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The Fabulist

The Holes in George Santos’s Record Were Just Sitting There

A combination of inaction and inattention allowed the newly elected Republican lawmaker to win office despite having apparently fabricated wide swaths of his biography.

David Becker/Getty Images
New York Congressman-elect George Santos

Earlier this week, The New York Times set off a political bomb after it published a story that pointed out the numerous holes in Congressman-elect George Santos’s résumé. The report illuminated several instances in which Santos appears to have committed fabulism. There’s reason to doubt that he graduated from Baruch College. There’s reason to doubt he worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. There’s reason to question the tax-exempt status of his organization for rescuing animals. And there was reason to question the source of his wealth.

Days have passed, and Santos has been unable to disprove that he’s a real-life Bob Benson. That he is now under increasing scrutiny for what seems to be a grossly inflated résumé should not be an entire surprise to the Republican congressman or anyone else. Some months prior to the election, a small weekly local newspaper called The North Shore Leader had published an editorial that—while ostensibly endorsing Robert Zimmerman, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 3rd congressional district—broadly questioned the story Santos had sold to the public. Another North Shore Leader article reported glaring inconsistencies in his late campaign finance report: Two years ago Santos had no substantial assets, but by 2022, he was claiming a net worth of millions of dollars.

The North Shore Leader’s platform was constrained, though. It’s a weekly newspaper: Readership runs in the thousands, and its online presence is limited. But questions about Santos’s background were almost a given. Multiple strategists I talked to fretted that such inquiries had been floating around the district for much of the campaign, but most of the national attention given to the contest focused on the fact that this was a race between two gay candidates. There were exceptions: The Daily Beast reported on Santos’s connections to an investment firm that “bilked millions of dollars from its customers.” But consistent reporting of that ilk was in short supply—this was, after all, just one congressional candidate in New York.

Democrats focused on the race were aware of the discrepancies in Santos’s claims and devoted some attention to them; again, their reach was extremely restricted. A copy of the Democratic Congressional Committee’s opposition research book on Santos that was last updated in July and obtained by The New Republic includes questions on the investment firm Santos claimed to have run, as well as his dubious finances, but much of the research focused on Santos’s views on the 2022 election, his conservative position on abortion, and associations with Trumpian figures.

The Zimmerman campaign said it tried to pitch what discrepancies it knew of in Santos’s background but had little success.

“Santos wasn’t necessarily considered viable,” said a Democratic strategist involved in the Zimmerman campaign. “I think the attraction when you did cover this race was more that it was two gay men running against each other and the historic nature around that.” The Zimmerman campaign was largely unsuccessful in getting the media to follow up on the discrepancies in Santos’s work history, such as his employment at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. “There was just no interest when we pitched it,” the strategist said. “And the third thing was the financial disclosures were a mess and didn’t make sense. But there was not much interest.”

But there were revelations surfaced by The New York Times this week that either escaped the attention of the Zimmerman campaign or did not rate making hay out of, such as Santos’s arrest record in Brazil.*

Republicans may have been aware of Santos’s lack of viability as a candidate. The National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, only spent about $100,000 on the race, according to Federal Election Commission filings. A House Republican official, speaking on background to The Cook Political Report, said that Santos’s business record gave them pause, adding, “We’re not touching him with a 10-foot pole.” The Congressional Leadership Fund, or CLF, the main House Republican super PAC, did not make any substantial investment in the race.

Spokespeople for the NRCC and CLF did not respond to questions from The New Republic. Santos’s lawyer, who has been acting as his main point of contact since the Times story broke, did not respond to an email from The New Republic either.

Since the Times’ story broke, other outlets have begun to look more closely at Santos’s background. Increasing scrutiny is being applied to his biography. He is now under pressure to resign his congressional seat even before he becomes an actual member of Congress.

This situation was somewhat foreseeable. Throughout the campaign, there were signs that the candidate Santos presented himself as—a gay pro-Trump Republican with a Horatio Alger story—didn’t pass the smell test. But the kind of forceful focus that’s cropped up in recent days simply wasn’t there in the run-up to the midterms, a partial consequence of hollowed-out local newsrooms and insufficient vetting by some of the elite gatekeepers who are supposed to keep snake oil salesman from getting anywhere close to influential political jobs.

* This article originally misstated the matter that escaped the Zimmerman campaign’s attention.