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George Santos Is the Sixth Congressman in History to Be Ousted by His Colleagues: Here Are the Other Five

From Confederate rebels to zany criminals — including one who celebrated his 80th birthday in prison this year — a look back at the U.S. House of Representatives' most disgraced lawmakers

Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty New York Rep. George Santos served nearly 11 months in Congress before his historic expulsion
Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty New York Rep. George Santos served nearly 11 months in Congress before his historic expulsion

Newly expelled Rep. George Santos might be one-of-a-kind, but his steep fall from grace bears similarity to those of the disgraced congressmen who came before.

Six House members have been expelled since 1861: three Confederate rebels, two convicted criminals and a not-yet-tried man of many tales. And though the Constitution crafted expulsion as a means for the House to self-regulate its membership, it remains a highly divisive action that's rarely utilized.

Related: George Santos Expelled from U.S. House in Overwhelming Vote, 11 Months After Swearing-In

Many know the story of alleged fraudster George Santos — indicted on 23 federal counts and labeled untrustworthy by the House Ethics Committee — but few know how the House of Representatives' other, equally dramatic expulsion proceedings went down.

Below, the stories of expelled Reps. John Clark, John Reid, Henry Burnett, Michael "Ozzie" Myers and Jim Traficant, including their post-Congress lives.

John B. Clark (D-MO)

<p>Library of Congress</p> John B. Clark Sr. (D-MO) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Library of Congress

John B. Clark Sr. (D-MO) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Expelled on: July 13, 1861

Reason: Disloyalty to the Union; fighting for the Confederacy

Final vote: 94-45

John Bullock Clark was a lawyer and militia member who long eyed a political career, unsuccessfully running for Missouri governor in 1840 as the Whig Party's nominee before briefly joining the Missouri state House 10 years later. Then in 1857, by way of a special election, the newly Democratic politician was elected to the U.S. House as a representative for Missouri's 3rd Congressional District. He would be reelected in 1858 and 1860.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Rep. Clark — a secessionist — joined the Confederacy-aligned Missouri State Guard as a brigadier general, soon leading troops to battle against Federal forces. Shortly after, the House would narrowly adopt a resolution to expel him for siding against the Union, concluding that "John B. Clark has forfeited all right to a seat as a Representative in the Thirty-seventh Congress," according to Congressional Globe records.

Interestingly, Reps. John Reid and Henry Burnett — the next two House members to be expelled — came to Clark's defense before the vote, refuting well-documented facts about his Confederate ties and proposing that they let a House committee investigate Clark first. House members disregarded Reid and Burnett's calls, unwilling to delay Clark's expulsion.

After Clark was expelled, he served as both a senator and representative in the short-lived Confederate States Congress. His son, Confederate Gen. John B. Clark Jr., would go on to join the U.S. House during Reconstruction, serving five consecutive terms.

John W. Reid (D-MO)

<p>Alamy</p> John William Reid (D-MO) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Alamy

John William Reid (D-MO) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Expelled on: Dec. 2, 1861

Reason: Disloyalty to the Union; fighting for the Confederacy

Final vote: Not recorded

John William Reid's expulsion from Congress involved little debate and the least amount of friction, according to congressional archives. The Missouri Democrat, who served as a captain in the Mexican-American War and practiced law in Missouri's capital, was hardly in Congress at all — five months into his tenure, as he went to fight for the Confederate Army, he "withdrew" from the seat.

Though no longer participating in U.S. politics, Reid was still technically a House member for an additional four months. At the start of the December legislative session, Missouri Rep. Francis Blair — the same congressman who called for Clark's expulsion — introduced a resolution to formally oust Reid. "So many new members are coming in, I think it would be as well to get rid of one or two," Blair said on the House floor, to laughter.

After the Civil War, Reid settled down in Kansas City, where he resumed his former legal career and got involved in banking.

Henry C. Burnett (D-KY)

<p>Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty</p> Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty

Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY) was expelled from the U.S. House in 1861

Expelled on: Dec. 3, 1861

Reason: Disloyalty to the Union; fighting for the Confederacy

Final vote: Not recorded

Henry Cornelius Burnett, a Kentucky lawyer with limited experience in public office, joined Congress in 1855 at age 29 (he'd previously served two years as a circuit court clerk). When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Burnett — a pro-secession Democrat — led a convention to create a Confederate government within Kentucky that would rival the state's existing Unionist government.

