"Complete and utter fraud": Democrats call for Rep.-elect George Santos to quit over false claims

George Santos says he's sorry for "having embellished his résumé" — but his claim to be Jewish might sink him

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published December 27, 2022 5:20PM (EST)

U.S. Representative-elect George Santos (R-NY) speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (David Becker for the Washington Post)
U.S. Representative-elect George Santos (R-NY) speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (David Becker for the Washington Post)

Democrats are calling for Rep.-elect George Santos, a New York Republican who flipped a pivotal House seat on Long Island, to resign before even taking office after he admitted to lying extensively about his professional and educational background.

In interviews with the New York Post and WABC radio, Santos acknowledged that he had fabricated a number of claims about his work history and education during his two campaigns for Congress, describing his falsehoods as "having embellished his résumé." 

Santos denied reporting in the New York Times, however, which suggested that he had been convicted of a crime in his native Brazil. "I am not a criminal," Santos said in his interview with WABC radio host John Catsimatidis. "Not here, not abroad, in any jurisdiction in the world have I ever committed any crimes."

"To get down to the nitty-gritty, I'm not a fraud," Santos added. "I'm not a criminal who defrauded the entire country and made up this fictional character and ran for Congress. I've been around a long time. I mean, a lot of people know me. They know who I am. They've done business dealings with me."

In fact, Santos has faced made numerous claims about his professional history that he has now admitted were false. In media interviews and campaign materials, he said he had worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He never worked for either firm in any capacity.

He also said he had earned a college degree from New York's Baruch College and had attended New York University, neither of which was true. "I didn't graduate from any institution of higher learning," Santos told the Post. "I'm embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my résumé."

He also admitted this week that he had "never worked directly" with Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, blaming the discrepancy on "a poor choice of words," although his campaign biography prominently mentioned both firms as his prior employers. Santos said that he had actually worked for a company called LinkBridge Investors that had done business with those firms. The New York Times reported that LinkBridge did not respond to a request for further information.

Several Democrats have raised concerns that allowing Santos to serve in Congress after these admissions will set a dangerous precedent, paving the way for other candidates to falsify their backgrounds with little or no accountability.

"George Santos should resign as Congressman-elect," Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, wrote on Twitter. "If he refuses, Congress should expel him. He should also be investigated by authorities. Just about every aspect of his life appears to be a lie. We've seen people fudge their resume but this is total fabrication."

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., also wrote on Twitter that Santos should to be banned from taking the oath of office next week after he "confessed to defrauding the voters of Long Island about his ENTIRE resume."

Incoming House Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told reporters last week that Santos "appears to be a complete and utter fraud — his whole life story [is] made up," suggesting that Santos had to answer a key question: "Did you perpetrate a fraud on the voters of the 3rd congressional district in New York?" 

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Santos finally came clean on Monday, days after the New York Times investigative report into his life and career highlighted numerous inconsistencies and apparent false claims in Santos' claims about his background, as well as unanswered questions about how he funded his 2020 and 2022 congressional campaigns. Despite "a string of financial difficulties" that left Santos "owing thousands to landlords and creditors," the Times reported, by 2022 "he was able to lend $700,000 to his congressional campaign."

Santos told the New York Post that he "owned up" to what he called his "embellishments," saying, "We do stupid things in life." He was less clear, however, in answering questions about his claims of Jewish heritage, which have also come under criticism.

Santos has apologized for his résumé fakery — but so far not for the claim that his "grandparents survived the Holocaust," which is almost certainly false as well.

In a campaign video, Santos said that his "grandparents survived the Holocaust." He repeated a similar story while speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Nov. 19, claiming that his grandfather had fled Ukraine for Belgium and then immigrated to Brazil, the Washington Post reported. Santos also included on his campaign's now-deleted "About" page that his "grandparents fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII."

Reports in both Jewish Insider and the Forward last week, however, have cast doubt on that story as well, citing genealogists who said their research indicated that both of Santos' maternal grandparents were born in Brazil and had no evident Jewish ancestry.

"Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was 'Jew-ish,'" Santos told the Post, while stating that he identifies as Catholic. He did not respond directly to the evidence that his story about his grandparents was untrue.

That particular claim could cause the congressman-elect considerable difficulty in a district with a substantial Jewish population. On Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemned Santos and officially disinvited him from the group's future events. He had accepted RJC invitations honoring him as one of two newly elected Jewish Republicans in Congress, which seems at odds with his statement this week that he never identified as Jewish.

"He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage," the group said in a statement. "In public comments and to us personally he previously claimed to be Jewish. He has begun his tenure in Congress on a very wrong note. He will not be welcome at any future RJC event."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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