Analysis by Gregory Krieg, CNN
(CNN) — New York Republican Rep. George Santos’ short and dazzling political career came to an end on Friday as a supermajority of his colleagues executed a maneuver as rare as the man they’re poised to evict from the House.
No less than two-thirds of the chamber voted for a resolution from Ethics Committee Chair Michael Guest, a fellow Republican from Mississippi, that made Santos only the third person to be booted from Congress since the Civil War – a dishonorable distinction previously reserved for convicted felons.
Santos is not one – at least, not yet. He’s been charged with a litany of wrongdoing, from fraud and money laundering to theft and stealing donors’ identities. His list of offenses, some alleged and others confirmed (often by him), runs much longer and places him comfortably among the foremost rogues and reprobates to make a cameo on America’s nearly 250-year-old political scene.
In less sweeping terms, Santos’ many transgressions are sure to endanger the GOP House majority, thin before and now looking downright bony after his number was taken off the board.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will kickoff a special election to replace him in the coming days.
The 56-page ethics report that ultimately doomed Santos, who recently described himself as the “Mary Magdalene of United States Congress” and dared members to kick him out, does a thorough – and, befitting its subject – colorful job ticking off his “constant series of lies,” misrepresentations and, most seriously, fraudulent spending.
The authors of the subcommittee’s submission, in perhaps their most admirable achievement, summarized Santos’ grand political deception in a single sentence.
“Santos’ congressional campaigns were built around his backstory as a successful man of means,” they wrote, “a grandson of Holocaust survivors and graduate from Baruch College with a Master’s in Business Administration from New York University, who went on to work at Citi Group and Goldman Sachs, owned multiple properties, and was the beneficiary of a family trust worth millions of dollars left by his mother, who passed years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a result of long-term health effects related to being at one of the towers.”
Little of it had been questioned, apart from notes of concern voiced in hyperlocal media, before Santos was elected. The 2022 Democratic nominee, Robert Zimmerman, says he tried to draw attention to Santos’ background, but big news outlets were pre-occupied with higher-profile races. It wasn’t until more than a month after Santos flipped the 3rd Congressional District that The New York Times published a report calling “into question key parts of the résumé.”
The ethics report confirmed what had become clear after months of reporting by journalists around the world: “No part of that backstory has been found to be true.”
What is clear now is that the tens of thousands of donor dollars Santos allegedly spent on Botox, Hermès and OnlyFans is a drop in the bucket compared to what he may cost Republicans, who are already on the backfoot in attempting to keep their House majority ahead of next year’s elections. At the local level too, the backlash to Santos could imperil the GOP’s gains and give new life to Empire State Democrats, who might’ve collapsed in on themselves amid a catastrophic losing streak, if not for the jolt of life provided by the scandal.
Prior to his election, the district had been filled by Democrats, and even under new borders, it took a unique confluence of terrible luck and worse politics by the party to cede it in 2022.
County and state GOP, along with fellow Republican House members from New York, have roundly condemned Santos – but Democrats have spent the year since the scandal cracked the headlines doing their best to link them all back to the freshman congressman.
The connections go beyond the ideological and get to the lifeblood of all politics: power and money.
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the fourth-ranking House Republican, is not in danger of being voted out, but her standing in the party – particularly among local machers – came under scrutiny after it was revealed she had privately vouched for Santos.
Multiple Republican operatives in Washington and New York told CNN in January that they found it implausible that Stefanik had not been aware of Santos’ falsehoods. There is no evidence Stefanik knew the truth, and her spokesperson denied claims that she or her staff advised him, but her credibility with some donors took a clear hit.
The sensational nature of the Santos mess has also energized Democratic efforts to unseat the Republican lawmakers elected alongside him in neighboring or nearby battleground districts. Reps. Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota on Long Island, and Mike Lawler, Brandon Williams and Marc Molinaro in districts north of New York City, are all expected to face serious challenges for their seats.
The challengers will have outside help, too, with multi-million dollar efforts by newly formed coalitions, like Battleground New York, already agitating against most of them. The most recent log on the fire: a series of reports showing that Thomas Datwyler, Santos’ second campaign treasurer, also served as the treasurer for the group’s joint fundraising committee in addition to his standalone work for D’Esposito and LaLota. (Santos’ first treasurer, Nancy Marks, resigned before pleading guilty to a conspiracy fraud charge and implicating Santos in a scheme to hoodwink donors.)
Not coincidentally, all five swing-district Republican freshmen voted for Santos’ removal.
How much farther the rot spreads from Santos still remains to be seen. In comments to reporters on Thursday, Santos promised more drama before he leaves town. (Relocation, he said, is imminent and he plans to pack up his Washington apartment on Saturday.)
But before then, in a conversation with a handful of reporters Thursday on Capitol Hill, he vowed to “have fun on my way out,” promising to “name names” and blow the whistle on misbehaving members of Congress. He refused to preview any of the potential allegations, purportedly against “multiple members,” but insisted it will be “enough to make your hair stand.”
“I will do the same thing members did to me,” Santos said, “and go to the Office of Congressional Ethics all throughout today and tomorrow and report everything that I think is relevant to the committee for them to look into.”
As for his private plans, Santos said he would consider writing a tell-all book and perhaps seek out a berth on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars.” In the meantime, he admitted that possibly going to jail for the “serious (federal) allegations” against him – which he has denied – scared him.
Already indicted, Santos was hit with 10 additional charges last month in a superseding indictment. The new charges include, but are not limited to, embezzling cash from his company and conspiring with Marks to falsify donation totals in order to hit fundraising targets set by national Republicans. His trial date has been set for September 9, 2024.
If the immediate future is full of uncertainty, Santos says he will leave Washington with clarity about his place in the annals of American democracy.
“History will also be remembered as me being looped in with two convicted members and three Confederate members who are expelled for due cause,” Santos said he told House Speaker Mike Johnson. “I’m going to be the first member of Congress expelled without any of those parameters.”
On that point at least, Santos is telling the truth.
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CNN’s Haley Talbot contributed to this story.