By Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Embattled Republican U.S. Representative George Santos said on Thursday he will not run for re-election in an announcement made shortly after the release of a scathing report by fellow lawmakers that referred more “uncharged and unlawful conduct” to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
But the first-term congressman from New York said he would not resign even as a renewed effort to expel him from the House of Representatives gained steam.
Santos, 35, previously pleaded not guilty to federal charges of laundering campaign funds to pay for personal expenses and charging the credit cards of donors without permission, among other campaign finance violations.
The House Ethics Committee’s investigative report, released barely an hour before Santos made his announcement, identified further questionable financial activity by the congressman, prompting more of his fellow Republicans to urge expulsion.
“I will continue on my mission to serve my constituents up until I am allowed. I will however NOT be seeking re-election for a second term in 2024,” Santos wrote on social media. “My family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time.”
Santos survived an expulsion vote on Nov. 1. The ethics panel’s Republican chairman, Representative Michael Guest, intends to file a fresh expulsion motion on Friday, according to his office, and lawmakers could take it up after next week’s Thanksgiving holiday break.
Santos came under scrutiny even before taking office in January after the New York Times and other media outlets reported he had fabricated much of his life story while running for office. Santos has dismissed complaints that he had lied about his education, work history and family as mere resume embellishment.
Two of his former aides already have pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations.
BOTOX, HERMES AND ONLYFANS
The committee’s report found that Santos “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”
Santos charged almost $4,000 for spa treatments, including Botox, to his congressional campaign account, according to the report. He also spent more than $4,000 of campaign money at the retail store Hermes and made “smaller purchases” from Sephora, a makeup store, and OnlyFans, an online platform known for sexual content, the report found.
He also had his campaign pay more than $3,300 for an Airbnb in the exclusive Hamptons area of Long Island in July 2022, at a time when he had no recorded campaign events, it found.
The pattern of poor bookkeeping and personal use of campaign money was so extensive, the report found, that his election “has called into question the integrity of the House.”
In light of an ongoing federal criminal investigation and the new “findings of additional uncharged and unlawful conduct by Representative Santos, the (panel’s investigative subcommittee) recommended that the committee immediately refer these allegations to the Department of Justice,” the report stated.
Specifically, the committee said it uncovered fresh evidence of falsely reported loans received by Santos’ unsuccessful 2020 congressional campaign, improper loan repayments and “systemic reporting errors” in both his 2020 and 2022 campaigns.
The committee said it contacted about 40 witnesses, reviewed more than 170,000 pages of documents and filed 37 subpoenas in its months-long investigation. It said Santos declined to cooperate.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
‘UNBECOMING AND EMBARRASSING’
Santos has been marginalized in Congress, with no committee assignments and little influence. He has faced fierce criticism from his fellow New York Republicans in Congress. One of them, Representative Mike Lawler, said on Thursday Santos should resign immediately or be forced out.
“His conduct is not only unbecoming and embarrassing, it is criminal,” Lawler said.
On Nov. 1, 182 of his fellow Republicans voted against his expulsion, as they need his seat to protect their narrow House majority. That 221-213 margin empowers them to block much of Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
But that dam could be breaking. Republican Representative Ashley Hinson, who voted against expulsion, said she now backs his removal.
Among other claims Santos has made about his background, he said he earned degrees from New York University and Baruch College in Manhattan. Neither institution had any record of him attending. He claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, also untrue. He also said falsely he was Jewish and that his grandparents escaped the Nazis during World War Two.
Santos apologized for “embellishing” his resume, but defended aspects of the way he had represented himself. He has since described himself as “Jew-ish” rather than “Jewish” when discussing his heritage, telling the New York Post that he described himself that way because his “maternal family had a Jewish background.”
His congressional district contains parts of New York City’s Queens borough and Long Island’s Nassau County just east of the city.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton; additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward, Gram Slattery and Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Will Dunham and and Andy Sullivan)