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Rep. George Santos expelled from Congress on bipartisan vote

The House voted Friday to expel Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) from Congress — an action the chamber had previously taken only five times in U.S. history, and not for more than 20 years — in response to an array of alleged crimes and ethical lapses that came to light after the freshman lawmaker was found to have fabricated key parts of his biography.

The resolution to expel Santos passed in a 311-114 vote, easily exceeding the required two-thirds threshold for removal, with numerous Republican lawmakers turning against Santos in what was the third effort to expel the New York congressman this year. Two Democrats voted present, and eight lawmakers did not vote.

Nearly half of House Republicans voted to oust Santos even though some GOP leaders voiced concerns about setting a precedent by expelling a lawmaker who had not been convicted of a crime.

The vote followed the release two weeks ago of a 56-page House Ethics Committee report that accused Santos of an array of misconduct, including stealing money from his campaign, deceiving donors about how contributions would be used, creating fictitious loans and engaging in fraudulent business dealings. Santos, the report alleges, spent hefty sums on personal enrichment, including visits to spas and casinos, shopping trips to high-end stores, and payments to a subscription site that contains adult content.

Moments after the expulsion vote, Santos left the chamber and headed down the Capitol steps to his car, trailed by dozens of reporters.

“You know what? As unofficially already no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer a single question from you guys,” Santos said before his car pulled away.

Santos has long denied wrongdoing and resisted calls to resign, claiming at a news conference Thursday that fellow House members were “bullying” him and that the Ethics Committee report was incomplete and “littered with hyperbole.”

Santos also faces 23 federal criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Two previous efforts to oust Santos failed. But the latest push gained traction in part because the resolution was sponsored by Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), the chairman of the ethics panel, and because of the audacity of the behavior alleged in the report.

During House debate over the resolution Thursday, Guest defended the panel’s work and report, saying investigators spent eight months reviewing 172,000 pages of documents and interviewing 40 witnesses. The findings, he said, “were shocking.” He also emphasized that Santos had “ample opportunity to be heard” by investigators and the committee.

“It almost would have been a dereliction of my duty if I did not support this,” Guest said Friday. “I did what I felt was right from a personal point of view.”

The Ethics Committee did not make a formal recommendation or hold a public trial of Santos because the panel’s leaders believed that he would use such a venue to try to delay the process to remain in office, Guest told reporters.

Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.), who previously said he did not support efforts to remove Santos, was among the handful of Republicans who argued during the floor debate against expelling the freshman lawmaker. Nehls claimed, without evidence, that the Ethics Committee had been “weaponized” against Santos.

“You may accept this report as grounds for expulsion from Congress, but I say no,” Nehls said. “It’s not right. The totality of circumstance appears biased. It stinks of politics.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday expressed “real reservations” about the motion to expel Santos, citing the precedent it would set given that Santos hasn’t been convicted of a crime. But Johnson said lawmakers would be free to “vote their conscience.”

On Friday, the GOP’s four top leaders — Johnson, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) — all voted to keep the indicted lawmaker in the House. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), chairman of the House GOP’s campaign arm, was the only senior Republican leader to vote to expel Santos.

Shortly before the vote, Stefanik wrote on social media that expelling a member who has not been convicted of a crime would be “a dangerous precedent.”

“I am voting no based upon my concerns regarding due process,” she said. “I have said from the beginning that this process will play out in the judicial system which it currently is.”

Under New York law, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) is required to call for a special election within 10 days of the vacancy of Santos’s seat, and that special election must be held between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s call.

“I am prepared to undertake the solemn responsibility of filling the vacancy in New York’s 3rd District,” Hochul wrote Friday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “The people of Long Island deserve nothing less.”

The campaign for the seat in 2024 has already attracted several candidates on both sides of the aisle. The vacancy gives Democrats a chance to flip the seat as the parties fight for the House majority in 2024. Joe Biden won Santos’s district — New York’s 3rd Congressional District — by more than 10 percentage points in 2020.

