By Aaron Pellish and Mark Morales, CNN
More House Republicans on Sunday stopped short of calling on embattled New York Rep. George Santos to resign, while two Democrats made a fresh push for more information from GOP leaders.
Republicans back home in the GOP freshman’s Long Island district, however, doubled down Sunday on calls for him to step down.
Santos is facing growing pressure to resign after he lied and misrepresented his educational, work and family history, including falsely claiming he was Jewish and the descendant of Holocaust survivors. He also faces federal and local investigations into his campaign finances. Santos has admitted to “embellishing” his resume but has maintained he is “not a criminal.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer called Santos “a bad guy” in an interview Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“He’s not the first politician, unfortunately, to make it to Congress to lie,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But, look, George Santos was duly elected by the people. He’s going to be under strict ethics investigation, not necessarily for lying, but for his campaign finance potential violations. So I think that Santos is being examined thoroughly.”
“It’s his decision whether or not he should resign. It’s not my decision. But, certainly, I don’t approve of how he made his way to Congress,” Comer said. “Now, if he broke campaign finance laws, then he will be removed from Congress.”
GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said Sunday he would resign if he were in Santos’ position but said that was a decision for the New York Republican’s constituents.
“If it was me, I would resign. I wouldn’t be able to face my voters after having gone through that,” Bacon told “This Week” on ABC. “But this is between him and his constituents, largely. They elected him in, and he’s going to have to deal with them on that. I don’t think his reelection chances will be that promising, depending on how he handles this.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, also declined to say if Santos should resign from his Long Island seat.
“He clearly lied to his constituents, and … it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to gain the trust of his colleagues,” Stewart said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “The reality is you can’t expel a member of Congress. At the end of the day, it really is up to the voters in Nassau County. I can tell you this — if I were in that situation, I don’t know how I could continue to serve and I suppose he needs to ask that same question.”
Several House Republicans have called for Santos to resign, including five of his fellow New York Republican colleagues in the House. Leaders of the Nassau County GOP have also called for the congressman to step down.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters Thursday that Santos has “a long way to go to earn trust” and that concerns could be investigated by the House Ethics Committee, but he emphasized that the congresman is a part of the House GOP Conference. Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, of New York, who chairs the House GOP Conference, told CNN on Thursday that the process “will play itself out.”
“He’s a duly elected member of Congress. There have been members of Congress on the Democrat side who have faced investigations before,” she said.
Democrats want more information
Meanwhile, two Democrats are calling on McCarthy and Stefanik to cooperate with any House Ethics Committee investigation into Santos.
In a letter sent to the two Republican leaders and to Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund — the super PAC affiliated with House GOP leadership — New York Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres cite new reporting “indicating that each of you had at least some knowledge of lies used by Congressman George Santos to deceive his voters long before they became public.”
“We urge you to inform the American people about your knowledge of Mr. Santos’s web of deceit prior to the election so that the public understands whether and to what extent you were complicit in Mr. Santos’s fraud on his voters,” Goldman and Torres said in the letter.
CNN has reported that Conston expressed concerns about Santos’ background prior to the election and contacted lawmakers and donors about those concerns. Goldman and Torres cite reporting by The New York Times in their letter, which also indicated that associates of Stefanik were made aware of issues regarding Santos’ background ahead of the election.
In an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Goldman called Santos a “complete and total fraud” and pushed back on attempts by some Republicans to equate the allegations against him to ethics complaints against some Democrats.
“This is a scheme to defraud the voters of the 3rd District in New York, and this needs to be investigated intensively,” he said.
Goldman and Ritchie said last week that they were filing a formal complaint with the House Ethics Committee requesting an investigation related to Santos’s financial disclosure reports. A campaign watchdog group filed a complaint last week with the Federal Election Commission accusing Santos of concealing the source of more than $700,000 that he put into his successful 2022 bid.
CNN’s KFILE also reported that Santos had said a company later accused of running a “Ponzi scheme” was “100% legitimate” when it was accused by a potential customer of fraud in 2020, more than a year before it was sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Joseph Murray, an attorney for Santos, told CNN in an email that Santos was unaware of wrongdoing at that company.
Murray also previously defended the Santos campaign’s actions, saying in a statement, “The suggestion that the Santos campaign engaged in any unlawful spending of campaign funds is irresponsible, at best.”
A no-show at party fundraiser
Nassau County Republicans were ready Sunday in case Santos showed up at a morning fundraiser on Long Island.
“Had he shown up, we were ready to greet him,” Nassau County GOP Chair Joseph Cairo said. “We would have said, ‘You’re really not welcome. You deceived us, you lied to us.'”
Over 900 people turned out for the annual “kickoff brunch” featuring a who’s-who of Nassau County Republicans, with most wanting to distance themselves from the freshman lawmaker.
“People say he should serve out his term,” Cairo said. “He didn’t get elected. The fictional character he created got elected.”
Cairo said the topic of Santos came up at times during public speeches made by various Republicans at the fundraiser but not in a supportive way.
“Virtually everyone is done with George Santos,” said Cairo. “We’ve told him he’s not welcome at our events. We don’t invite him to our meetings.”
Former New York Rep. Peter King, who represented a different Long Island seat in Congress for nearly three decades, said no one had anything positive to say about Santos.
“I made it a point to sort of mingle in the crowd beforehand. Everyone says we’ve got to get rid of this guy,” said King, a onetime chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “He’s dangerous to the party and dangerous to the country.”
King said local Republicans would now move to ostracize Santos as much as possible.
“That’s not to punish him but to send the signal to everyone, including Washington, that he has to go,” the former congressman said. “They can’t be slow-walking it in Washington, waiting for something to happen in Washington.”
Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a freshman lawmaker from a neighboring Long Island district, said Santos won’t have support from the party if he opts to stay put and run for reelection next year.
“We’ve all called for George Santos’ resignation. If that’s not something that’s going to happen, then I think it’s clear … that we are ready to do what we need to do when it comes to the polls in two years,” he said.
“One of the things that I think is really bothering people the most is the fact that he claimed he was of the Jewish faith and that his grandparents survived the Holocaust,” D’Esposito said. “In the district that I run in, we have a very large population of Orthodox and a large Jewish population. It’s not something that we could stand for.”
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CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Aileen Graef and Donald Judd contributed to this report.