US Representative-elect George Santos (representative of New York's 3rd congressional district) speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Nov 19, 2022. (WADE VANDERVORT / AFP)
WASHINGTON – A scandal over US Congressman-elect George Santos lying about his resume has been snowballing, casting a bleak shadow over Washington ahead of the sworn-in of a new and divided Congress.
Santos, elected in the 2022 midterm elections to represent New York's 3rd congressional district, admitted to The New York Post last week that he had lied about his work experience and education on the campaign trail.
"My sins here are embellishing my resume. I'm sorry," said Santos, a 34-year-old Republican, alleging that the controversy will not deter him "from having good legislative success."
US Congressman-elect George Santos claimed to have received a degree from Baruch College, a public college in New York City, in 2010, which also turned out to be a lie. Officials at the institution, The New York Times reported, "could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year"
Lies and confession
Santos billed himself as the "full embodiment of the American dream" – an openly gay son of Brazilian immigrants who becomes a "seasoned Wall Street financier and investor" with experience working in the business world.
Santos boasted he had worked for high-profile Wall Street firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, but neither company could find any records verifying his claims, according to an investigation by The New York Times.
In February 2021, Santos tweeted he and his family owned more than a dozen properties, while tenants did not pay their rent for nearly a year. However, no evidence has been uncovered verifying such claims of property ownership.
Furthermore, he claimed to have received a degree from Baruch College, a public college in New York City, in 2010, which also turned out to be a lie. Officials at the institution, The New York Times reported, "could find no record of anyone matching his name and date of birth graduating that year."
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In his confession to The New York Post, Santos acknowledged he had "never worked directly" for either Citigroup or Goldman Sachs, arguing that it was a "poor choice of words" to say he worked for the companies while revealing that he "does not own any properties" and "didn't graduate from any institution of higher learning."
Santos also clarified he is "clearly Catholic" after describing himself as a nonobservant Jew. As to sexual orientation, he confirmed to The New York Post that he was married to a woman for about five years but insisted that he is now a happily married gay man.
The US Capitol is pictured after a winter storm over the capital region on Jan 3, 2022 in Washington DC. (PABLO PORCIUNCULA / AFP)
'Do you have no shame'
Former US congresswoman from Hawaii and Fox News contributor Tulsi Gabbard ripped Santos to shreds while interviewing the congressman-elect last week, asking him, "do you have no shame?"
Santos also clarified he is "clearly Catholic" after describing himself as a nonobservant Jew. As to sexual orientation, he confirmed to The New York Post that he was married to a woman for about five years but insisted that he is now a happily married gay man
"If I were one of those in New York's 3rd district right now, now that the election is over, and I'm finding out all of these lies that you've told, not just one little lie or one little embellishment," Gabbard told Santos. "These are blatant lies."
Santos responded by underlining that he has "the courage" to admit and face his mistakes and that "I want to put this past me, so I can deliver for the American people."
"I understand. Everybody wants to nitpick at me," he complained. "I'm going to reassure this once and for all — I'm not a facade. I'm not a persona. I have an extensive career that I worked real hard to achieve."
The Fox News guest host added, "It's hard to imagine how they could possibly trust your explanations when you're not really even willing to admit the depth of your deception to them."
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Culture of lying
It is not rare that US politicians tell lies about their life stories and policy proposals to court support.
US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, re-elected to a third term last year, built his political prominence by portraying his parents as exiles from their native Cuba.
But a review of The Washington Post published in 2011 wrote that the Republican's account "embellishes the facts" and that "the real story of his parents' migration appears to be a more conventional immigrant narrative."
Herschel Walker campaigned against abortion access in 2022 as the Republican nominee for US Senate in Georgia. However, his former girlfriends have accused him of encouraging or paying for abortion.
A child waits at a privacy booth as his parent fills out his ballot while voting at Sabillasville Elementary School, Nov 8, 2022, in Sabillasville, Maryland. (JULIO CORTEZ / FILE / AP)
Permanent Washington has created a culture where it's acceptable to lie to further your own interest. Just try not to get caught … But even when politicians do get caught, people just shrug their shoulders and move on. No big deal, no consequences.
Tulsi Gabbard, former US congresswoman from Hawaii
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who ran for the White House several years ago, issued a public apology in 2019 for her past claims of Native American ancestry.
"Permanent Washington has created a culture where it's acceptable to lie to further your own interest. Just try not to get caught," Gabbard, who left the Democrat to become an independent last year, commented. "But even when politicians do get caught, people just shrug their shoulders and move on. No big deal, no consequences."
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"So, no one should be surprised that the American people don't trust these politicians. They've got no faith that those in Washington are actually working for the people when they're so clearly working for themselves," she pointed out.
Public trust in the US Congress reached an all-time low, with only 7 percent of Americans expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in it, according to a Gallup poll released in the summer of 2022.
Much deeper rot
Republicans flipped the House of Representatives in last year's midterm elections while Democrats held onto their majority in the Senate. The divided Congress will be sworn in on Tuesday, with Santos to join the ranks and files of American lawmakers despite bipartisan calls for him not to take office.
A voter arrives to cast a ballot in the midterm elections at the Aspray Boat House in Warwick, Rhode Island on Nov 8, 2022. (DAVID GOLDMAN / AP)
Public trust in the US Congress reached an all-time low, with only 7 percent of Americans expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in it, according to a Gallup poll released in the summer of 2022
According to US legal pundits, the House can only prevent candidates from taking office if they violate the Constitution's age, citizenship and state residency requirements. But Santos may face ethics investigations after he's seated.
Federal prosecutors in New York have opened an investigation into Santos, which is in its early stages and has not yet zeroed in on any one allegation of wrongdoing.
Prosecutors are reportedly examining Santos' finances, including potential irregularities involving financial disclosures and loans he made to his campaign as he was running for representing New York's 3rd congressional district, which covers part of the North Shore of Long Island and northeastern Queens.
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Jeff Mayhugh, a former candidate for Virginia's 10th congressional district, authored an article published by Newsweek last week, writing that "Santos's lies exposed a much deeper rot in our political system."
"He is a symptom of a much bigger problem than just his own dishonesty," Mayhugh continued, calling out "a broken political system that focuses too much on profit and control and too little on serving the people."