Rep. George Santos hit with scathing ethics report, says he won't seek reelection
The New York Republican responded to the findings with a defiant statement.
Embattled Rep. George Santos faced renewed calls to resign on Thursday and the looming threat of another vote to expel him from Congress in the wake of a scathing report by the House Ethics Committee portraying him as an alleged fabulist and fraudster who used the prestige of political office to bilk tens of thousands of dollars out of other people.
"George Santos cannot be trusted," declares the 56-page report, written by an investigative subcommittee. "At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles."
The panel said its monthslong probe, which both paralleled and went beyond similar work by federal prosecutors, "revealed a complex web of unlawful activity involving Representative Santos' campaign, personal, and business finances."
In many different ways, the Ethics Committee found, the New York Republican "sought to exploit his campaign, and the access to wealthy donors it afforded him, for his own personal profit."
Among other misdeeds, Santos allegedly reported fictitious loans to get wealthy donors to make contributions, used his connections to obtain yet more donations, including to make "purported 'repayments' of those fictitious loans," and diverted campaign money for his own use.
"And he sustained all of this through a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience," the ethics report reads.
Santos' questionable expenses ranged from some $2,280 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last year -- where he liked to play roulette, often with his husband -- to $2,900 that was labeled for "Botox" as well as approximately $10,000 spent at high-end Ferragamo and Hermes stores, about $3,330 at a rental property while his calendar listed him as being in the Hamptons in New York and various sums to pay off credit card debt and his rent, among other suspect spending such as charges in Las Vegas while Santos was believed to be on his honeymoon, the report states.
In a lengthy, defiant statement posted on social media after the report's release, Santos sought to savage the work of House investigators.
"If there was a single ounce of ETHICS in the 'Ethics committee', they would have not released this biased report," he wrote on X. "Everyone who participated in this grave miscarriage of Justice should all be ashamed of themselves," he added.
Nonetheless, having recently vowed to seek a second term in office, Santos said he would now not run for reelection. "My family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time," he wrote.
"I will remain steadfast in fighting for my rights and for defending my name in the face of adversity. I am humbled yet again and reminded that I am human and I have flaws, but I will not stand by as I am stoned by those who have flaws themselves," he wrote. "I will continue on my mission to serve my constituents up until I am allowed."
Santos faces potentially serious consequences.
House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., will introduce an expulsion resolution Friday during a pro forma session, according to a source. Reps. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., and Robert Garcia, D-Calif., said they plan to introduce their own resolutions in the coming days as well.
Guest's motion will kick off a third attempt to oust Santos. With Congress already out of Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday break, that expulsion resolution will not be considered until the next two days of legislative business -- Nov. 28 or Nov. 29.
Separately, Santos faces 23 federal felony charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft and credit card fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.
But the ethics investigators wrote they uncovered "substantial evidence of additional uncharged unlawful and unethical conduct."
In the wake of their report, New York freshman Republican Rep. Mike Lawler -- whose disdain for Santos is well-known -- called again for him to leave office.
A number of other Republicans and Democrats soon joined that chorus on Thursday, though it remained unclear if they numbered enough to remove Santos, who survived a previous expulsion attempt this month, with 179 voting to expel and 213 voting against.
Santos is a key vote for the House's GOP majority, which is only a few members larger than the Democratic minority.
Speaker Mike Johnson previously acknowledged the "razor-thin" line separating Republicans in the majority from Democrats. "We have no margin for error, and so George Santos is due due process," he told Fox News' Sean Hannity in October. Johnson went on to say it would be a "problem" to remove members who are merely accused of crimes rather than convicted.
Lawler, on Thursday, spoke bluntly.
"George Santos should end this farce and resign immediately," he said. "If he refuses, 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."
The Ethics Committee was no less frank in its assessment of what Santos has done: "He blatantly stole from his campaign."
Tracking the money
The report makes numerous detailed allegations of impropriety and wrongdoing, drawn from what investigators said was more than 172,000 pages of documents, 37 subpoenas and contact or interviews with more than 40 people.
The report alleges it was a "lie" when Santos said he would be forthcoming and cooperative in the investigation -- as when he told reporters he would be "100%" compliant. He provided "limited" responses that had "material misstatements" and "evaded" requests for information, the report states.
"Many of the documents he did provide came after lengthy delays," according to the report.
The subcommittee considered subpoenaing Santos for his testimony but ultimately decided against it "to avoid further delaying its investigation" and because Santos' lawyer had indicated he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against oneself, investigators wrote. They added that what he had to say was likely to have had "low evidentiary value given his admitted practice of embellishment."
Santos "declined every opportunity" to make his case before the panel, and so the committee unanimously agreed to transmit its report to the Department of Justice, the ethics report states. They also recommended he be publicly condemned.
Two former Santos aides have already pleaded guilty: A former fundraiser admitted this week to wire fraud in connection with impersonating an aide to then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy; and Santos' former campaign treasurer Nancy Marks last month pleaded to conspiracy for, prosecutors said, filing the names of false donors.
The ethics report claims that Santos himself was "heavily involved in the day-to-day financial operations of his campaigns." Indeed, one staffer told the committee that the campaign's finances were a "black box" that only Santos and Marks had access to.
The committee found Santos "occasionally deposited large amounts of cash that he has never accounted for, moved money between his various bank accounts in a highly suspicious manner, and made over $240,000 cash withdrawals for unknown purposes."
The committee found no record of Santos having any personal bank account that ever had more than $100,000 -- plus "substantial evidence" that Santos lied on federal election documents about making $800,000 in personal loans to his campaign. He then "improperly repaid" himself more than $29,000 for loans that were not made, according to the report.
The panel found no evidence that five of six reported loans were ever made. Santos benefited "politically and financially" from the false loan information, which inflated the apparent finances of his campaign.
"Despite reporting the higher cash on hand totals, the reality was that the campaign did not have the funds to pay outstanding debts; at least one campaign staffer went eight months without being paid for his work," the committee said in its report.
While Santos blamed the irregular filings on Marks, his former campaign treasurer, the committee obtained evidence that Santos "was aware of the reported loans" that were reported but never made to his campaign, according to the report.
The committee further found there was "substantial evidence" that Santos was "an active and knowing participant" in a scheme to falsely report personal loans during his 2022 campaign, citing his "contemporaneous communications" about the loans and involvement in the oversight of his campaign's financial operations.
Among other suspected irregularities, the report highlights certain unreported transfers and unidentified deposits to and from the campaign bank account in 2022, including an unreported $20,000 transfer from the Santos campaign to an account held by the Devolder Organization, a company Santos controlled.
A week later -- in one example of how campaign money seemed to be frittered away for personal needs -- that money was used to make about $6,000 worth of purchases at Ferragamo stores, withdraw $800 in cash from an ATM at a casino, withdraw $1,000 in cash from an ATM near Santos' apartment and to pay Santos' rent, the report states.
The committee's report raises concerns that Santos personally used campaign funds in an "overall scheme to avoid transparency about his campaign's finances" and states that he failed to file two of his required financial disclosure statements and made "numerous errors and omissions" on reports he has filed.
The committee wrote that it offered to meet with Santos to discuss his disclosure requirements and advised him of the need to amend late disclosures but Santos never did meet with staff about disclosures or take steps to fix the situation.
"In a recent interview, he cast himself as a victim, someone who is being held to a different standard and was never told by the Committee to correct his [disclosure] filings," investigators wrote. "This is just another fraud on the electorate."
ABC News' Aaron Katersky, Mariam Khan, Arthur Jones II and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.