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Republican Congressman George Santos was arrested Wednesday. A federal grand jury indicted the freshman lawmaker on 13 charges, ranging from wire fraud to money laundering. Rep. Santos was released on bond from a New York court after pleading not guilty to the charges. Congressional Correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.
Other major news on Capitol Hill tonight focuses on New York Congressman George Santos.
A federal grand jury has indicted the freshman Republican lawmaker on 13 charges, ranging from wire fraud to money laundering. Santos was released on bond today from a New York court after pleading not guilty to the charges.
Rep. George Santos(R-NY):
I'm going to fight my battle. I'm going to deliver. I'm going to fight the witch-hunt. I'm going to take care of clearing my name. And I look forward to doing that.
Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, has been following the story and joins us now.
So, Lisa, walk us through these charges and the congressman's response so far.
Thirteen federal charges, let's look at what we're talking about here.
The largest number of charges, in fact, seven of them, are on wire fraud. That has to do with what prosecutors said was fraud committed to donors representing that money was going to a campaign cause or campaign-related cause, when they say it was going straight to his pocket, three counts on money laundering, two counts of making false statements to the House of Representatives.
That has to do with his income and how he reported that, they say falsely. And one count theft of public funds. I want to talk about that one. This is something we haven't talked about with George Santos before.
Let's look at the indictment and what they're talking about there with theft of public funds. Here's some of the language there: "For the period of on or about March 2020 and April 2021, through that time period, based on false application and false weekly certifications, the defendant received approximately," Geoff, $24,744 in unemployment insurance benefits."
What the claim is here prosecutors is that George Santos while he was running for Congress and they say while he was employed by a financial firm applied and received unemployment benefits through the COVID relief programs.
Now, he said today that there's a misunderstanding here, and then he's going to defend himself. As you heard, he calls this a witch-hunt.
Well, Santos is infamous for fabricating key parts of his life story. How unusual are these charges?
They are unusual in a few ways.
It is not unusual to have a member of Congress indicted. We have had seven members indicted in the past decade or so. That's past 10 years. However, something that stands out here is that this isn't just for one kind of crime, one sort of campaign finance scheme with related charges.
These are for different types of schemes. This is something that's also noted by some former federal prosecutors. We talked to one, Renato Mariotti.
RENATO MARIOTTI, Former Federal Prosecutor:
What you have here is multiple different schemes and falsehoods that were all told by Mr. Santos, and they're unrelated to each other.
And I think the problem for Mr. Santos is, the jury's got to find that he didn't do any of these things. And I think there's an additive effect. While the jury is going to consider each count individually, at the end of the day, this all comes down to his credibility. And not only is that going to be in question, given all of the allegations here, but, of course, he has other substantial baggage that he brings to the table that makes it very difficult for him to defend himself.
Now, at the same time, as you know, Geoff, there is also an ethics investigation under way in the House. We don't know if we're going to hear much more about that.
But this all also tests sort of a new doctrine in political theory, the Trump doctrine, which is just deny, even if you have a history of falsehoods, combat and see what happens in court. We saw one example of what happened to Mr. Trump earlier this week, and we will see what happens with Mr. Santos going forward.
So, Santos has already relinquished his committee assignments, right? What…
He's been — yes, he's been forced off committees.
So what more does this mean politically for him?
Well, I think that we're going to have to watch. He has said he is running for reelection. In fact, he sort of quipped today that, given the state of affairs in America, maybe he will be become a committee chairman.
However, he is not popular in the Republican Party. No one was defending him today at the Capitol. And some, including fellow New York Representative Marc Molinaro, who represents the Finger Lakes, told our Saher Khan he cannot wait for this man to be out of Congress and out of elected office.
Now, it takes two-thirds of the House of Representatives to expel a member. We don't think there's anywhere near that. There may be pressure for him to resign if he's convicted. But, right now, it looks like he's going to ride this out. And Speaker McCarthy is saying he will let him stay in office. He's not going to push for him to be pushed out unless he's convicted.
Because McCarthy needs his vote.
That is a very important point, yes. He has just a four-vote margin there in the House. And George Santos was a key vote on that debt package that we're talking about so much this week.
All right, Lisa Desjardins following it all, as always, good to see you.
Good to see you.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Saher Khan is a reporter-producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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