podcast hosted by Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, that it “was the most amazing crowd, and the president was at his full awesomeness that day. It was a front-row spectacle for me.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost