Concerns about the honesty of freshman Republican Congressman George Santos were first raised in 2021 by his own campaign team, many of whom resigned over the issue, the New York Times reported Friday.
Santos is facing multiple investigations over his personal and campaign finances and lies about his resume and family heritage, including falsely claiming Jewish ancestry.
The New York Times said there was evidence that a small group of individuals within the Republican Party’s national campaign machine had indications in the past that Santos was being deceitful, and that he had been warned that the lies could be easily discovered.
Questions about the authenticity of Santos’s resume surfaced when a research company was hired to conduct a background check to find any problems opponents might use as ammunition against the candidate when he was running for a seat in 2021.
A Washington firm did the research and submitted the results in November of that year, after which some of his own team urged Santos to drop out rather than risk public humiliation by the truth coming out.
Santos disputed some key findings and continued his run for office, a move that prompted a number of campaign team members to resign, according to three of the four people the newspaper spoke to who were familiar with the matter.
The new consulting firm Santos then hired to help run his campaign did not speak with the previous team members or know why they had left, the report said.
Among the details in the opposition research report were bogus academic degrees, ties to a firm accused of carrying out a Ponzi scheme, several evictions and a suspended driver’s license, the Times said.
The report also found that Santos, who is openly gay, had been married to a woman, with suspicions from some that the union may have been purely for immigration purposes, the Times said.
According to the newspaper, it was unclear who else knew about the opposition research at the time, or if top Republican party leaders ever found out about it.
However, the Times said it had interviewed over two dozen associates, opponents and donors of Santos, and reviewed documents that showed that suspicions about him came up again in 2022, including among senior ranks of the GOP.
Some supporters, suspecting him of lying, asked to see his resume, while a former campaign worker warned a state party official about some of Santos’s business practices. The head of a key House Republican super PAC told some lawmakers and donors he doubted the candidate’s story, the report said.
It is “the most explicit evidence to date that a small circle of well-connected Republican campaign professionals had indications far earlier than the public that Mr. Santos was spinning an elaborate web of deceits, and that the candidate himself had been warned about just how vulnerable those lies were to unraveling,” the Times said.
Red flags were already being raised in the Republican Party in the fall of 2021 when a former adviser, speaking to the New York Times on a condition of anonymity, said he had informed a state party official that Santos was connected to a company accused of running a Ponzi scheme, as well as other dubious business activities. He said he also took the information to a newspaper that did not report it at the time.
Two unnamed potential Republican donors also become suspicious after Santos refused a request to provide his resume.
As the 2022 election drew nearer, Dan Conston, a close ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy and head of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main House Republican super PAC, was apparently already telling some lawmakers, donors and others of his concerns that Santos would be exposed as a fraud, according to two people familiar with the developments who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity. They did not provide more details.
According to the report, none of the concerns were escalated. Republicans gave Santos their support as their attention was focused more on state and local offices, the report said.
There was also little attention either from news outlets, which instead tended to focus on his policy views and the contest between two openly gay candidates.
Only The North Shore Leader, a periodical based in Long Island and operated by Republican lawyer and former House candidate, Grant Lally, reported on Santos’s past with two articles that questioned his claims about his lifestyle and called him a “fake.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee denied to the Times that it had been aware of Santos’s fabrications. McCarthy has played down the significance of Santos’s case and his allies said they were not aware of some of the more outlandish lies.
The New York Times said it sent a series of questions about its story, and a lawyer on behalf of Santos responded “it would be inappropriate to respond due to ongoing investigations.” Santos’s congressional office did not offer a response.
Santos has said he only embellished his resume with some falsifications, and insists he will not step down.
CNN reported Friday that concerns were also raised during the summer of 2022.
A Republican party source told the network that the more Santos appeared to have a chance of winning the election, the more concern grew that his background story didn’t seem believable.
Some worried it would be exposed in the press before the election, though no such information ever surfaced.
One potential donor who was at a Santos fundraiser told CNN he thought the candidate wasn’t being truthful, while another who did provide funding thought Santos was only “an embellisher” with his heart in the right place.
Initially the victory by Santos, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, was seen as a bright spot for the party in an otherwise underwhelming midterm election.
But as reports began to emerge that Santos had lied about having Jewish ancestry, a career at top Wall Street firms and a college degree, he has turned into a distraction and an embarrassment to the party as it took control of the House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.