A full-fledged blame game is underway within Democratic circles following a bombshell investigative report that threw much of Republican Congressman-elect George Santos’s purported background into question. On Monday The New York Times reported that it could not confirm Santos’s claims about his work history or his education; the article highlighted a potentially fraudulent charity run by the soon-to-be lawmaker, shed light on highly questionable campaign finance practices, and couldn’t track the origins of his riches. Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York Democratic Party, tells me Tuesday he thought the scope of the report was “astounding.” The spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of the House Democrats, Nebeyatt Betre, said in a statement that Santos is a “serial liar who has managed to prove week after week just how completely undeserving he is of representing Long Island. His consistent deceit and blatant lies show us exactly the type of failure he’ll be in Congress.”
Yet, Santos is set to be sworn into the House of Representative for New York’s Third Congressional District in less than a month. Which all begs the question: How is all this getting attention now, after the election?
Robert Zimmerman, Santos’s Democratic opponent, insists the “information was certainly out there way before he was elected.” “I’m certainly not shocked by the story,” Zimmerman, who lost to Santos by 8 points, tells me Tuesday morning. “The media knew that he was a [Donald] Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene candidate. But what they didn’t really grasp, or really understand, is he was also the Anna Delvey candidate of this congressional midterm election cycle,” he added, a reference to the infamous grifter of the New York social scene.
It’s hard to fully comprehend what went wrong for Democrats in this race. Zimmerman raised slightly more than Santos did. The Democrat did spend a total of $22,000 over three payments on Deep Dive Political Research, an opposition research firm, per FEC filings. (This organization did not respond to a Vanity Fair interview request.) Local news organizations did raise questions in their coverage of Santos. One column in The North Shore Leader noted the eye-popping increase in Santos’s net worth from less than $5,000 to more than $11 million over a period of two short years. The piece even quoted an anonymous Republican leader as saying, “Are we being played as extras in ‘The Talented Mr. Santos’?” And the DCCC’s research memo on Santos outlined many of the allegations made in the Times report. It noted the IRS’s lack of knowledge of the congressman-elect’s animal-rescue charity and raised questions about his financial status. The document does, however, list Santos’s educational and professional claims without question. The bulk of the 87-page research document leans into Santos’s ties to Trump and his antiabortion stance.
Zimmerman says his campaign “was unrelenting in getting people’s attention” but that, ultimately, “I think part of the problem, quite frankly, was everyone saw this as not a competitive seat. They didn’t see the Republican tidal wave coming in New York, and so they didn’t focus on the race.” Jacobs, too, echoed this sentiment. “Santos didn’t win the race based on his campaign or who he is,” he said. “Like many other Republicans, particularly on Long Island, [Santos] won because of the view that this was an issue-driven election and the issue this year was crime.” Indeed, a red wave did run through New York on November 8, where even Sean Patrick Maloney—the person tasked with steering Democrats to another majority—lost his own race.
Santos clung to his MAGA bona fides during the campaign: He touted that he attended Trump’s January 6 speech at the Ellipse; he says he footed some of the legal bills for a number of insurrectionists; he regularly echoed claims that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election—the list goes on. And Santos certainly did not shy away from bombast. Among his greatest controversial hits was his comparison of abortion—a “barbaric” practice, in his words—to slavery. Another: his assertion that Ukraine is “a totalitarian regime” and that the country “welcomed the Russians into their provinces,” amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody assault.
“Some people think that piece is more interesting,” Jacobs said in reference to Santos’s Trump ties and controversial remarks. After all, Democrats won across the nation by calling out Republican extremism. “And here it turns out that that’s just scratching the surface.”
The Times alleged a laundry list of possible fabrications from Santos. He claimed to have attended Baruch College and New York University—neither school had a record of his attendance when asked by the newspaper. He boasted that he worked at top Wall Street firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, and again, neither organization could confirm his employment. The IRS had no record of the supposed tax-exempt animal-rescue group, Friends of Pets United, which Santos said he started. At one point, Santos’s résumé listed that he served as regional director of Harbor City Capital, a Florida-based investment company. But after the firm drew the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused the company of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme, Santos insisted he was a mere foot soldier in the operation who knew nothing of any wrongdoing. (Santos was not named in the lawsuit and has publicly denied knowledge of the scheme. Jonathan Maroney, the founder of the company, denied wrongdoing.) And yet, two weeks later, Santos and a handful of other former Harbor City executives formed a new group: Red Strategies. The Times reported that corporate filings listed that a partial owner of Red Strategies was the Devolder Organization—a company from which Santos reported a $750,000 salary and over $1 million in dividends over the past two years. Santos, who is gay, also appears to have lied about knowing victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, according to the report. Also published after Santos’s victory, at the end of November, The Daily Beast wrote an extensive report on Santos’s financial ties—to the tune of a reported $56,100—from Viktor Vekselberg, an influential ally of Putin. (Attempts to reach Santos regarding his financial ties to Vekselberg by The Daily Beast went unanswered.)