The House Ethics Committee released its long-awaited report into Rep. George Santos on Thursday, laying out a litany of evidence showing that the New York Republican deceived donors, stole from his campaign and then used that money for personal use.
The panel stopped short of recommending formal punishment for Santos, instead opting to refer its “substantial evidence of potential violations of federal criminal law” to the Justice Department. Santos is already facing 23 federal criminal counts and is staring down a September 2024 trial start date.
But the committee’s final report is, nonetheless, damning for the embattled lawmaker, and it has already sparked a third push to expel him from office — which is inching closer to the threshold needed to remove him from Congress.
Here are five takeaways from the sprawling — and scathing — Ethics Committee report on Santos.
Improper use of funds on luxury goods, Botox, Only Fans
Among the transgressions detailed in the Ethics Committee report were thousands of dollars of improper purchases that showcased Santos’s expensive taste.
It flagged a $1,500 expense for “Botox” that was not reported to the Federal Election Commission and another $1,029.30 in unreported cosmetic purchases. The report additionally noted $2,281.52 spent at resorts in Atlantic City, $1,400 at a skincare spa, and $3,332.81 for an Airbnb during a weekend when Santos’s calendar said he was “off at [the] Hampton’s.” Numerous charges were reported in Las Vegas during a time when Santos told his staff he was on his honeymoon.
The committee said it was unable to verify whether those expenditures had a campaign purpose, but they appeared not to.
Another pot of money transferred to a Santos business account was used, in part, on $6,000 worth of purchases at Ferragamo, another luxury brand.
The report also detailed transactions made by Santos after he personally received tens of thousands of dollars from an outside strategy firm created to support his campaign. The firm, RedStone, received $50,000 from two donors after Santos told them he was looking to buy television ads to support his candidacy — but he then promptly transferred that money into his personal accounts, according to the report.
Santos then used that $50,000 on a $4,127.80 purchase at luxury brand Hermes; payments for his own personal credit cards and debt; at cosmetic store Sephora; and small purchases from Only Fans, the subscription platform mostly used for pornography, the report showed.
Reporting fictitious loans to induce more donations
Santos’s campaign finance and fiscal indiscretions detailed by the committee do not stop at misuse of donor and campaign funds.
The committee said that Santos reported fictitious personal loans to his campaign and another political action committee, in part to portray his candidacy as successful and “to induce donors and party committees to make further contributions to his campaign” — before also diverting funds back to his own pocket.
Santos reported $81,250 in loans to his first run for Congress during the 2020 cycle, but the committee could only find evidence of $3,500 in payments that Santos made to his campaign. Santos received $31,200 in loan “repayments” during that election cycle.
In the 2022 cycle, a PAC associated with Santos reported receiving $27,000 in personal loans from him — and reported making $24,000 in repayments back to him. But the Ethics Committee, again, could not find evidence he had actually made those loans.
The committee did account for $715,000 in total reported payments that Santos made to his campaign in the 2022 election cycle, but it said that he was only able to do so because two companies he owned were paid $800,000 in three installments just before he made those campaign contributions.
Those $800,000 in payments came from an individual and a company that Santos had done some business with, but the committee had “serious questions regarding whether these payments were intended to benefit Representative Santos’ campaign and thus were unlawful excessive contributions.”
Santos has blamed his former campaign treasurer Nancy Marks for the errors in his campaign reporting. Last month, Marks pleaded guilty to conspiring with Santos to inflate his campaign finances earlier.
Effort to oust Santos gains momentum
With the highly anticipated report officially out, lawmakers are racing to force a third vote on expelling the embattled congressman — and the effort is already picking up steam.
At least three members have said they plan to force a vote on booting Santos from office in the coming days, a mad dash that reflects the intense reaction the final report is sparking. The Ethics Committee stopped short of recommending formal sanctions for Santos.
Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), the chairman of the ethics panel, plans to file a resolution to expel Santos Friday morning, a source familiar told The Hill.
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) — who forced the vote on expelling Santos in May that resulted in a referral to the ethics panel — said he will move to force a vote on booting his colleague when the House returns to Washington on Nov. 28. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who filed an ethics complaint against Santos in January, said he will do the same.
Those vows are setting the stage for a third vote on ousting Santos after the first two failed. The House referred Santos’s expulsion resolution to the Ethics Committee in May, a move that was largely seen as toothless because the panel was already investigating the Congress. And earlier this month, the House voted 213-179-19 to oust the congressman, far short of the two-thirds vote needed.
The upcoming vote is on track to have more support than the initial two. A handful of lawmakers who opposed expulsion earlier in November now say they will back the effort, citing the report.
“The report’s findings are extremely damning and I would vote to expel,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told The Hill in a text message.
Competitive race on horizon to replace Santos in slim GOP majority
Santos flipped his Long Island district from Democrat to Republican in 2022, and it is rated by numerous election analysts as highly competitive for 2024 — though the New York Court of Appeals did hear arguments Wednesday that could determine whether the Democratic-controlled state Legislature will be able to draw new Congressional district lines, throwing some uncertainty into the forecast.
If Santos is expelled, a special election to replace him could be similarly competitive.
Several Republicans had already stepped in to challenge Santos for 2024, with former New York Police Department detective Mike Sapraicone and businessman and Air Force veteran Kellan Curry leading in fundraising.
Democratic candidates for the seat are former Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is looking to take back his seat after vacating it for an unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2022; former state Sen. Anna Kaplan; and businessman Austin Cheng.
In the razor-thin GOP majority — 221 Republicans to 213 Democrats and one vacancy — the conference can only afford to lose three votes and still pass any party-line measure. Santos has sometimes been a key vote in helping GOP leadership get legislation passed.
But even if Santos is quickly expelled, that three-vote cushion would remain the same. And a special election to fill a Republican-leaning seat vacated by former Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) is set for Nov. 21, which could essentially make up for losing Santos.
Committee puts focus back on Justice Department case
The Ethics Committee opted against recommending formal sanctions against Santos — Guest told reporters earlier that doing so would have taken several more months — and instead voted to refer its findings to the Department of Justice, which is spearheading its own case against Santos.
Federal prosecutors have charged Santos with 23 criminal counts on allegations that he misled donors, fraudulently received unemployment benefits, lied on House financial disclosures, inflated his campaign finance reports, and charged his donors’ credit cards without authorization. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts, and his trial is set for September 2024.
The committee decided not to “bring specific charges against Representative Santos, in order to avoid substantially interfering with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ongoing and active prosecution of Representative Santos and others for related allegations.”
The report overlapped with the federal indictments on several points — instances of Santos misleading donors, using his campaign funds for personal reasons — and the panel’s findings included evidence backing up some of the criminal charges.
“The [investigative subcommittee] determined there was substantial evidence of violations of federal law, House Rules, and other applicable standards related to many of the allegations charges in the indictment, and substantial evidence of additional uncharged unlawful and unethical conduct,” the report reads.
The report also included several mentions of Marks.