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House Ethics Committee report on George Santos finds "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing

Rep. George Santos survives expulsion vote
Rep. George Santos survives House vote to expel him from Congress 03:26

Washington — The House Ethics Committee released a long-awaited report on its investigation into embattled Rep. George Santos on Thursday, finding that there was "substantial evidence" the congressman violated federal law and engaged in a "complex web" of illegal activity involving his finances.

The committee said in a statement announcing the release of its findings that the investigative subcommittee tasked with examining allegations of misconduct by Santos "unanimously concluded that there was substantial evidence" that he knowingly caused his campaign committee to file false or incomplete reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), used campaign funds for personal purposes, engaged in fraudulent conduct in connection with a Florida-based entity he controlled, and engaged in "knowing and willful" violations of federal ethics law related to financial disclosure statements filed with the House.

The full ethics panel unanimously voted to refer the evidence of Santos' alleged violations to the Justice Department, it said.

"Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit," the subcommittee, comprising two Republicans and two Democrats, said in its report to the full House Ethics Committee.

Joseph Murray, a lawyer for Santos, denounced the committee's report in a statement to CBS News.

"It was a disgusting hit piece that really shows how low our federal government has sunk to and how we the people desperately need an Article V constitutional Convention," he said. "They should all be ashamed of themselves."

Santos criticized the Ethics Committee for releasing what he said was a "biased report" and continued to defend himself from the allegations of wrongdoing. But the congressman announced he would not be seeking reelection in 2024, writing on the social media site X that his "family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time."

"The committee went to extraordinary lengths to smear myself and my legal team about me not being forthcoming (My legal bills suggest otherwise). It is a disgusting politicized smear that shows the depths of how low our federal government has sunk," he wrote on X. "Everyone who participated in this grave miscarriage of justice should all be ashamed of themselves."

The George Santos ethics report

The scathing report could give momentum to another effort to remove the New York Republican from Congress and possibly change the minds of those who have been hesitant to support his expulsion. 

The committee did not make recommendations about punishment for Santos. Mississippi GOP Rep. Michael Guest, the committee's chairman, said ahead of the report's release that it would be up to House lawmakers to decide how to proceed. 

Guest said Wednesday that making such recommendations "would have taken several more months" and that the information in the report "would be enough for members to be able to make a decision as to whether or not they believe it would be proper to expel Rep. Santos." 

The Ethics Committee accused Santos of "obfuscation and delay," but said in its report that the scope of evidence collected by the investigative subcommittee leading the probe "demonstrated the breadth of Representative Santos' misconduct." 

In its 56-page report, which was submitted and unanimously adopted by the full Ethics Committee, the four-member investigative panel said its probe "revealed a complex web of unlawful activity involving Representative Santos' campaign, personal, and business finances."

The subcommittee accused Santos of an array of wrongdoing during his 2020 and 2022 congressional bids, including "blatantly" stealing from his campaign; deceiving supporters into providing what they believed were donations to his campaign, though they were payments for his own benefit; reporting fictitious loans to his political committees to push donors for further contributions to his campaign, and then diverting that campaign money to himself; and using connections to high-value donors and political campaigns to obtain more money for himself.

"And he sustained all of this through a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience," the subcommittee said.

The four-member panel said Santos was a "knowing and active participant" in the alleged misconduct, though he has attempted to pin the blame on his former campaign treasurer. Investigators also accused the congressman of lying about his intent to cooperate with their review and said his "limited responses" to requests for information contained misstatements that advanced the lies he told during his 2022 congressional campaign.

"A fundamental tenet of government service is that public office is a public trust," the subcommittee said in its report, adding that the evidence it uncovered "revealed that Representative George Santos cannot be trusted. At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles."

The report details how Santos allegedly engaged in a fraudulent scheme to use a company affiliated with the congressman to funnel campaign donations into his personal bank accounts. According to the subcommittee's findings, the company, Florida-based RedStone Strategies, received two $25,000 wires from a pair of contributors to Santos' congressional campaign in October 2022, which were then deposited to his personal accounts. The $50,000 was used to pay credit card bills and other debts; for a $4,127 purchase at the luxury store Hermès; and for "smaller purchases" at OnlyFans, a subscription-based website where people sell adult content, the makeup store Sephora and for meals and parking.

