Scandal-plagued New York Republican Congressmember George Santos pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges at a courthouse on Long Island Wednesday. He is charged with wire fraud, money laundering, lying on federal disclosure forms, and fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits while earning a $120,000 salary. Santos has been under investigation since his election to Congress last year exposed his history as a serial liar who fabricated his educational background, employment history and religion. He has thus far refused to step down and has denied the allegations against him. We talk to Mother Jones reporter Noah Lanard, who was in the courtroom and says this indictment is just the beginning of Santos’s legal troubles.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
The scandal-plagued New York Republican Congressmember George Santos pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges at a courthouse on Long Island Wednesday. He faces seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of lying on federal disclosure forms, and one count of fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits. Santos spoke to reporters after he was released on $500,000 bond just hours after turning himself in to the Central Islip court.
REP. GEORGE SANTOS: 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.
REPORTER: Why would you apply for unemployment benefits when you had a job making $120,000 a year?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS: Rachel, this is part of my defense. This is inaccurate information, and I will get to clear my name on this. During the pandemic, it wasn’t very clear. I don’t understand where the government’s getting their information, from but I will present my facts.
REPORTER: The prosecutors say that you got over $20,000 in unemployment benefits, sir. How is it acceptable?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS: Ma’am, like I said, my employment was changed during the time. I don’t understand where the government’s coming from. I will present my defense to that.
AMY GOODMAN: After his successful 2022 campaign for Congress, Santos — if that’s his name — was exposed as a serial liar who fabricated his educational background, employment history and religion. About a dozen House and Senate Republicans have called for Santos to resign, including a number of Republicans, but that doesn’t include Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who said he’ll wait to see if Santos is convicted. McCarthy spoke to CNN’s Manu Raju Wednesday.
MANU RAJU: Santos, I think, is running for reelection. Are you going to support him?
SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: No, I’m not going to support Santos.
MANU RAJU: You’re not. OK.
SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: No.
MANU RAJU: So, will you work to try to defeat him in the primary?
SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: Santos has a lot going on, so I think he has other things to focus on in his life than running for [inaudible].
REPORTER: So you don’t plan to support Santos for reelection?
SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: That’s what I said.
AMY GOODMAN: Republican leaders see Santos’s vote as crucial in the House, where the party holds a slim four-vote majority.
If convicted, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison. Another criminal case is looming against Santos in Brazil, where he faces a hearing today on an allegation of check fraud. Meanwhile, in another case involving Santos, CREW — that’s Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — filed a complaint Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission that says Santos’s currently listed campaign treasurer may not exist. CREW President Noah Bookbinder said, “No one can seem to find Andrew Olson. If he does not exist, it would be an extreme abuse of our campaign finance system — one the FEC should not permit.”
For more on all this, we’re joined by Mother Jones reporter Noah Lanard, who was in the courtroom in Central Islip as Santos pleaded not guilty. His latest piece is headlined “Santos Indictment Leaves Many Lies, Mysteries, and Scandals Unaddressed.” Earlier this year, Noah and reporter David Corn did a story headlined “We Tried to Call the Top Donors to George Santos’ 2020 Campaign. Many Don’t Seem to Exist.”
Noah Lanard, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out both what happened in court yesterday — you were there on Long Island — and then what you have found in your investigations of this lying Long Island congressmember.
NOAH LANARD: Yeah. Thank you for having me on.
So, yes, I was in the courtroom yesterday. Santos was arraigned. He had U.S. marshals behind him. He pleaded not guilty to all the counts with his lawyer Joe Murray there. And then there was $500,000 bond posted. And then they went to some other details. He surrendered his passport, for example. He’s no longer allowed to travel outside of Long Island, New York, or D.C. without the government’s approval prior to. And then, it was a very quick hearing. He left the courtroom, and there was just a huge media scrum, dozens, scores of reporters swarming him, and then the clips that you played earlier in the show.
But what we found earlier in the year was that, I mean, like so much of his story, so many of the things he’s done are blatantly, you know, not what normal candidates do. Many of his donors don’t seem to exist. And what’s amazing about this indictment is they’ve managed — the federal prosecutors have a very strong 13-count indictment, but it still doesn’t even address many of the biggest mysteries about him. I spoke with Santos’s lawyer Joe Murray after the hearing, and I asked him about the possibility of a follow-up indictment with additional charges, and he said that sometimes does happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that here, because what you don’t see in this indictment is a lot of the things related to his campaign finance practices. We still don’t know where he got the more than $700,000 he loaned his campaign, you know, where that money came from. Did he even loan that money to his campaign? So, there are a lot of things we still don’t know that we’ll be finding out, potentially, in future indictments.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Noah, what about the fact that this bond, $500,000 — where did that come from?
