N.Y. Lawmakers to Request House Ethics Investigation of George Santos
Representatives Daniel Goldman and Ritchie Torres, both Democrats of New York, will file an official complaint on Tuesday asking the House Committee on Ethics to investigate Representative George Santos, the Republican who admitted to lying about his background after a report last month in The New York Times.
The congressmen will request that the House committee explore whether Mr. Santos, a first-year lawmaker representing parts of Long Island and Queens, broke the law when he filed his required financial disclosures late and without key details about his finances.
“The House of Representatives has an obligation to police itself, and this is just the start of our mission to hold George Santos accountable to his constituents and the American people,” Mr. Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who represents parts of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, said in a statement.
The complaint by Mr. Goldman and Mr. Torres, made just days after Mr. Santos took his oath of office, adds significant pressure to a novice lawmaker already surrounded by controversy and facing calls to resign.
Mr. Santos entered Congress last week dogged by scrutiny from fellow lawmakers and the public alike after The Times uncovered inconsistencies in his background, found omissions in his financial disclosures and raised questions about his campaign expenses. Federal and local prosecutors have said that they are looking into whether Mr. Santos committed any crimes involving his finances or his lies on the campaign trail.
On Monday, the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing Mr. Santos of improperly using campaign money for personal expenses, misrepresenting his spending and hiding the true sources of his campaign funding.
In interviews with select news media outlets, Mr. Santos has acknowledged lying to voters about his educational and professional history, though he has admitted only to “embellishing” his résumé. His lawyer, Joe Murray, has said in a statement that the campaign’s spending did not break any campaign finance laws.
More on the George Santos Controversy
- Behind the Investigation: The Times journalists Michael Gold and Grace Ashford discuss how a serial fabricator was elected to Congress and how they discovered that he was a fraud.
- Going to Washington: Despite being under scrutiny for lies about his background, George Santos brings his saga to Capitol Hill, where he will face significant pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
- Facing Inquiries: Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Santos committed crimes involving his finances, or made misleading statements.
- Embellished Résumés: While other politicians have also misled the public about their past, few have done so in as wide-ranging a manner as Mr. Santos.
But Mr. Santos has not addressed the paucity of information on financial disclosure forms he filed with the House clerk during his campaign. Though candidates are required to file their forms by May 15 of an election year, Mr. Santos did not submit his until September.
In his disclosure, Mr. Santos reported that his company, the Devolder Organization, paid him a $750,000 salary and provided dividends totaling somewhere from $1 million to $5 million. But he did not offer details about his company’s clients who might have helped him earn such a large sum, an apparent violation of a requirement to disclose any compensation in excess of $5,000 from a single source.
Mr. Santos, the son of Brazilian immigrants, also reported owning an apartment in Rio de Janeiro valued at as much as $1 million. But he told The New York Post last month that he did not own any properties, and he has not provided more details about the property in Brazil.
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Torres said that they wanted the House Committee on Ethics to investigate whether Mr. Santos’s filing had violated the Ethics in Government Act — an anti-corruption law passed after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s — because it was not “timely, accurate and complete.”
Mr. Torres, who represents part of the Bronx, said in a statement that Mr. Santos “claims to have earned millions of dollars from the clients he served, yet he failed to disclose the names of those clients, in violation of federal law.”
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Torres are not the only lawmakers to push for a House ethics investigation. Last month, Representative Nick LaLota, who, like Mr. Santos, is a first-term Republican representing Long Island, called for a “full investigation by the House ethics committee and, if necessary, law enforcement” into Mr. Santos’s behavior.
The ethics committee, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers that enforces the chamber’s internal rules, is not known for doling out significant punishments. Congress rarely takes serious disciplinary action against fellow members, unless their behavior rises to the level of a federal crime.
Government watchdog groups often criticize the body for being too slow-moving. Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit group, said the committee “would rather have people resign or have their terms finish out” than have to punish sitting lawmakers.
But Mr. Libowitz said that the complaint by Mr. Torres and Mr. Goldman could pressure the committee to begin an investigation, especially in light of rules changes pushed by House Republicans to the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics that could hamper its power.
On Monday night, Mr. Goldman said that the changes would “gut” the office, which typically conducts inquiries and then refers both reports and recommendations to the ethics committee for consideration. In a statement, he said the changes were being made “just in time to protect their favorite fraud, George Santos.”
Mr. Libowitz said that the complaint by Mr. Goldman and Mr. Torres would effectively leapfrog the office, spurring the ethics committee to take action on his own. The committee is equally split between Democrats and Republicans, he added, limiting the impact that partisan politics can have on its work.
If the House committee chooses to begin an investigation and finds that Mr. Santos is guilty, it has a range of disciplinary options.
The committee has ordered lawmakers to pay fines, as it did last month with Madison Cawthorn, Republican of North Carolina, whose term just ended. It can also suggest that the House pass resolutions to censure or reprimand members. In more extreme cases, the committee can recommend that the House expel a member, though such an action is rare and would require a two-thirds majority vote.
In practice, Mr. Libowitz said, the pressure of a House ethics investigation often pushed lawmakers to either resign from office or declare their intention not to run for re-election. Still, he said, the calls to investigate Mr. Santos stood out given their timing.
“We don’t usually see investigations starting just as soon as someone’s taking office,” Mr. Libowitz said.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.