The Santos Soap Opera Pauses for a Commercial Break (Kinda)

George Santos during a Fox 5, New York, interview.

It’s nice to know the insane pizzazz of the Trump years hasn’t been sapped out of public life by the tedium and nuclear terrors of the Biden era. That some politicos still commit their misdemeanors with brio. That charlatans retain their flair and remain uninhibited about being charlatans. At the top of this list of superstar conmen stands George “Shameless” Santos, the not-so-Jewish, Brazilian GOP congressman from Long Island exposed for faking everything from his ethnic background to his business credentials to his toenails. Santos is one of a kind, and the soap opera of his chicaneries has already entertained us for months, and promises to keep unfolding far into the future, hypnotizing us with the question, what next?

 Well, I’ll tell you. Covering his tracks, to the very limited extent that’s possible – that’s what’s next in the Santos saga’s upcoming installment: normalizing George (good luck with that one, congressman). On January 31, the ever youthful and still defiant 34-year-old Santos announced he would temporarily recuse himself from congressional committees, presumably to deal with the multiple federal and local investigations into his nonstop funny-business. Santos also faces fraud charges in Brazil. “He just felt like there was so much drama, really, over the situation,” explained GOP representative Marjorie “Jewish Space Lasers” Taylor Green. When you have MTG complaining about drama, you know things have sunk to new lows of lunacy, deceit and possible exposure.

Because, uh, yeah, drama is what happens with a congressman known for his aliases (Anthony Zabrovsky and Anthony Devolder, among others) and whose campaign website was exposed in multiple brazen lies. Start with its claim that Santos’ mother perished in the World Trade Center attack of 9/11, when it emerged that in fact she died over 15 years later and indeed wasn’t even in the country during the catastrophe, but was in Brazil. Following up this eye-popping fib, there’s the matter of the $3000 he stole from a New Jersey veteran, who needed the money for his sick dog (how low can you go?). Here gonif George pulled off his heist, according to the Gothamist December 29, via a Go Fund Me page for the veteran. There were also his heart-wrenching claims of Holocaust victimhood for his Jewish parents – except they were in Brazil before and during the Nazi rise to power and, he “never claimed to be Jewish,” he later backtracked, only “Jew-ish,” whatever that is. The hyphenated thirteenth lost tribe would be my best guess.

Santos also announced on his campaign website that he attended fancy schmancy Horace Mann school in the Bronx, but, nope, the school said he never did. And “shortly after admitting he hadn’t graduated from Baruch College,” contrary to his previous assertions, the Gothamist reports, “it emerged Santos had invented…that he had a volley ball scholarship.” That presumably was to corral the volley ball vote.

For most normal people, such mammoth public disgrace would occasion a complete withdrawal into a shell of private life. Such normal individuals might assume George Santos would now fly quietly under the radar, but well, George is not normal, because there he was on February 4, the target of a sexual harassment complaint by one Derek Myers, who had sought work as a House aide. Santos invited Myers to karaoke “and touched his groin, assuring him that his husband was out of town,” the New York Times reported February 4. Mr. Myers filed a report with the Capitol Police. As anyone in their right mind, though evidently not Santos, might expect. That same day, Bloomberg headlined an article, “George Santos Produced Ill-Fated Spider Man Musical. At Least, He Claims He Did.” The story then mentions that the show’s producer threw cold water on the congressman’s mendacious boast by stating flatly that Santos had nothing to do with Spider Man. In short, as far as the press is concerned, Santos is the gift that keeps giving, the story with legs – that walks right into a karaoke bar and then touches somebody’s groin.

Then there is the matter of Santos’ fundraising, also lately in the news. Apparently the Federal Election Commission wants to know if he’s running again in 2024, because he’s still raising money. According to NBC February 10, the FEC wants him to “either stop raising money or ‘disavow’ the fundraising on his behalf.” Stop raising money? This is a person who stole $3000 for canine medical care and has been involved in multiple other questionable financial activities. Does the FEC honestly believe he will stop raking in funds? I fully expect Santos to continue fundraising for the rest of his life, and so would anyone who looked at this individual’s record. Because that record’s a doozy – they don’t come along like this every day.

Adding insult to the injury of the rubes that voted for him, on February 13, the New York Times reported that $365,000 of Santos’ campaign money is unaccounted for. “The unexplained spending is among a litany of irregularities found in nearly every aspect of how the Santos campaign handled its finances,” the Times reported. Surprise, surprise. Santos “added more than $250,000 in more than 1,200 payments to ‘Anonymous,’” the Times said. That was in April 2022. But in May, Santos “wiped out all the individual line items paid to Anonymous.” Other mysteries involve unreported donations, some quite large. So the investigation continues and will, no doubt, turn up ruses in the near future that will go viral, like all of the other Santos peculiarities.

In other words, Santos has become a byword. But what would you expect of someone who touted his work experience with Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, only to have to “clarify” that in fact he “never worked directly” with either corporation? Or take his phony real estate assets. “Santos’ tweets railing against his fictitious [supposedly deadbeat] tenants came four years after he was evicted for at least the third time in Queens,” according to the Gothamist. He also prevaricated in court eviction records, where “he claimed to have been mugged in 2016 on his way to pay $2,250 in back rent on his Queens apartment. The NYPD says it has no record of the attack.”

So Santos should be sunk, right? Caught red-handed lying, cheating, stealing, harassing…but hey, this is America, baby, where you know what rises to the top. And that stuff includes brazen charlatans like Shameless Santos, now ensconced in the House of representatives. This, as H.L. Mencken said of a similar problem, is one of the things that are the matter with the United States.

 The con man is as American as apple pie; indeed, Herman Melville long ago wrote a great novel on the subject. Most iconic was Donald “I’m the Real President” Trump, but it’s time for Trump to move over. There’s a new fraud in town and his name is Santos, who lies even more prodigiously, more fluently than Trump; he lies as he breathes. Both missed their callings as fiction writers, for whenever in a tight spot, or even only at a loss for words, they just…make stuff up. Santos does this with peerless verve. Which means, I suppose, that in a few years, drama or no drama, his resume by then padded with the most improbable fabrications (“I not only produced Spider Man, I AM Spider Man”), he’ll be running for president. He’ll probably win.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.