NOAH LANARD: So, my understand is it’s an unsecured bond. He also has three people, suretors, who are, you know, endorsing it. So he’s out now. But, yes, he’s basically very limited. He can only go between New York and D.C. And he’s voluntarily agreed to those conditions for now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to ask you about what he means in the House, that Kevin McCarthy still has his arms basically wrapped around him. He needs him. Yes, the Republicans have a four-vote majority, but when it came down to the debt ceiling vote, he was the deciding vote, one vote. That was Representative George Santos, or whoever he is. Can you talk about his significance in the House and what the House could do? I mean, the local conservative Republican Long Island congressmembers, not to mention the majority of Republicans in his district, have called for him to resign.
NOAH LANARD: Yeah, I think there’s kind of a nice arrangement that’s working out right now, where, you know, basically you have particularly downstate, New York City area and Long Island Republicans very strongly calling for him to resign. This is a huge embarrassment for them. They know they’re running for reelection next year, and they do not want at all to be associated with George Santos. On the other side, higher up in leadership, McCarthy and other Republicans in House leadership know that they need his vote. They can’t afford to not have it. So, it seems like there’s kind of an arrangement, formally or not, that’s been worked out, where the downstate Republicans get to say very mean things about Santos and say that he should step down, but at the same time knowing it’s really not going to go anywhere, at least for now, at least until, potentially, a conviction or a plea deal in this case.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Noah, could you talk about Nancy Marks, George Santos’s campaign treasurer, and how she was complicit in what he’s — his various forms of criminal behavior?
NOAH LANARD: Yes. I think this is a very important part of the story. She’s not in the indictment, which is a pretty obvious thing that is missing. And obviously, that’s intentional. What’s unclear is whether that’s because she’s talking to federal prosecutors right now or because she’s not talking. It could be either.
But the key part of it here is that she’s the person, other than Santos, who almost certainly knows the most about what was going on with his campaign finance practices. For example, she’s the one who signed off on a large series of $199.99 expenses, which is one cent below the federal threshold needed to keep receipts. So, she’s the person signing off on that. She also had her 19- and 22-year-old children give legal maximum donations of $5,800 to Santos. Many of her relatives did the same. There’s no evidence they had ever given political contributions before Santos’s campaign. I spoke to at least one Santos relative who was reported as giving $5,800, and they said that they did not give that donation. So these are things that Marks would have been aware of, and Marks also would have been aware of — or should have been aware of the fact that she was reporting maximum donations in the 2020 campaign from people who didn’t — who almost certainly don’t exist. I mean, for example, they were living at addresses in New York City that don’t exist. They had names that nobody in the United States has that name. But in some cases, the name was very similar to some of Santos’s relatives, with just one or two letters changed.
So, you know, there’s a ton of suspicious things that she is involved in, and it’s possible that she’s cooperating, is going to come to a plea deal and then give even — which will lead to even more indictments for Santos, or, if she doesn’t, she may be facing an indictment of her own.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could, very quickly, Noah, talk about what he’s charged with, these cases? But then, also, does his announcement that he’s running for reelection, is — in some way, means he can get more money for himself, since part of this is the fraud of raising money for his election, but then he uses it for himself?
NOAH LANARD: Yeah, so, on the first part — there are basically three parts of this indictment. The first is the most serious. It basically represents that Santos was telling people that there was a 501(c)(4) nonprofit supporting his campaign. He was going to some of his biggest donors, saying, “Hey, give money to this group.” They did. It turned out it was actually a company that he controlled based out of Florida, and then he siphoned the money out of the company and bought luxury goods, paid off his car, etc. So, that’s a pretty simple one. The other is that he applied for unemployment insurance during the pandemic while he was working at what the SEC has called a Ponzi scheme. So, he got about $25,000 of unemployment insurance. And then, the third part is that he lied on two — allegedly lied on two congressional disclosure forms, misstating his income and assets. So, those are the main things that are in the indictment there
AMY GOODMAN: And CREW, what they’ve brought forward yesterday about the nonexistence of the — of what? His campaign treasurer?
NOAH LANARD: Yeah. So, he says — you know, Nancy Marks basically removed herself or stepped down as treasurer, and now you have Andrew — this person, Andrew Olson, is the treasurer. Separately from CREW and in the past, I’ve tried to find Andrew Olson. If Andrew Olson is listening, I would love to speak with him. I have not found any evidence of who this Andrew Olson might be or if it is a real person, and CREW has not, as well. I mean, Andrew Olson is not a treasurer for any other Republican campaigns or committees or anything in politics. And he’s listed at an address that is a Santos family address in the past. So, there is just like so many parts of the Santos story, many questions about who Andrew Olson is, if that is his real name.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. Which comes first, Election Day, when he’s running, or a trial or a settlement?
NOAH LANARD: I’d say trial or settlement. And I think George Santos is really hoping to retain the life rights so that he can sell this. He mentioned a book yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: Noah Lanard, reporter at Mother Jones. We’ll link to your pieces, including your latest, “Santos Indictment Leaves Many Lies, Mysteries, and Scandals Unaddressed.”
Coming up, we remember the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, shot dead one year ago today by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. Stay with us.
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