Expulsions from Congress are extremely rare. Before Santos, only five members of the House had ever been expelled: Three lawmakers were expelled in 1861, at the start of the Civil War, for fighting for the Confederacy. Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.) was expelled in 1980 after he was convicted of bribery, and Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) was expelled in 2002 after being convicted of racketeering, bribery and fraud.

New allegations about Santos were emerging even as the vote was about to take place. Rep. Max L. Miller (R-Ohio) emailed all House Republicans on Friday morning to claim that the Santos campaign had charged the personal credit cards of Miller and his mother for contribution amounts that exceeded federal limits. A representative for Santos’s office did not respond to a request for comment on that allegation Friday.

Friday’s vote came 14 months after the North Shore Leader, a local Long Island newspaper, reported a suspicious and “inexplicable rise” in Santos’s reported net worth when he was still a congressional candidate. Months later, in December, the New York Times reported that Santos — by then a representative-elect — had fabricated much of his résumé and biography.

Some of his fabrications were jarring — he claimed that his mother was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — while others seemed merely far-fetched. For example, he said he was the captain of his college volleyball team.

An array of local, state and federal investigations have since ensued.

The Ethics Committee report depicted Santos as someone who had lied about multiple facets of his life. While Santos would boast about “significant wealth” and claimed to have access to a trust managed by a family firm, for example, the report alleged that he was “frequently in debt, had an abysmal credit score, and relied on an ever-growing wallet of high-interest credit cards to fund his luxury spending habits.”

The ethics report also found “substantial evidence” that Santos knowingly violated ethics guidelines, House rules and criminal laws.

“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” the report stated. “He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit.”

Some of the more egregious findings were centered on a consulting company called RedStone that was founded by Santos under the guise of being an outside group helping his election campaign. However, RedStone was not registered with the Federal Election Commission, and documents showed that thousands of dollars from RedStone were transferred to one of Santos’s personal checking accounts.

The funds were used, among other things, to pay down personal credit card bills, to make a $4,127.80 purchase at the luxury brand Hermes and to make “smaller purchases” at OnlyFans, a subscription site that contains adult content, according to the report.

Investigators also zeroed in on several expenditures that were paid for with campaign funds and that “could not be verified as having a campaign nexus,” the report stated. Those expenditures included $1,500 and $1,400 charges on Santos’s campaign debit card at different spas, both noted as “Botox” in expense spreadsheets.

According to the report, Santos was given an opportunity to submit to investigators a signed written statement responding to the allegations, but he did not do so. He also did not respond to the committee’s requests to provide documents, to voluntarily testify or to give a statement under oath. Investigators noted that they thought any testimony from Santos “would have low evidentiary value given his admitted practice of embellishment.”

Last month, before the Ethics Committee report was released, a group of fellow New York Republicans attempted to remove Santos from Congress. Then, 182 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against that motion, fearing that it would establish a precedent to oust lawmakers without due process.

Months earlier, House Democrats — led by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) — pushed to remove Santos from the chamber after he was charged in May by federal prosecutors with 13 counts, including allegedly defrauding his donors, using their money for his personal benefit and wrongfully claiming unemployment benefits.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was speaker at the time of the first expulsion effort, said in May that the question of whether to expel Santos should wait until the release of the Ethics Committee’s report.

After the report was published, Santos continued to resist calls to resign. But he did say he would not run for reelection in 2024, reversing course from a previous announcement in April that he would. The lawmaker had already stepped down from his committee assignments in January after more of his fabrications were made public.

During long-winded remarks on X Spaces last week, Santos — despite saying he would not step down from office — said he no longer wanted to work with “a bunch of hypocrites” in Congress, whom he accused of committing infractions more severe than his, including being “more worried about getting drunk every night” with lobbyists.

Paul Kane, Anna Liss-Roy, Jacqueline Alemany, Marianna Sotomayor, Azi Paybarah and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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