george santos

George Santos Admits He Lied a Lot. But Hey, Maybe Not About Everything.

Photo: Newsday via Getty Images

George Santos, congressman-elect from the Third District of New York and international man of mystery, has been the feel-bad story of the holiday season. The (apparently) 34-year-old Long Island Republican won one of the handful of upset races that gave his party a slim margin of control of the U.S. House. But when the New York Times began looking into his background in mid-December, it quickly became clear that the candidate who called himself the “full embodiment of the American Dream” may have been dreaming up an identity for himself.

Santos has now admitted in interviews with various media outlets that he was guilty of “embellishing his résumé.” But he insisted, “I am not a criminal,” and said he still plans to occupy his House seat on January 3, just like his 434 colleagues. With Republicans (and particularly presumptive Speaker Kevin McCarthy) needing every vote they can muster to organize the House and Democrats being reluctant to disenfranchise Santos’s constituents, he will probably get away with his lies for the present.

And let’s be clear: Santos didn’t just embellish his résumé, claiming some academic honor or civic-club accomplishment he did not entirely earn. We’re talking massive fabulism. The Times found no record of his having attended the college from which he claimed to have graduated, no evidence he worked for the financial firms he listed as his prior employers, no sign of an animal-rescue charity he boasted of founding, no indication his claim of Jewish (and Holocaust-adjacent) ancestry was real, and on and on. The apparent inventions got really … inventive, such as the claim that several of his employees in the shadowy family business he says he owns were killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida in 2016, as Rolling Stone reported:

Santos also said his independent venture, Devolder Organization, an investment firm that he describes as being his “family’s firm,” manages at least $80 million in client assets. But the firm has has no website or LinkedIn page, and Santos did not list any clients of the firm on campaign disclosure forms. The Times was also unable to confirm the existence of various properties Santos claimed made up the family’s real estate fortune. Santos even at one point claimed four of his employees were killed at the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, but as the Times notes, none of the 49 victims of the massacre have any connection to Santos’ firm.

For all the stuff Santos seems to have made up, there’s also a lot he didn’t disclose in biographical information: multiple evictions and debt defaults in New York, a criminal fraud conviction in Brazil, and a recently dissolved marriage to a woman (he claims to be openly gay and married to a man, though records on that can’t be found either so far).

The one thing about him that is very real is that somehow between an unsuccessful 2020 congressional run and his 2022 victory, he made a lot of money, or at least enough to partially self-finance his campaign. In an interview with Semafor, Santos explained — without providing much detail — that the $3.5 million to $11.5 million he made from a company he founded in 2021 was from “deal building” and “specialty consulting” for “high-net-worth individuals.” The firm, Devolder, was dissolved in 2022 after it failed to file an annual report; Santos claimed it was an accounting error. He also did not provide much detail about his employment at Harbor City Capital, a firm accused in April 2021 by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a Ponzi scheme. Santos says he left in March and incorporated Devolder in May.

Everything will ultimately come to light given Santos’s national notoriety, but the question remains: How did he get this far without better vetting? Political consultant Tyson Brody has suggested the Santos case shows the limits of opposition research by political campaigns and points out that Democrats may have been distracted by the pursuit of more lurid questions about Santos’s involvement in the protests that turned into the January 6 insurrection. But what about the Republicans who nominated Santos for Congress twice without any primary opposition?

More than likely it was the R next to Santos’s name on the ballot in a midterm election where Gotham Republicans did surprisingly well that lifted him to victory as much as any of his “résumé embellishments.” But by the same token, they could have won with a candidate who, you know, hadn’t made up a biography.

Perhaps it was Santos’s prior obscurity that made this stunt possible. There are many, many politicians who lie sometimes or who lie often. Some, like Donald Trump (of whom Santos is very fond), lie so frequently that the term “pathological” seems appropriate. But by the time he first ran for office in 2015, the basic outlines of Trump’s life and career in business and entertainment were well known and clearly established. He could not have claimed he was in fact the King of Siam or that he had made his fortune by growing avocados. You need to come out of nowhere to paint the kind of sweeping self-portrait Santos appears to have undertaken as a sort of malign masterpiece.

At any rate, Santos now has the celebrity that will make further “embellishments” impossible. He presumably hopes that if he avoids expulsion from Congress or the shadow of the hoosegow, his constituents will forgive and forget by 2024 or even appreciate him as a performance artist. But he’s going to have to come clean and stop pretending he just buffed up his accomplishments and characteristics rather than just making them up.

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George Santos Says He Lied a Lot. But Not About Everything!