After pleading “not guilty” to 13 federal charges, out Rep. George Santos (R-NY) posted a $500,000 bail and then held a press conference. Speaking to reporters, he called the charges a “witch hunt” and refused either to resign or end his re-election campaign.
“I believe I’m innocent,” said Santos, who has been caught lying about large parts of his biography. “I’m gonna fight my battle.”
“I’m gonna deliver, I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that,” The Hill reported. He said he would “comply” with investigator demands while continuing to represent his district.
The 13 charges against Santos include seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives, and one count of theft of public funds. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 30.
When asked about allegations that he illegally received $24,744 in unemployment benefits while earning a $120,000 salary at a Florida-based investment firm, Santos replied, “My employment was changed during the time. I don’t understand where the government’s coming from. I’ll present my defense.”
Harry Litman, a former U.S. Attorney, suggested via Twitter that Santos should “shut up completely” in front of the media, lest he legally implicate himself in his alleged crimes. “Wasn’t [it] clear that you couldn’t get unemployment benefits if you were working and lied saying you weren’t??” Litman asked Santos in his tweet.
Prosecutors also alleged that Santos collected at least $50,000 in 2022 election campaign funds and then illegally transferred the money to his personal bank accounts to spend on designer clothing, debts, and other personal expenses.
When asked about his chances for re-election, Santos told reporters on Wednesday, “That’s not up for me to know. Elections are very tricky, and it’s up to the people. I trust them to decide what’s best.” When asked about his stress over the federal charges, Santos said, “I did the best I could to just keep my composure. I was fine… This has been an experience for a book or something like that.”
When asked on Tuesday whether he would encourage Santos to resign, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, “I’ll look at the charges.” On Wednesday, McCarthy said that Santos will “go through his time in trial and we’ll find out how the outcome is,” leaving it unclear whether McCarthy would support Santos’s expulsion if he’s found guilty.
While House rules require members to resign from committees and party leadership positions if they’re charged with a felony that carries a possible prison sentence of two years or more, Santos stepped down from his committee assignments in January and isn’t in any leadership positions. He could get at least 20 years in prison if found guilty of the most serious wire fraud charge against him.
Other Republican House members have called for Santos to resign.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) tweeted, “The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in congress. George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date.”
Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY) told CNN, “I think he needs to go right away, and I hope that he resigns. He’s a complete embarrassment. The nation’s focusing on solutions that matter, not George Santos.”
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) told Axios “The sooner [Santos] leaves, the sooner we can win the seat with someone who isn’t a liar.” Rep. French Hill (R-AK), told CNN, “I do believe that if a member of Congress is charged with a federal crime they should resign.”
Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA) said, “I don’t give him much thought. We got a lot of characters here, but he’s ridiculous. He’s a liar — a serial liar,” Politico reported.
In March, the House Ethics Committee announced its investigation into whether Santos violated federal conflict of interest laws and engaged in sexual misconduct.
Since joining Congress, Santos has cosponsored a bill to roll back LGBTQ+ civil rights and one to ban LGBTQ+ books from schools. He has also made public statements against transgender people, the so-called “radical rainbow mafia.” and he said that LGBTQ+ families “create troubled individuals.”
The FBI and prosecutors in New York and Washington, D.C. have also been investigating Santos’s past false statements and possible campaign finance violations, CNN noted.