Jan 18, 2023

The George Santos scandal.

What did he lie about, and should he resign?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're covering George Santos (R-NY), his fabricated credentials, and whether he should resign from Congress just weeks after winning an election. Plus, a question about the word "woke" and what it really means.

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Quick hits.

  1. Army General Mark Milley traveled to the Ukraine-Poland border, marking his first in-person meeting with Ukrainian officials. Separately, Ukraine's interior minister died in a helicopter crash near Kyiv. The crash appears to have been an accident. (The crash)
  2. The Justice Department has declined to seek the death penalty for the shooter who killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019. (The decision)
  3. Microsoft says it will lay off 10,000 employees, or 5% of its workforce, following similar pledged cuts from Amazon and Salesforce. (The layoffs)
  4. The White House is pressing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to publicize the terms of the deals he made with right-wing lawmakers to earn their votes. (The ask)
  5. China's gross domestic product growth was 3% in 2022, falling to its second lowest level in at least four decades. (The growth)

Today's topic.

Rep. George Santos (R-NY). In the November election, Santos flipped New York's 3rd District red, defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman. But the newly elected member of the House is now facing increasing pressure to resign after revelations that much of what Santos told the public about his life was untrue or cannot be verified.

Last week, New York Republicans in the House and Republican state party officials called on Santos to resign, but House Republican leaders continued to stick by him. Yesterday, Santos was placed on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

About six weeks after Santos won his election, The New York Times released an investigation revealing that Santos's résumé was full of misleading credentials or outright lies. While campaigning, Santos sold himself to voters as the son of Brazilian immigrants, an experienced Wall Street investor, and an openly gay Republican. Santos also boasted that his family owned a real estate portfolio with 13 properties and an animal rescue charity that has saved over 2,500 dogs and cats.

Among other things, the Times discovered that Goldman Sachs and Citigroup had no record of Santos ever working there. Baruch College, where Santos said he graduated, couldn't find a record of anyone with his name and birthday in its records. There is no record of his animal charity at the IRS. His company, Devolder Organization, which he said managed $80 million of assets, appears to have had no clients, and journalists have struggled to find any records of its properties. Santos also failed to disclose criminal charges for check fraud he faces in Brazil.

Other oddities keep coming out: Santos claimed he was Jewish on his campaign website and to potential donors, but now says he is "Jew-ish," that he was raised Catholic and is descended from migrants who fled Nazi persecution. He falsely claimed his grandparents survived the holocaust and once said his mother, whose family has lived in Brazil since the 1800s, was a white immigrant from Belgium.

He has also told stories of how September 11 "claimed" his mother's life, though she died in 2016. She was in the towers on 9/11, but died of cancer years later, which Santos attributes to 9/11. Santos, who says he is openly gay, also didn't disclose a marriage and divorce from a woman just two weeks before he filed his campaign paperwork for a run in 2020.

Perhaps most notably, there are still unanswered questions about how he accrued his wealth so recently and rapidly. In 2020, Santos claimed very little income and no assets, but in the following year said he had earned $750,000 through his own $5 million company and owned a condo in Brazil. He also donated $75,000 to his own campaign and then another $700,000 in 2021 and 2022.

After a deluge of news reports exposing his résumé, Santos admitted to fabricating key details in an interview with The New York Post, but claimed he was merely embellishing his achievements. He reiterated that position in an interview with Fox News's Tulsi Gabbard, who was filling in for Tucker Carlson.

Santos has vowed not to step down, and says he will serve out his full term. New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has defended Santos, saying “a lot of people in the Senate and others” have fabricated résumés, and asking “what are the charges against him? Is there a charge against him?... in America today, you’re innocent till proven guilty.”

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many call for Santos to resign or be forced out by Republicans.
  • Some call out the difference between New York Republicans and the other Republicans in Congress.
  • Others take a serious tone, calling for Santos to get help and a little bit of empathy from pundits once he steps down.

In NBC News, Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY) said Santos is a "distraction and a danger to democracy."

"As we know now from intrepid investigative reporting, his candidacy was a fraud, predicated on a massive web of deception," Torres said. "By his own admission, Santos rose to elected office by lying to voters about almost every facet of his personal and professional life — including his family heritage, education, professional experience, business dealings, philanthropic endeavors and campaign finances. Under normal circumstances, the depth and breadth of his deception would shame one into resigning from public office. But these are not normal times, and Santos is shameless not only in lying but in lying about his lying.

