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After months of scandal, House panel is investigating Rep. George Santos

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The House Ethics Committee, a committee of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, is moving forward with an investigation of New York Congressman George Santos.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, the Republican has faced constant scandal and controversy since taking office in January. He lied to voters about much of his career, his family history.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Brian Mann has been following his story. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the investigators get into this. His fellow lawmakers get into this. What questions do they have?

MANN: Well, there are a lot of questions, of course, about George Santos. You'll remember he deceived the public about his education, his career. He claimed falsely his family has Jewish heritage. He even lied about being on a championship college volleyball team. But a lot of the most serious questions for this House panel appear to focus, Steve, on money. Where did George Santos get hundreds of thousands of dollars that helped fuel his campaign? In a statement, House Ethics Committee Chairman David Joyce, a Republican from Ohio, says the panel is going to probe whether any of Santos' behavior violated federal conflict of interest laws or public disclosure rules. One of their goals, according to their statement, is that they're going to determine whether any of Santos' activity amounts to, quote, "unlawful activity."

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting because we do have freedom of speech in this country, which, in most cases, includes the freedom to lie. So at what point would your lie become a crime?

MANN: Yeah, you can lie to the public and still get elected, but if you lied on federal disclosure forms, if you misappropriated campaign money that was donated to you, that could be a crime. Again, that's the allegation here.

INSKEEP: What punishments could he face if those allegations are sustained?

MANN: Well, depending on what this panel finds, they could recommend a reprimand. Or they could go all the way and call for Santos to be expelled from the House, though that rarely happens. In their statement yesterday, the panel did point out that by launching this investigation, that doesn't signal that they believe any violation occurred. This investigation is just getting underway.

INSKEEP: Isn't there an allegation of sexual misconduct entirely aside from the questions about what he said?

MANN: Yeah, that's another thing on this long list of questions. According to the Ethics Committee statement, this panel will look into whether Santos - and I'm quoting here - "engaged in sexual misconduct toward an individual seeking employment in his congressional office." This comes after a man named Derek Myers alleged Santos touched him inappropriately while Myers was volunteering in Santos' office and hoping to get a full-time job.

INSKEEP: I just want to pause here for a minute. If this involves something in his congressional office, it's something from this year. He just became a member of Congress. This isn't something from his campaign or the past but this year.

MANN: That's right.

INSKEEP: What does Santos say about all this?

MANN: Well, a statement was released by Santos on his verified Twitter site saying he's going to fully cooperate with investigators. More broadly, Santos has admitted deceiving voters, Steve, but says he merely embellished his resume. He says there was no criminal activity. He's also repeatedly denied those sexual misconduct allegations. He describes all these scandals as part of a media and partisan witch hunt, though, at this point, his fellow Republicans are among his fiercest critics.

INSKEEP: Not quite all of his fellow Republicans, though, right?

MANN: That's right. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, you know, has not yet called for Santos to go. And McCarthy says Santos will remain a member of the GOP caucus and get due process but will not be serving on committees or see any classified briefings until these allegations are all resolved.

INSKEEP: And, very briefly, does he face other investigations?

MANN: Yeah. There is a district attorney in Nassau County looking into his activities and also a federal probe. So a lot of headwinds for George Santos.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.

MANN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Mann. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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