Rep.-elect George Santos, the New York Republican who admitted to making up parts of his resume to impress voters ahead of the midterm elections, is now facing bipartisan criticism and two criminal investigations over his actions.
His lies, however, are hardly the first told by Washington politicians looking to embellish their credentials in the eyes of voters, and efforts to kick him out of office for lying raise questions about a partisan double standard when it comes to holding lawmakers accountable for not telling the truth.
“There has to be a standard,” Stan Brand, a lawyer with expertise in congressional ethics who served as general counsel to the House of Representatives, told The Washington Times. “Campaigns are filled with hyperbole and misstatements. Now, Santos’ may be at the far end of the spectrum, but how do you draw the lines?”
The top prosecutor in Nassau County, New York, is investigating Mr. Santos for “fabrications and inconsistencies,” but the avenue to punish him for telling tall tales may be hard to find.
“For better or worse, under American law, lying is not a crime,” Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor and criminal defense lawyer, told The Times.
If it were, Mr. Dershowitz said, lawmakers would be accused of failing to apply the standard to other lawmakers who falsified their resumes. Among them is Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who told veterans in 2008 that he served in Vietnam, when he never set foot in the country.
Other prominent politicians also have been caught telling whoppers on the campaign trail.
Hillary Clinton, while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, recounted “landing under sniper fire” in war-torn Bosnia and having to run with her head down to an awaiting vehicle that rushed her to a U.S. military base. The tall tale was quickly knocked down by journalists who were in the field at the time and who produced photographs showing Mrs. Clinton not running for her life but smiling on the tarmac and greeting officials.
Another prominent Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, was criticized for claiming to be part Cherokee and using that identification to advance her career. She continued to claim American Indian heritage while running for the Senate in 2016 and while running for president in 2020, when she presented a DNA test that found she possessed a minuscule percentage of American Indian blood.
The list goes on.
President Biden has been caught lying about his academic record. He bragged during the 2020 campaign that he graduated in the top half of his law school class when he actually matriculated nearly at the bottom.
Mr. Biden has had other clashes with the truth throughout his political career.
He was forced out of the 1988 Democratic presidential primary after plagiarizing parts of a speech written by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.
Mr. Biden’s truth-stretching continued into his 2008 presidential campaign when he falsely claimed during a debate that he was “shot at” in Iraq.
He later clarified that he was nearby when a shot was fired. Now president, Mr. Biden is fact-checked and found regularly to be stretching the truth or outright making up stories.
Former President Donald Trump, often a target of the mainstream media, has been repeatedly accused of lying about himself and his administration.
The Washington Post’s left-leaning “Fact Checker” team determined that Mr. Trump lied 30,573 times during his term in office, but his biggest whopper may be his continued claim that he, and not Mr. Biden, won the 2020 presidential election.
In the case of Mr. Santos, 34, his lies were extensive and made both in writing and directly to voters while he campaigned for New York’s 3rd Congressional District. He falsely claimed to have worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and said his family was not paid rent for a year on a portfolio of 13 rental properties when he owns no properties.
His 8-percentage-point win over Democrat Robert Zimmerman was considered somewhat of an upset, and none of the accusations about his questionable biography surfaced during the campaign.
Mr. Santos lied on his campaign website by claiming he graduated from Baruch College in 2010 “with a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance.” He not only did not attend Baruch College but he never graduated from any college.
Although his resume mistruths may be hard to prosecute, Mr. Santos could be in trouble for providing false information on his financial disclosure form, which House candidates are required under federal law to file.
Mr. Brand said the financial disclosure form showing that Mr. Santos borrowed more than $700,000 for his campaign does not include the source of the loan.
“That’s going to be a fertile ground for investigation,” Mr. Brand said. “And that’s going to be problematic for him.”
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mr. Santos’ financial disclosure form, according to media reports.
In Congress, lying is unlikely to get Mr. Santos expelled from office. The threshold is generally much higher.
The last member to be expelled was Rep. James Traficant, Ohio Democrat, who was voted out of the House in 2002 after his conviction on 10 felony counts including bribery, tax evasion and racketeering.
If Mr. Santos lied on his financial disclosure forms, it could lead to a grand jury investigation and a felony charge against him, Mr. Brand said.
“He’s going to come under tremendous pressure if he does incur a federal investigation,” Mr. Brand said. “That’s another level of expense, and it’s tough to serve under those circumstances.”