The House is bracing for the long-awaited Ethics Committee report into embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), which some lawmakers expect will be damning — and potentially the final straw for the New York Republican’s radioactive run in Congress.
The committee last month said it would announce its “next course of action” in the probe on or before Nov. 17 — Friday — and Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the ranking member of the Ethics panel, confirmed that it will be the final report.
The release of the report will mark the crescendo of Santos’s thunderous tenure in Washington, which has been riddled with federal indictments — he is facing 23 criminal charges — votes on his expulsion and allegations that he told a litany of lies on the campaign trail.
“I’m eagerly awaiting the report,” Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday.
“I think the report is going to confirm what he’s admitted to, which is he’s a fraud and should not be a member of Congress,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said.
While the report will mark the closing salvo from the Ethics Committee, it is expected to compound the political drama surrounding Santos on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties have said they are considering forcing a third vote on his expulsion after some members voted against his ouster earlier this month, citing the panel’s pending work
The chamber voted 179-213-19 on expelling Santos earlier in November, far short of the two-thirds majority needed to boot a sitting lawmaker.
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) — who filed an Ethics complaint against Santos in January and hand-delivered the paperwork to his New York colleague — told The Hill that Democrats are considering launching another effort to expel Santos.
LaLota, meanwhile, has indicated that he would move to force a vote on booting Santos once the Ethics Committee’s work is out but was coy on the particulars Wednesday, appearing to defer to the reaction the report ultimately generates.
“I don’t know the timing. I think that the substance of the report will drive other members to get to yes. I’m a yes from a long time ago on expulsion. But we’ll see what gets other of my colleagues to yes,” LaLota told reporters Wednesday.
Those lawmakers, however, will not get full cover from the Ethics panel.
Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), the chairman of the panel, told reporters Wednesday that the committee will not include disciplinary recommendations, instead letting lawmakers read the report and decide what the next course of action should be. The chairman said that the process for recommending sanctions “would have taken several more months.”
“The investigative subcommittee decided that they were gonna compile the report, they would release the report to the members and to the public, and based upon that then members could take whatever action that they felt was necessary,” Guest said.
“We thought that based upon the information that was out there to the public as a whole, on the information that we intend to release in the report, that that will be enough for members to be able to make a decision as to whether or not they believed it would be proper to expel Rep. Santos,” he added.
That decision could make it more difficult for some members to get on board with expulsion over concerns of setting a poor precedent by ousting a lawmaker who hasn’t been convicted on any charges. Santos’s critics, however, are brushing aside that detail and banking on the reporting being damning enough that members will feel compelled to boot the congressman from the chamber.
“I don’t need an Ethics report to tell me what I already know,” LaLota said when pressed on the panel’s decision. “I am certain that he does not deserve to be a member of the House of Representatives.”
“Assuming that there is more damaging evidence that will come out in the Ethics report, which I expect that there will be, I’m happy that it is getting now to the point where there are no more bogus excuses for Republicans to use to avoid casting a true vote on whether or not they believe a complete fraudster and liar belongs in Congress,” Goldman said Tuesday.
Only five House members have been expelled in history, three of whom were booted for being disloyal to the Union in 1861. Santos’s ouster, however, would deal a blow to the House GOP conference, which has a razor-thin, three-seat majority in the chamber.
Those numbers are of concern to GOP leaders, but the New York Republicans leading the expulsion effort — several of whom serve in districts President Biden won in 2020 — are facing pressure at home to oust Santos, who they deem an embarrassment.
Santos, for his part, is defending his standing in Congress, telling reporters as recently as Wednesday that he plans to remain in office and vowing to roll with the punches as the Ethics panel prepares to release its findings.
“Like I said before, I’m staying in office for sure,” he said Wednesday. “I think I said this very clear to you: I will take whatever comes my way the way it comes. I have no concerns, and I don’t have any premeditated feelings on this.”
He told CNN earlier this month that he still plans to run for his seat in 2024 even if he is expelled this term.
The release of the Ethics Committee’s report comes as the legal walls are closing in around Santos. Federal prosecutors have unveiled two criminal indictments against the New York Republican, charging him with 23 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.
Adding to that legal predicament, two of Santos’s ex-aides have pleaded guilty to charges that overlap with the congressman — a sign that they could be ready to testify against him. Santos told CNN that a plea deal for himself is “not on the table” right now.
Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, noted the unusual nature of the Ethics Committee announcing the results of its findings before prosecutors complete their case.
“I am happy that the Ethics Committee did not wait for the criminal case to play out, which is the usual course,” Goldman said. “And I think the reason they did not is partly because of the pressure that we put on the Republicans to address this issue of a complete charlatan being, walking the halls of Congress and voting on legislation.”
The release of the Ethics Committee report will be the culmination of the panel’s months-long probe into Santos, who became the subject of controversy even before he was sworn in to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District following a report from The New York Times that he fabricated parts of his resume and biography. Santos has since admitted to some of those falsehoods.
The panel voted to open an investigation into the newly minted congressman in February to probe allegations regarding unlawful activity on his 2022 campaign, information on statements filed with the House, conflict of interest laws and “sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.” In June, the committee announced that it had expanded its probe to include accusations that Santos fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance benefits.
Santos has remained defiant throughout the investigation, refusing calls to resign and claiming that he will be exonerated.
But on Wednesday, when asked if he might be departing the House floor for one of his last times, he acknowledged that his fate on Capitol Hill may not be in his hands.
“I don’t know that,” Santos responded.
Mike Lillis contributed.