WASHINGTON — Ahead of George Santos' likely expulsion from Congress, the New York Republican defended himself against his critics in a testy intraparty debate on the House floor between GOP lawmakers.
“It is a predetermined necessity for some members in this body to engage in this smear campaign to destroy me,” Santos said Thursday. “I will not stand by quietly.”
Santos has been embroiled in controversy since he entered the House earlier this year. But efforts to remove the GOP lawmaker from the lower chamber picked up steam after the House Ethics Committee released a damning report accusing Santos of improperly using his campaign for his own personal benefit and breaking federal law.
“The findings of the committee were shocking,” Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., who introduced the resolution to expel Santos, said on the House floor. Guest is also chair of the House Ethics Committee. “(The report) paints a picture of fraud committed by Santos.”
The 56-page report from the House Ethics Committee found that Santos misused campaign funds for his own financial benefit, in one instance using $50,000 for purchases at a luxury apparel store, OnlyFans, Sephora and for other meals and parking.
“Mr. Santos is not a victim. He is a perpetrator of a massive fraud on his constituents and the American people,” Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., ranking member of the Ethics Committee, said Thursday.
Prior to the report’s release, Santos was already dogged by his colleagues to resign. Leading up to being sworn in, it was reported Santos misrepresented and fabricated his background to voters on the campaign trail. He later admitted to embellishing his resume but remained in office regardless.
Santos came under additional fire in May when he was slapped with a federal indictment charging him with wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and lying to Congress. He was hit with another indictment in October, accusing him of credit card fraud and identity theft.
In the face of his controversies, Santos vowed to remain in office even as his detractors attempted to expel him twice. Those efforts failed as lawmakers waited for the House Ethics Committee to complete its investigation.
“George Santos … is a liar who has used his position of public trust to personally benefit himself,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., said on the House floor on Thursday ahead of the expulsion vote. D’Esposito led the second effort to expel Santos over his federal indictments and has been one of his most outspoken critics.
Santos and opponents of his removal argue that his expulsion would break precedent in the House, considering only two members have been expelled from Congress in modern times, and both were convicted of a crime before their removal.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., argued against Santos' expulsion on the House floor, saying he was “not (here) to defend George Santos, whoever he is,” but arguing that expelling Santos would break House precedent.
Another GOP lawmaker who opposes Santos’ expulsion, Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, decried the efforts to oust him from Congress and dismissed Santos’ indictment as justification to expel.
“Indictment is not a conviction, so why today would we remove a member from this House based on an indictment? It’s never been done before, it shouldn’t happen today,” Nehls said. “In this country, I thought everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I do not and have not and will not support the removal of Rep. Santos.”
D’Esposito said the House Ethics Committee's report is enough justification for expulsion, saying on the House floor, “If we do not take the Ethics Committee and their result seriously, then why do we have the committee in the first place?”
Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., also dismissed Santos and his allies’ arguments, saying he “was not elected, nor any of us to defend precedent. I was elected to defend the United States Constitution.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Santos defends himself ahead of vote to expel the NY Republican