The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion George Santos is exactly where he belongs

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is surrounded by cameras as he leaves his office for a vote on Capitol Hill on Jan. 12. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

I spent the congressional recess these past few days isolating at home with covid, probably contracted in the bowels of the Capitol. I haven’t had the energy to put in an honest day’s work all week.

In this, at least, I’ve got plenty of company. To judge from the actions of the new House majority, these are the best of times for people who just sit around and make stuff up.

House Republican leaders decided to put Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, the chamber’s main investigative panel. That’s a handsome reward for the woman who fabricated the belief that Jews have been using lasers in space to start forest fires.

GOP leaders named Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to the same panel. That’s a plum assignment for a guy who has floated notions about Jeffrey Epstein being murdered and the menace of fluoride in the water supply (in between dalliances with QAnon and white nationalists).

Also earning a slot on the committee: Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a QAnon admirer who helped hatch the claim that Democrats would be arrested en masse after the 2020 election.

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This is the committee that will lead the many probes into Hunter Biden, who should be on notice to preserve all records — and stop using fluoride toothpaste.

Also scoring a pair of shiny new assignments this week? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), the serial fabricator who won election in November on a phony life story and résumé. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has just padded Santos’s résumé further with a seat on the Small Business Committee.

Karen Tumulty: What George Santos should do

And Santos does have relevant small-business experience! In 2008, the enterprising Santos stole a man’s checkbook in Brazil and used it to buy himself shoes and other items, according to police and court records uncovered by the New York Times.

Santos further honed his business acumen by going from having only $55,000 in earned income in 2020 to loaning his campaign $700,000 in the 2022 cycle, apparently brought in from a “family firm” that had $80 million in assets but no listed clients.

Along the way, Santos gained crucial experience at yet another small business, Harbor City Capital, accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of being a Ponzi scheme that stole from its investors (which, The Post reported, included a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s cousin who also contributed to Santos’s campaigns).

McCarthy’s leadership team also awarded Santos a spot on the Science, Space and Technology Committee — and this, too, is a deserved recognition of Santos’s extensive and inventive curriculum vitae. What better place for a man whose stories are not of this world than the committee whose jurisdiction is in outer space?

New York Republican George Santos, who is accused of fabricating details from his past, started his new congressional job Jan. 3. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

• • •

In case you’ve been in space, it has been a month since the Times exposed details of Santos’s lies. On Thursday, Santos was denying reports that he had performed in drag in Brazil under the name Kitara Ravache. To summarize:

He didn’t attend Horace Mann School, didn’t attend Baruch College (where he also didn’t have a volleyball scholarship that required him to get two knee replacements), didn’t get an MBA from New York University, and didn’t work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. He didn’t own 13 rental properties or have employees who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting. His nonprofit, Friends of Pets United, did not save 2,500 dogs and cats (although it is accused of stealing $3,000 from a GoFundMe for a disabled veteran’s dying service dog). He is not a Jew, his grandparents weren’t Holocaust refugees, and they fled neither Ukraine nor Belgium. His mother wasn’t a finance executive, and she wasn’t at the World Trade Center, nor apparently even in the country, during the 9/11 attacks, which didn’t “claim” her life. His real name may or may not be George Santos, or Anthony Zabrovsky, or Anthony Devolder. He may or may not be American born, have a brain tumor, be biracial, have a husband, be a longtime “openly gay” man or have attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in a stolen Burberry scarf.

• • •

Residents of Santos’s Long Island district, including Republicans, want him gone. An Economist/YouGov poll found that 55 percent of respondents say he should resign, compared with 20 percent who think he should stay (the rest were unsure). That includes a plurality of Republicans who want him out. New York and local Republican officials have demanded he resign.

But McCarthy, who can’t afford to lose a single Republican from his four-seat majority in the House, stands bravely with the young liar (whose campaign raised funds by impersonating McCarthy’s chief of staff). “The voters elected him to serve,” the speaker maintains.

Implicit in McCarthy’s claim that he’s honoring the voters’ wishes: that Long Islanders knew Santos was a phony — and elected him anyway. Maybe Long Islanders simply love a scoundrel!

There is some evidence for this. Some of the greatest fakers of all time have made Long Island home: Bernie Madoff, Donald Trump Jr., Joey Buttafuoco, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly. And now Santos.

An ad hoc group calling itself Concerned Citizens of NY-03 gathered in Great Neck, N.Y., this week to rebut McCarthy’s “insulting” view that Long Islanders intended to elect a total fraud. “The people who voted for him didn’t actually vote for him, they voted for an illusion he created,” argued one of the organizers, Susan Rosenfeld Naftol. “It was not the will of the voters.”

Or was it?

Growing up in Merrick, Long Island, a short drive from where Santos performed many of his astounding feats, I loved to read “The Real Book of American Tall Tales,” with chapters on Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, John Henry, Pecos Bill and more. It was published in 1952, right there in Garden City, N.Y., on the southern flank of Santos’s district. “America is a tall-tale country,” the opening pages say, captivated by the “gorgeous lies” of folklore.

Maybe McCarthy is right. Maybe the denizens of my native Long Island weren’t deceived. Maybe they simply love a gorgeous lie — and the beautiful liar who tells it! I would find out.

• • •

My flight was in its final descent into Long Island MacArthur Airport, the world’s busiest. From the first-class cabin of my Southwest Airlines flight, I could see, to the north, the great mountains of Long Island’s North Shore, where I trained before winning gold in the giant slalom in Lillehammer. To the south, I could see the beaches where I caught the Great White that inspired the movie “Jaws.”

Before leaving the airport, I stopped in at my old unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 142nd Assault Helicopter Regiment, where they still talk about my heroic service in Mogadishu during the Vietnam War, when I won the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. I then headed west on the Long Island Expressway, passing the offices of the local newspaper, Newsday, where I won seven Pulitzer Prizes as a copy aide one summer in 1988. Soon we were at my family’s burial plot in one of the cemeteries off Pinelawn Road: the graves of my grandparents, who fled persecution during the Spanish Inquisition, and of my parents, who died in recent years after their lives were claimed by the Hindenburg disaster and the sinking of the Titanic.

Another few minutes on the Southern State Parkway brought me to Sanford H. Calhoun High School, where as a student I won the Nobel Prize in medicine, the Heisman Trophy, and Tony and Grammy Awards for playing trombone in the pit orchestra for the school performance of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Over lunch at Bagel Boss, a recipient of three Michelin stars, I talked with old friends about the work we had done over the years to create Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, Tesla, General Motors and Exxon-Mobil. From there, I headed north on the Meadowbrook Parkway, past the Nassau Coliseum (where, as a forward with the New York Islanders, I passed Wayne Gretzky as the all-time NHL scoring leader), and played a quick round of golf at Eisenhower Park, where I had previously won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, the Masters, Wimbledon and the Kentucky Derby.

By the time I boarded my return flight to Washington, I learned that I had been elected — unanimously — as the new member of Congress from New York’s 3rd Congressional District. On my way home from the airport, I stopped in at the Capitol and told McCarthy that Republicans had just exercised the “motion to vacate the chair” and installed me as speaker of the House.

And then I woke up, in my sickbed. Had it been a fever dream, or was it somehow real?

The party of Santos is losing the ability to distinguish.

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