George Santos isn’t Jewish, an NYU alum or a former Goldman Sachs banker. Will he be a congressman?

George Santos  (AFP via Getty Images)
George Santos (AFP via Getty Images)

George Santos ran for Congress as a Republican in New York on an impressive resume bolstered by compelling personal details.

He was elected to represent part of Long Island as a Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors who attended Baruch College and New York University before working at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

But in the lead-up to his swearing-in as a member of the House of Representatives, the man voters put their support behind has largely vanished, replaced by a man many have given one label: liar.

Mr Santos, since winning his election easily despite going up against a Democratic incumbent, has faced one of the greatest media dressing-downs in modern memory. Over the past few weeks reporters have dug into his life and background, revealing lies told about everything from his work history to his religion and family heritage.

The unprecedented spate of lying came to a head Tuesday evening when Mr Santos appeared on Fox News, clearly hoping for a friendly reception and was instead subjected to a grilling by ex-Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard that quickly did big numbers on Twitter.

“If I were one of those [voters] in New York’s third district right now, now that the election is over, and I’m finding out all of these lies that you’ve told, not just one little lie or one little embellishment — these are blatant lies — my question is, do you have no shame?” Ms Gabbard said with dripping scorn.

Mr Santos has sought to cling to his quickly-disappearing political future with both hands and vowed to go on to represent New York’s third district despite the scandal.

But now he faces dwindling support on the right, a full-fledged assault from Democrats in the lower chamber and an investigation by the Nassau County District Attorney’s office.

So, what exactly did he lie about, and where do we go from here?

The lies, the fabrications, and the ‘embellishments’

Who is George Santos? As it turns out, we don’t really know. What we do know is who he isn’t: He is not a Baruch College grad or a New York University alum, as he has previously claimed. Nor is he a former employee of Citigroup or Goldman Sachs, two companies which denied his past claims to have worked for them.

He’s also not the grandson of Holocaust survivors, as he previously claimed in at least two interviews in 2022. He’s not Jewish at all, in fact — Mr Santos is now seriously using the “I didn’t say I was Jewish, I said I was Jew-ish” explanation first pioneered as a joke, despite claiming in both a public position paper as well as comments publicly and privately to be a “Latino Jew”.

According to Mr Santos, he has never been to college, and his actual business history involves a sudden surge of millions of dollars in wealth that occurred last year — a surge he has yet to explain. Adding to the confusing and eyebrow-raising nature of his wealth is the fact that the company he founded and rode to success actually shut down this year after failing to file annual paperwork with Florida state authorities.

What’s left is a man with a largely shadowy history who appears to have suddenly come into millions of dollars, with little to no explanation.

Who is speaking out about this?

The short answer: Just about everyone, minus the people who really matter.

The response from Democrats has been wholly unsurprising. Hakeem Jeffries, set to be his party’s next Minority Leader, used his name as a punchline in his first press conference as head of the Democratic caucus last week. Others have been more specific in their condemnations, including members like Ritchie Torres and Joaquin Castro, and called for his ouster from the House.

A handful of Republicans have commented as well, including Nick LaLota, a fellow Republican member of the incoming House freshman class who said that Mr Santos should be investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is celebrated on the far right for her support of various conspiracy theories, begged voters to give him “a chance” in a weak defence of his actions.

GOP House leadership, meanwhile, has remained completely silent. Kevin McCarthy, currently battling back an attempt by the far right to block him from becoming Speaker, has yet to say what should happen to the beleaguered Mr Santos; same with Steve Scalise, the incoming House Majority Leader.

What has been surprising is the response from conservative media, which has potentially become the biggest hurdle between Mr Santos and two years in the House of Representatives.

His agonizing skewering at the hands of Ms Gabbard followed a brutal interview with one of the biggest news outlets in his home state: The New York Post, a conservative paper that branded him a liar after he attempted to explain himself to their reporters in the wake of his initial exposure by more liberal outlets.

Things would only get worse for Mr Santos on Wednesday (28 December), when Nassau County District Attorney Anne T Donnelly announced an investigation into his web of lies.

“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning. The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress,” Ms Donnelly said in a statement, NBC News reports. “No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.”

So, where do we go from here?

The answer to that question could very well hinge on whether Mr Santos can make it to 3 January, when the new House class will take office. If he takes his seat in the lower chamber, the New York congressman-elect could very well ride out this storm — at least until voters take another shot at him in 2024. Kevin McCarthy or any Republican who ends up as Speaker will be under immense pressure from the right to cease any attempts to punish his own members for supposed wrongdoing, and those conservatives will have a lot of leverage given the single-digit majority the GOP will have come January.

Should that happen, he could still face an investigation from the House Ethics Committee — but expulsion from the chamber would be highly unlikely.

Though, there’s still the possibility that Mr Santos resigns before the 3rd. The scandal has evolved quickly in the past week, and any more damaging revelations, depending on how serious they are, could trigger a new wave of condemnations that proves too much for an incoming congressman with few to no allies in Washington to bear.

Some of those condemnations carry more weight than others, and have more serious political consequences. The best example so far has been the response from the Republican Jewish Coalition, a powerful national GOP group which condemned Mr Santos’s lies about his ancestry and barred him from all future events. There’s also the ongoing assault being led by conservative media, a prospect that could easily be a death sentence for a vulnerable freshman Republican.

And then there’s the feds. On Wednesday, as the scrutiny over his wealth grew, news reports indicated that both federal and state prosecutors were looking into his finances. Those probes would follow him long past 3 Jan, and could well result in his ouster from Congress in the months to come.

Mr Santos and a handful of allies remain adamant that he can serve his district for two years in the House, and that he will weather this storm. But in the end, this may just be another falsehood spun by an aspiring politician who wound up being more fiction than fact.