Congressional investigators found Santos also used campaign funds for spa services and cosmetic procedures. During his unsuccessful congressional bid in 2020, there was a $1,500 purchase on Santos' campaign debit card from Mirza Aesthetics, which was listed as "Botox" in expense spreadsheets the subcommittee received from Nancy Marks, the congressman's former campaign treasurer, according to the report. A $1,400 charge at Virtual Skin Spa to the campaign debit card in July 2022 was also denoted as "Botox" on the spreadsheets, while the investigative panel found an unreported PayPal payment of $1,029 to an esthetician associated with a spa in New York, the subcommittee said.

Santos told the FEC in an April letter that there were "errors and omissions" in his campaign finance reports filed with the commission, and blamed Marks for the issues. But subcommittee members said that Santos was "actively conspiring" with his former campaign treasurer to falsify campaign finance reports.

The Ethics Committee investigation

The bipartisan committee announced in March that it had opened a broad investigation into Santos to determine whether he had "engaged in unlawful activity" during his 2022 campaign, violated federal conflict of interest laws and failed to properly fill out his House financial disclosure forms. 

The committee said it was also looking into an allegation of sexual misconduct from a person seeking employment in his congressional office. 

Since then, the committee has given two updates on its investigation. In June, committee leaders announced more than 30 subpoenas and dozens of voluntary requests for information. About two weeks ago, committee leaders revealed investigators had contacted about 40 witnesses, reviewed more than 170,000 pages of documents and authorized 37 subpoenas. They said the investigation has taken "countless hours" and involved "a significant amount" of resources. 

The report comes about two weeks after Santos survived a second attempt to expel him from Congress as he faces nearly two dozen federal charges. Santos has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Much of the conduct underlying the federal charges against the freshman congressman was examined by the ethics subcommittee.

Santos faced his first expulsion attempt in May, when Democrats sought to remove him from Congress after he was first charged with fraud, money laundering and other crimes. Republicans blocked that effort and instead referred the matter to the Ethics Committee. 

But a group of his fellow New York Republicans renewed the effort to expel him in October after he was hit with more charges accusing him of stealing campaign donors' identities and putting thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges on their credit cards, falsifying campaign finance reports, money laundering and more. 

That vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to oust a member under the Constitution, as most Republicans and 31 Democrats withheld support for punishing him while the Ethics Committee investigation and his criminal trial proceed. 

"I stand firmly in my innocence," Santos said ahead of the vote. 

If the expulsion had been successful, Santos would have become just the sixth House member to be expelled from Congress. The most recent expulsion came in 2002, when Ohio Rep. James Traficant was removed from office after he was convicted of 10 corruption-related felonies.

Rep. Nick LaLota, one of the Republicans from the New York delegation who sought to expel Santos, said Wednesday it's "quite likely" there will be another expulsion vote and blamed the Ethics Committee's statement in October for taking the "wind out of the sails of the expulsion efforts." 

"We've been told that certain members of our conference and across the aisle, as well, want to hang their hat on something like an Ethics Committee report," LaLota said Wednesday. 

GOP Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, who voted against expelling Santos, said Wednesday, "It's going to be tough for him to survive a vote" if there's "credible evidence" in the committee's report. 

Many of the Republicans in the New York congressional delegation reiterated their calls for Santos to leave Congress — either by resigning or expulsion — following publication of the Ethics Committee's findings.

"George Santos should end this farce and resign immediately. If he refuses, he must be removed from Congress," Rep. Mike Lawler said on social media. "His conduct is not only unbecoming and embarrassing, it is criminal. He is unfit to serve and should resign today."

LaLota said on X that the report confirmed that Santos "is a total fraud who stole an election to get to Congress. The House must use our Constitutional expulsion powers. This will let the Third District participate in a valid election."

Ellis Kim, Michael Kaplan and Jaala Brown contributed reporting

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