By Joanna Button
What happened? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) pleaded not guilty to 13 charges in federal court on Wednesday. The charges include money laundering, wire fraud, and theft of public funds. He was released on bond the same day and called his indictment a “witch hunt,” vowing not to resign.
Allegations: Santos is accused of using campaign donations for personal expenses and unlawfully receiving unemployment benefits while earning a $120,000 salary at an investment firm during the pandemic. Two years later, he co-sponsored a bill to crack down on unemployment fraud.
Bad reputation: The congressman has a long history of lying to the public. For example, he falsely claimed his grandparents were Holocaust survivors and that his mother died in the September 11 attacks. He also lied about working for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, his high school and college education, and losing four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.
Response: A poll of Santos’s congressional district found 71 percent of Republican voters already wanted him to resign back in January, including many who had voted for him. Many lawmakers, including Republicans, are now calling for his resignation. Congress is unlikely to expel him, as it would require a two-thirds majority in the House.
What now? If he resigns, New York’s governor could leave the seat vacant or call for a special election to replace him. If his seat were vacant or replaced by a Democratic representative, it would critically reduce the slim Republican majority in the House. Some critics believe the Department of Justice’s speedy indictment of Santos was politically motivated to get him a deal contingent on resignation, which could benefit Democrats. Republican lawmakers are resisting calls for his resignation unless he is proven guilty.