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The House expelled George Santos. What happens next?

PolitiFact | A look at whether Santos can get a federal pension, and more.
 
George Santos, R- N.Y., is surrounded by journalists as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after his fellow members of Congress voted to expel him from the House of Representatives on Dec. 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
George Santos, R- N.Y., is surrounded by journalists as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after his fellow members of Congress voted to expel him from the House of Representatives on Dec. 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C. [ KEVIN DIETSCH | Getty Images North America ]
Published Dec. 2, 2023

The U.S. House of Representatives expelled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., just a year into his first term. Expulsion required a two-thirds majority, which was reached when 73% of those present and voting supported Santos’ heave-ho.

In a highly polarized era, the Dec. 1 expulsion was bipartisan (105 Republicans and 206 Democrats voted to oust him) and represented a significant rebuke to Santos’ pattern of fabulism about his life experiences.

Santos continues to face criminal counts of wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, false statements, records falsification, identity theft and conspiracy.

After the expulsion vote, Santos told reporters, “To hell with this place.”

Santos had survived two previous expulsion efforts, as enough lawmakers accepted his argument that expelling him before a trial would short-circuit due process. But the third, successful effort followed the Nov. 16 release of a highly critical investigative report by the House Ethics Committee.

Before Santos, only five House members had ever been expelled, most recently in 2002, when Rep. James Traficant, a renegade Democrat from Ohio, was convicted of 10 corruption-related charges. The only other House member expelled since the Civil War era was Rep. Ozzie Myers, D-Pa., who was convicted of bribery in 1980. The others were expelled in 1861 after being deemed disloyal to the U.S. early in the Civil War.

Under New York state law, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has 10 days from the date of the vacancy to call for a special election for voters in the district; then the election must follow within 70 to 80 days, the New York State Board of Elections said. Until the election, a taxpayer-funded staff will run Santos’ former office.

How did Santos get to this point?

Earlier this year, we covered the extraordinary breadth of Santos’ questionable claims about his personal background, from educational and work achievements to his family history to whether he had been a drag queen in Brazil. We found that he rarely acknowledged fabrications or falsehoods; he mostly reiterated them or ignored any questions about their veracity.

The committee’s report recapped a litany of Santos’ apparent fabrications, adding its voice to people who have said his stories were false. The 64-page document used a variation on the word “lie” nine times, and a variation on the word “false” more than 30 times.

“Rep. Santos’ congressional campaigns were built around his backstory as a successful man of means: a grandson of Holocaust survivors and graduate from Baruch College with a Master’s in Business Administration from New York University, who went on to work at CitiGroup and Goldman Sachs, owned multiple properties, and was the beneficiary of a family trust worth millions of dollars left by his mother, who passed years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a result of long-term health effects related to being at one of the towers.

“No part of that backstory has been found to be true.”

What’s next for Santos?

Federal prosecutors have charged Santos with wire fraud, making materially false statements to the Federal Election Commission, falsifying records submitted to obstruct the Federal Election Commission, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making materially false statements.

Santos allegedly led multiple additional fraudulent criminal schemes, including stealing family members’ identities and using political contributors’ credit card information to fraudulently inflate his campaign coffers, prosecutors said.

Santos’ defense attorney, Joseph Murray, declined to comment to PolitiFact.

In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew agreed to resign as vice president and entered a no-contest plea to federal tax evasion that allowed him to escape a prison sentence. But Santos resisted such a tactic, and some lawyers said Santos’ expulsion could cost him crucial legal leverage.

“The question really is, does he lose his bargaining chip in dealing with the government?” said Stan Twardy, a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut, told PolitiFact. “There is no definitive answer.”

Purely by the numbers, “most federal criminal cases result in a conviction, and from the outside looking in, the government’s evidence appears to be more than sufficient to convict him,” said Ankush Khardori, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in financial fraud and white-collar crime.

Khardori told PolitiFact that the charges against Santos are so numerous and varied that he doubted his resignation would have mattered much for prosecutors.

“Unless Santos decides to plead out, it will still fall to a jury to decide his fate based on the facts and the law,” Khardori said. “The House’s political judgment about his suitability to sit in Congress should not factor into their decision. "

Steve Friedland, a law professor at Elon University, agreed with Khardori. Although the Ethics Committee echoed several of the indictment’s charges, Congress does not have to follow the same “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards the jury will have to follow.

Will Santos get a federal pension?

Santos will lose his $174,000 congressional salary and is not eligible for a pension. A member of Congress can receive a pension only after serving for five years. Previous service as a federal employee can count toward that five-year vesting period, though that doesn’t appear to be an issue for Santos.