"On a radio show titled 'War Room,' Santos reassured Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, that he has led an 'honest life' and has never been accused of wrongdoing. Never mind all the lies Santos has told and the multiple criminal investigations accusing him of wrongdoing," Torres wrote. "It boggles the mind how anyone who has methodically misled the public to this magnitude could be trusted to exercise the duties of his congressional office in good faith. Every American should worry about the risk of Santos having access to classified information — and what he might do with it. The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention."

In MSNBC, Dean Obeidallah contrasted New York Republicans to the current Republicans in Congress.

"Republican leaders in New York's suburban Nassau County made an impressive show of political leadership when several of them called for the resignation of admitted 'embellisher' Rep. George Santos," Obeidallah said. "But one powerful Republican leader, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, was not among them. Instead, McCarthy gave us a profile in political cowardice not only by not calling out Santos but by defending him with whataboutisms about others who have embellished their résumés in the past.

"The contrasting reactions to the astonishing lies of an elected member of Congress tell the story of two different GOPs: One that calls out wrongdoing and looks out for the voters it serves, and another that barrels ahead in the pursuit of political power, no matter the cost or consequences," he wrote.

In Al-Jazeera, Andrew Mitrovica said Santos needs to resign — but he also needs help.

"The breathtaking scope and nature of those lies about his schooling, work, faith and family have, understandably, not only rendered Santos a deeply unsympathetic figure but raised the possibility that his deceptions may have a more sinister hue," Mitrovica said. "It would be simple for me to join the withering pile-on, not only to ridicule Santos, but to excoriate him for his, by now, familiar glossary of egregious lies. At the risk of being dismissed as a Pollyanna, I instead ask my colleagues in the fourth estate and readers to pause and consider that Santos may be suffering from a mental malady that not only explains his aberrant behaviour, but also demands our charity, sympathy and understanding.

"Yes, our charity, sympathy and understanding," Mitrovica said. "I am not going to play amateur psychologist and venture a diagnosis of the congressman. It is clear to me, however, that this troubled young man needs help. I pity him. These days, much is written and said about the necessity to adopt a more enlightened attitude towards mental illness and to recognise how endemic the pain and hurt is among all sorts of people, in all walks of life, including, I dare say, politicians. Sadly, these progressive attitudes often evaporate instantly when a juicy political story sets off a furore. Then, the real, keenly felt human consequences of that reporting become an afterthought, if they are examined at all."

What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided on Santos, with some saying it should be up to voters and others arguing he should step down.
  • Some call out the numerous lies of other politicians like Joe Biden.
  • Others say the extent of Santos's lies does matter, and some are very concerning.

In Newsweek, Salem radio host Mark Davis said voters, and nobody else, should decide Santos's fate.

"What price should politicians pay for lying? The question is short but not simple. A sarcastic retort almost writes itself, to the effect that if lying is universally disqualifying, Congress would be able to meet inside a midsize car," Davis wrote. "[Republican voters] have to know that a resignation would throw open a special election, as soon as April. Political analysts still map the district as leaning Democratic. The House of Representatives margin is already narrow enough; do Republicans have a duty to call for his exit? They do not. The arguments against his resignation are compelling and non-partisan. I would be willing to accept them even if a Democrat had sullied himself in this fashion.

"It is impossible to know how many Santos voters are so thoroughly repelled that they wish for him to pack up his stuff in the Longworth House Office Building and slink off into obscurity. Maybe it's a majority; maybe it's relatively few. If he quits, only his detractors win. Santos' continued service is hardly a comfortable win for his 'supporters,' if that's even the right word," Davis said. "Any sensible citizen would be repulsed by his transgressions, but Republican voters who sought a Republican representative are entitled to get one, even if he's flawed. If the Republican base in the district hungers sufficiently for a representative with a less tainted history, it may elevate any number of opponents in the primary campaigns which will take shape in just a few months. That's the thing about a two-year term; you're always running."

In The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen said Santos "must have learned from Biden" how to make up details about his past.

"Biden has lied about his family history. During the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, it emerged that he had plagiarized a speech by British Labour leader Neil Kinnock, adopting Kinnock’s family history as his own," Thiessen said. "Not only were many of the words stolen, so were the facts: Biden was not the first in his family to go to college (only the first on his father’s side), and his ancestors had not been coal miners (though a great-grandfather was a mining engineer)... Biden has also made numerous false assertions about his educational achievements. He claimed in 1987 that he had 'graduated with three degrees from college,' had received an award as 'the outstanding student in the political science department,' finished in the 'top half' of his class at law school and received a 'full academic scholarship.' None of that was true.