In an impassioned, and at times sarcastic, floor speech that garnered laughter and applause, fellow Kentucky Rep. Charles Wickliffe spoke out in support of expelling Burnett, whom he twice referred to as his "late colleague."

"He is, sir, not in armed rebellion; he heads a provisional government of Kentucky — a revolutionary convention," Wickliffe explained, as documented by the Congressional Globe. "Not satisfied with the action of the Congress of the United States and its efforts to maintain the Union, or with the course which the Legislature and people of his own State have adopted, he has assumed the important duty of organizing a government for the better protection of the lives, liberty, and property of the people of Kentucky."

Burnett, who had already begun acting as a representative for the Confederate Congress, was expelled from the House shortly after. He went on to serve as a senator in the Confederacy until it was dismantled in 1865. He was charged with treason after the war, but never went to trial; he died of cholera in 1866.

Michael J. Myers (D-PA)

<p>Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via AP</p> Michael J. "Ozzie" Myers (D-PA), standing on the left, walks beside House Ethics Chair Julian Dixon in 1989

Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via AP

Michael J. "Ozzie" Myers (D-PA), standing on the left, walks beside House Ethics Chair Julian Dixon in 1989

Expelled on: Oct. 2, 1980

Reason: Convicted of bribery

Final vote: 376-30

Michael Joseph Myers, who went by "Ozzie," served in the Pennsylvania state House before his election to the U.S. House in 1976. But before the turn of the decade, he fell into controversy — months after he was charged with assaulting a security guard and a young, female cashier at a Quality Inn, he became one of seven members of Congress caught up in the Abscam scandal, an FBI sting operation in which an undercover agent convinced him to introduce specific legislation in exchange for thousands of dollars. Myers was charged with bribery and ultimately convicted, signaling an expulsion effort.

Before voting on Myers' expulsion, members engaged in lengthy debate about how and when to punish the convicted criminal, with one representative highlighting the gravity of expulsion by acknowledging that no congressman had been expelled in 119 years. While some believed a vote should be delayed until Myers was finished appealing his conviction, others asserted that the House is independent of the court system and should make its own judgments based on the overwhelming evidence at their disposal.

Florida Rep. Charles Bennett, a fellow Democrat who chaired the House Ethics Committee, said, "There can be no other choice of sanctions for such actions," claiming that "it is simply impossible to find excuses for a man who broke so many laws and rules; who broke them not only as an individual who happened to be a public servant, but as a public servant trading upon that very elected office ... who for purely personal gain promised everything, anything, his vote, his contacts, his connections; who made a mockery of the seat in which his constituents had placed him with honor."

Myers was sentenced to three years in federal prison after his ousting, and decades later — in 2022 — he pleaded guilty to federal election fraud charges, receiving a 2 1/2-year sentence. Now 80 years old, he remains in custody in Philadelphia and is scheduled for release in July 2024.

James A. Traficant (D-OH)

<p>Alex Wong/Getty </p> James Anthony Traficant Jr. (D-OH) at a 2002 House hearing examining whether he violated congressional rules

Alex Wong/Getty

James Anthony Traficant Jr. (D-OH) at a 2002 House hearing examining whether he violated congressional rules

Expelled on: July 24, 2002

Reason: Convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery, defraud the U.S., receipt of illegal gratuities, obstruction of justice, filing false tax returns, and racketeering

Final vote: 420-1, 9 present

Famously eccentric and routinely controversial, James Anthony Traficant entered Congress in 1985 to immediate skepticism: Two years earlier, he'd been indicted under the RICO Act, and was acquitted after representing himself in court (he argued that he accepted bribes during his own secret undercover operation to expose corruption).

Though not an attorney, the Ohio Democrat — whose Republican-aligned voting patterns made him something of a problem child in Congress — opted to represent himself in court again decades later when he was tried on federal corruption charges. The second time around, his performance earned less acclaim: a jury convicted him on all 10 felony charges, including taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering and forcing his aides to perform chores at his farm and on his houseboat.

Citing the conviction, House members handily expelled Traficant in an overwhelming rebuke of his conduct. (The only House member who voted against expelling Traficant was outgoing California Rep. Gary Condit, a Democrat who was caught in his own scandal at the time after an intern with whom he'd admitted to having an affair was murdered.)

Traficant began his prison sentence not two weeks later and would remain incarcerated for seven years. Months into his sentence, he launched an independent congressional campaign from behind bars to try and reclaim his House seat, losing to his former aide Tim Ryan. After completing his prison sentence Traficant tried once more to resume his political career, losing to Congressman Ryan again in 2010.

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