US Lawmaker George Santos, Indicted on Fraud Charges, Faces House Expulsion Vote

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Indicted Republican George Santos’ brief career in the U.S. House of Representatives could come to an end on Friday, when fellow lawmakers are due to vote on whether to expel him over criminal corruption charges and accusations of misspending campaign money.

Santos, 35, has been mired in controversy since his 2022 election. He has admitted fabricating much of his biography, and federal prosecutors accuse him of laundering campaign funds and defrauding donors. Santos has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

He survived a previous expulsion attempt in early November, when 182 of his fellow Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against his removal on the grounds that his criminal case should be resolved first. Without his seat, Republicans’ already slim 222-213 majority would narrow further. His district, which includes parts of New York City and Long Island, is seen as competitive.

Santos could fare worse in Friday’s vote. A bipartisan congressional investigation last month found that he charged almost $4,000 for spa treatments, including Botox, to his congressional campaign account. He also spent more than $4,000 of campaign money at the luxury retail store Hermes and made “smaller purchases” from OnlyFans, an online platform known for sexual content.

That prompted several Republicans who backed him in November’s vote to say they would support kicking him out. Santos has said he likely will be expelled.

He has spurned calls to resign but had said he will not run for reelection next year.

Expelling a lawmaker from the House requires a two-thirds majority. At least 77 Republicans, along with the chamber’s 213 Democrats, will have to vote for expulsion to meet that threshold.

House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that he had reservations about the vote, but had called on members of his party to “vote their conscience.”

Santos would be only the sixth member to be expelled from the House, and the first who has not been convicted of a crime or fought for the Confederacy during the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War. Democrat James Traficant was the last member to be expelled in 2002, following his criminal corruption conviction.

On the House floor on Thursday, Santos said, “I have been convicted of no crimes. The people of Third (Congressional) District of New York sent me here.”If they want me out, they’re going to have to go silence those people and take the hard vote.”

Santos’ troubles began shortly after his November 2022 election, when media outlets reported he had not actually attended New York University or worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he had claimed during the campaign.

He also falsely claimed Jewish heritage and told voters his grandparents had fled the Nazis during World War Two.

“Every day that Mr. Santos is allowed to remain a member of Congress, my New York neighbors to the west are being denied real representation in these halls,” Representative Nick LaLota, a Republican representing a neighboring district in New York, said on the House floor on Thursday.

Reports of the falsehoods made Santos a pariah in the House and the butt of late-night TV comedians even before federal prosecutors charged him with an array of fraud and campaign-finance crimes.

In a 23-count indictment, they accuse him of inflating his fundraising totals in order to draw more support from the Republican Party, laundering funds to pay for personal expenses, and charging donors’ credits cards without permission.

Two former campaign aides have pleaded guilty to related fraud charges.

Santos denies wrongdoing, and his trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 9, 2024, shortly before the November elections that will determine control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Should Santos be expelled, Democratic New York State Governor Kathy Hochul would have 10 days from his departure to call a special election for the seat. The election must take place 70 to 80 days from that proclamation.

Before Santos’ win in 2022, the district was represented by Democrat Tom Suozzi, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. Suozzi and 19 other candidates, including eight Republicans, have filed to run for Santos’ seat.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Andy Sullivan and Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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