House Ethics Committee announces investigation into embattled Rep. George Santos

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The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday it is officially moving forward with a probe into embattled Rep. George Santos as the New York Republican faces mounting legal issues and calls to resign for extensively lying about his resume and biography.

The Ethics Committee said in a news release that it voted to set up an investigative subcommittee with authority to look into a number issues, including whether Santos may have engaged in unlawful activity related to his 2022 congressional campaign.

According to the release, the investigative panel will have jurisdiction to determine whether Santos “may have engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”

Santos responded to the announcement in a tweet.

“The House Committee on Ethics has opened an investigation, and Congressman George Santos is fully cooperating,” his office’s Twitter account wrote. “There will be no further comment made at this time.”

Santos told CNN in early February that he is “not concerned” about a House ethics probe or about New York constituents calling on him to resign.

“You’re saying that the freedom of speech of my constituents is a distraction to my work?” Santos said. “Do you think people are a distraction to the work I’m doing here?”

In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Santos also suggested the local grassroots campaigns demanding his ouster were not representative of the district. But a poll released on Monday by Siena College found that 66% of New Yorkers wanted him out – including 58% of Republicans.

“The ‘good’ news for Santos is that even in these hyper partisan times, he’s found a way to get Democrats, Republicans and independents to agree about a political figure,” pollster Steven Greenberg said in the survey’s release. “The bad news for Santos is that the political figure they agree on is him, and they overwhelmingly view him unfavorably.”

Apart from outlandish lies about his personal life, academic and professional record, Santos has been implicated in a litany of shady business operations, including his work at Harbor City Capital Corp. in 2020 and 2021, a company the SEC called a “classic Ponzi scheme” in an April 2021 complaint against the firm. (Santos was not listed in the complaint.)

More potentially damaging, though, might be increased scrutiny of his campaign finances. CNN reported late last year that federal prosecutors in New York were looking into issues surrounding his wealth and loans totaling more than $700,000 he made to his successful 2022 campaign. Santos has repeatedly said the cash he put into the campaign was legally obtained. But a complaint from a campaign watchdog group has questioned the source of that financial windfall. Just two years earlier, Santos had reported a salary of $55,000 and no assets.

Additionally, the campaign’s bookkeeping has also come under a harsh spotlight, especially following the revelation that his former treasure listed dozens of expenses just a penny beneath the legal threshold for keeping receipts.

That treasurer, Nancy Marks, has since been replaced. But the true identity of her successor remains a mystery.

On the Hill, Santos will also now have to answer for an accusation by a prospective staffer who claims Santos made an unwanted sexual advance toward him during a private encounter in the congressman’s office. Shortly after he rebuffed Santos, the accuser says, he was denied a job. Santos has denied the claims.

The individual, Derek Myers, said in a House Ethics complaint that Santos “touched” his groin before allegedly inviting him to his home and said his husband was out of town, according to a copy of the document provided to CNN last month.

Santos has brushed off repeated calls for his resignation, including from fellow Republican House members and local Republican officials. He has played coy when asked if he plans to seek re-election, though filed required paperwork to keep the option open.

GOP leaders in Washington have stopped short of demanding he leave, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy allowed him to be seated to a pair of House committees. Santos, though, chose to withdraw from those assignments as the furor over his lies intensified in late January.

The Ethics Committee also said in a statement Thursday that it is extending its inquiry into New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and whether she may have accepted unallowed gifts as a member of Congress. The committee released a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which said that Ocasio-Cortez “may have accepted impermissible gifts associated with her attendance at the Met Gala in 2021.”

Counsel for Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement to the committee that “though no Ethics violation has been found, the Office of Congressional Ethics (‘OCE’) did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the Congresswoman’s attendance at the Met Gala. The Congresswoman finds these delays unacceptable, and she has taken several steps to ensure nothing of this nature will ever happen again.”

“Even after OCE’s exhaustive review of the Congresswoman’s personal communications, there is no record of the Congresswoman refusing to pay for these expenses,” David Mitrani wrote in the letter. “To the contrary, there are several explicit, documented communications, from prior to OCE’s review, that show the Congresswoman understood that she had to pay for these expenses from her own personal funds – as she ultimately did. We are confident the Ethics Committee will dismiss this matter.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.