Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against New York Rep. George Santos, the Republican lawmaker who has been accused of a range of criminal behavior and personal dishonesty stretching back more than a decade.
Santos, who was taken into federal custody Wednesday morning, is expected to appear at federal court in New York’s Eastern District and faces 13 federal charges, including seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will look at the charges before determining if he thinks Santos should be removed from Congress.
“I’ll look at the charges,” the California Republican told CNN on Tuesday. “Just like we had before with Jeff Fortenberry, he had the same ability, I removed him from committees, but he was found guilty and then I told him he needed to resign. That is my policies and principles on this.”
Santos‘ stunning pattern of lies and fabrications stunned even hardened politicos. During his victorious campaign last year, he ran according to the Republican midterm playbook, hammering his Democratic opponent over crime and inflation. The message resonated in the New York suburbs, where GOP candidates flipped four seats on their way to winning a narrow House majority.
But as Santos’ past came under closer scrutiny, with large chunks of his official biography revealed to be conjured from nothing, he increasingly adopted the persona of a right–wing troll. He played up his support for former President Donald Trump and once claimed that Democrats were “trying to ban toilet paper.”
The freshman congressman has been accused of breaking campaign finance laws, violating federal conflict of interest laws, stealing cash meant for an Iraq War veteran’s dying dog, masterminding a credit card fraud scheme, and lying about where he went to school and worked.
Santos has admitted to making some misleading claims about his education and financial status but continues to deny the more serious allegations.
Top Democrats, joined by some New York Republicans, have been calling on Santos to resign. New York Reps. Mike Lawler and Nicole Malliotakis have both urged the lawmaker to step down, with Malliotakis adding that “we will hold that seat and so the sooner Santos leaves, the sooner we can get someone in there that is not a liar.”
GOP Reps. Ryan Zinke of Montana and Blake Moore of Utah pointed to the House Ethics Committee’s probe of Santos, with Zinke saying he was “surprised (Santos) made it as long as he did.”
Democrats are attempting to shake off the embarrassment of not exposing Santos sooner ahead of what promises to be an expensive race to win back his and other neighboring seats in 2024.
“Now that Santos has been indicted, it is incumbent on Speaker Kevin McCarthy to eliminate the stain of Santos on this hallowed institution by removing him from Congress immediately,” New York Rep. Daniel Goldman said in a statement.
The charges do not, from a legal standpoint, affect Santos’ status as a member of Congress. However, if a member is convicted of a crime that could result in a punishment of two or more years in prison, they are instructed under House rules not to participate in votes on the floor or in committee votes.
It remains to be seen how the Santos case will play out, but one thing is certain: the Republican Party will be hoping for a swift resolution in order to avoid any further damage to its reputation.