"He has also falsely claimed to have been arrested multiple times for taking righteous stands," Thiessen wrote. "According to the New York Times, 'There is no evidence he was ever arrested during a civil-rights protest.' ... He has also lied about his experience in war zones. In 2021, Biden told State Department employees that he was 'shot at' overseas — similar to a debunked claim of being shot at inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone made during a Democratic presidential debate in 2007...

"And, of course, Biden lies constantly about his record as president. He falsely claimed to have passed his student loan forgiveness 'by a vote or two.' (Congress never voted on it.) He has repeatedly falsely claimed that he has cut the federal debt in half; that 'real incomes are up' (they’ve suffered the largest decline in four decades); that his Chips Act will create 1 million construction jobs (the real number is 6,200); that his Inflation Reduction Act will reduce inflation (it will not); and that none of his military commanders advised him to leave a residual force in Afghanistan (they did)."

In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote about why Santos's lies matter.

"As the story played out I realized Mr. Santos is Sam Bankman-Fried. He is Elizabeth Holmes. He is a 21st-century state-of-the-art fraudster—a stone cold liar who effectively committed election fraud, a calculating political actor who took advantage of voters’ trust. He wasn’t driven by inadequacy but entitlement," she said. "It is interesting that most of his lies were tied up with money and status... Mr. Santos’s main answer to the accusations is what he told the New York Post: 'My sins here are embellishing my résumé.'

"They appear to go beyond that. Where did he get the $700,000 he loaned his campaign? When he ran unsuccessfully in 2020, he disclosed no assets and claimed a salary of $55,000 from a development firm. In the years leading up to 2020 he hadn’t been rising at Goldman; he’d reportedly been working at a call center in Queens. His 2022 filings, however, showed sudden wealth," Noonan wrote. "He claimed he made between $3.5 million and $11.5 million at a company he founded in 2021. He told reporter Kadia Goba of Semafor that he did 'deal building,' with 'high-net-worth individuals.'... He didn’t respond to Semafor’s request for names of clients."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

Before we get into all the cynicism, let me give a few shoutouts: First, to the Nassau County GOP and five of the New York Republicans in the House of Representatives, who know with a great deal of confidence that calling for Santos to step down could be disastrous for them from a political standpoint but are doing it anyway. Their actions should be the norm in a scenario like this, but in today's political landscape they are not, and they deserve big kudos for taking the ethical high ground.

Second, to Tulsi Gabbard, the much-maligned former Democrat turned Tucker Carlson substitute, who delivered to Fox News viewers one of the best interviews of any politician I've seen in some time. Gabbard got right to the heart of the issue:

"My question is, do you have no shame?" Gabbard asked.

Santos tried to pivot: “Look at Joe Biden. Biden’s been lying to the American people for 49 years... Democrats resoundingly support him. Do they have no shame?”

"This is not about the Democratic Party, though," she interrupted. "This is about your relationships frankly with the people who have entrusted you to go and fight for them.”

Should Santos resign? Yes, of course. That's an easy question to answer. But he says he is not going to, which presents a few harder questions: Should Congress remove him? Should Republicans force him out? And if they do, is this the new red line?

Marc Thiessen's opinion piece raises good points about the danger of playing this game. If we're going to kick politicians out of their seats for lying, how many lies does it take? What kind of lies? What if the lies are known before they run or only after? What parts of a résumé must be ironclad and true? What is the difference between an embellishment and a lie?

President Biden appears to concoct stories out of thin air but often gets treated as if he’s an innocent grandfather misremembering his glory days. Donald Trump lied as if he was trying to break records (and he probably did). How much is disqualifying? Does it matter how long someone had been in public life before they started lying? And which lies are worse than others?

It's almost amusing to catch Santos in lies about his fake pet charity. It's offensive to catch him lying about his family having survived the holocaust. But it's downright troubling to catch him in lies about his money, finances, past clients and donors.

This is where the real story is. Where did his money come from? How did he go from a broke, failed, no-name political candidate to working at a call center to owning a mysterious company worth $5 million? Where did he get his $1 million apartment in Rio de Janeiro or his $1 to $5 million in his savings account? How did he loan $700,000 to his campaign? Who are the “clients” he says he was selling boats and airplanes to who made all his money and why won’t he name them?

What about his association with the company caught running a $17 million Ponzi scheme?

And why can't he answer any simple questions about his wealth and where it came from, even when he's talking to fellow Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz?

"It's the equity of my hard working self, invested inside of me," was the bizarre answer Santos offered.

The confounding and never ending litany of lies about his résumé is enough to never trust another word he says, and should be disqualifying to any voter next time he's up for an election. Surely, there are better GOP candidates waiting in the wings. We should all have sharp questions about how the New York press and Democratic opponents missed all these stories before he got elected, too.

But it's the simple questions about where his money came from and what he's done with it that absolutely must be answered for him to continue serving in Congress. Santos appears not to have those answers, which is the most alarming part of the whole affair. Without them, there is no reason for any member of Congress or the public to trust him as a representative.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How do you define the word, "woke"? I'd love to see you do a breakdown of the evolution of its meaning and usage in politics. It seems like more and more Republicans are blaming their troubles on 'woke liberalism' while I don't see any Democrats or independents using the word at all.

— Josh from Portland, Oregon

Tangle: I guess I'll start by saying it isn't really my word to define. It's a real word with an actual definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as "aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)." I think that is a pretty good definition. It used to be that people proudly called themselves "woke" to express this sentiment — that they were now “awake” to societal injustices they’d previously ignored.

That proud identity became a target, though. While "woke" culture initially inspired protests around police violence or racism, it evolved to be intrinsically tied with being a “social justice warrior”: policing people's language, taking righteous offense on behalf of others, and jumping from one cause to another with only a surface level understanding of the issues. Conservatives and less socially liberal Democrats (or less "woke" Democrats) successfully rebranded the most woke people as whiny, pretentious, overly sensitive, highly educated (yet ignorant) and often detached from the movements they claimed to be fighting for.

And, frankly, I think it was easy to rebrand "woke" that way because there is a lot of truth to the branding. Being "woke" became more about social capital — a way to impress Black friends or Instagram followers — than it was about understanding issues or participating in actual grassroots movements for policy change and political candidates. A lot of the "woke" people I encounter in real life or online seem to be self-absorbed, constantly seeking out grievances (a bipartisan problem) and moving from one major issue to the next without doing the harder work that activism requires. Many "woke" movements around language use or policy changes are actually very unpopular among the very people they are supposed to serve.

All of this is a shame. There are real injustices out there and people becoming more aware of societal ills or political issues should be celebrated, not demeaned. But that awareness has turned performative and competitive, and I think the toxic culture in many progressive circles basically devoured itself, and that's how we got here.

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Blindspot report.

We're bringing back the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

Many on the right missed a story about how Exxon Mobil accurately predicted present-day climate change as early as the late 1970s, while funding publicity campaigns that downplayed its long-term effects.

Many on the left missed a story about the University of Southern California's plan to no longer use the phrase “working in the field" because of its "racist connotation."


  • $40,000. The amount of money George Santos charged to his campaign for flights to destinations like California, Texas and Florida.
  • $55,000. His reported salary, commission and bonuses in 2020 while working at LinkBridge investors.
  • $750,000. His reported income in 2021 and 2022 while working for the Devolder Organization, a company that shares his mother’s surname.
  • $80 million. On his campaign website, the worth of the assets Santos claims Devolder Organization managed.
  • Zero. The number of clients or properties Santos has disclosed or The New York Times could locate during its investigation.
  • $25,000. The amount of money a leadership PAC started by Santos donated to the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

Have a nice day.

An extremely rare snowy owl has arrived in a California suburb and transfixed the neighborhood. What brought the owl to Cypress, in Orange County, remains a mystery, but the predatory bird’s habitat is the high Arctic tundra. The bird's arrival has become the subject of impassioned debate among bird experts, The New York Times reports, but it has also brought neighbors and Californians from across the area out of their homes to marvel at its beauty. “It’s like seeing Santa Claus on a beach,” one neighbor, a marine biologist, said. “Like that out of place, but cool.”

Incredibly, Tangle reader and photographer Miriam Stein, who we recently interviewed in our Tangle reader podcast series, went to see the bird — and actually got her own photo. We thank her for her permission to publish it:

Photo: Miriam Stein

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.