‘George, can you physically not stop lying?’
That was Saturday Night Live’s take on the latest in the scandal surrounding US congressman George Santos.
The US politician is at the centre of a web of extraordinary revelations and accusations covering everything from his heritage to jobs he simply never held.
Described by critics as a “total fraud”, he is accused of fabricating parts of his resume while running for Congress. While he denies some of the allegations made against him, he has admitted that some of his claims were lies.
Despite the media furore, currently only a “handful” of his fellow Republicans are calling for him to go. Speaking to Sky News, a political strategist attributes his behaviour to the “Trump effect”.
Here’s a round-up of Mr Santos’s claims, how we got here and what could happen next to the controversial congressman.
Who is George Santos?
It’s a seemingly simple question, but one that is becoming increasingly difficult to get a straight answer to. Here is what we know for sure.
The Brazilian-American, 34, was elected to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District in November 2022, becoming the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent.
While his victory caused a buzz around Capitol Hill, it was soon dimmed by allegations starting in December over his resume.
A New York Times investigation found a number of false claims Mr Santos made on his resume including lies over his education and previous jobs.
From there, it’s all unravelled.
His responses have varied too. He has admitted that some were lies, rejected others and has backtracked on a few too.
He’s ‘Jew-ish’ not Jewish
Mr Santos has made conflicting remarks over being Jewish, taking part in a drag performance in Brazil and the circumstances around his mother’s death.
So let’s start with his heritage.
After his victory, he told the Republican Jewish Coalition summit, the election meant that “now there will be three” Jewish Republican members of Congress.
But then afterwards, he backtracked and told the New York Post he “never claimed to be Jewish”, and said he was Catholic adding: “Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background, I said I was ‘Jew-ish’.”
He said 9/11 ‘claimed his mother’s life’ – records show she wasn’t in the country
It’s also quite confusing when you take a look at the conflicting reports over the death of Mr Santos’s mother, Fatima Caruso Devolder.
While running for Congress in 2021, Mr Santos tweeted that the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York “claimed his mother’s life”.
Yet on his campaign website, Mr Santos said his mother was in her office in the South Tower on the day of the terrorist attack but “survived” and died “a few years” later from cancer.
However, records obtained by Sky’s affiliate NBC News and reports by the Washington Post citing immigration records, suggested Ms Devolder had not even been living in the US at the time of the attack and was in fact living in Rio de Janeiro.
He has not publicly commented on that since.
‘Sue me for having a life’
Now on to one of the latest claims about the congressman’s performance at a drag show.
A Brazilian performer, who uses the drag name Eula Rochard, told Reuters she befriended the now-congressman in 2005 in Brazil.
She said in 2008, he competed in a drag beauty pageant in Rio using the drag name Kitara Ravache.
While the congressman first called the reports “categorically false” on Twitter, when confronted on camera, he told US channel ABC7 – “I was young and I had fun at a festival – sue me for having a life.”
The Trump effect
Political strategist Rina Shah said only a “handful” of Republicans are calling for Mr Santos’s resignation and his behaviour echoes the “Trump effect”.
The former senior staffer to two Republican Congress members described him as a “conman”.
She told Sky News: “The situation certainly highlights the Donald Trump effect. The impact of the 45th President, a real style of running to just regularly make claims to be boastful in a way of things that were simply not true and proven to be untrue.”
She added that Mr Santos has “taken on” that style “in a defiant manner that says ‘come and get me because even if you try to get me, I’ll just continue to lie about it’.”
Despite the lies, Ms Shah said no top Republican will take action against him because they “cannot afford to lose” his House seat.
The Republicans won a razor-thin majority in the House following the midterms and she warned that Mr Santos’s removal could endanger the seat.
He didn’t work on Wall Street
While the long list of accusations against Mr Santos grows, he has admitted to lying about some things.
Mr Santos claimed on his campaign website he had a finance career working at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs – but the NYT investigation found neither institution had any record of his employment.
He admitted to lying about his education and the roles at the two firms and told the New York Post – “My sins here are embellishing my resume. I’m sorry.”
Stealing from a disabled veteran
But there are some cases where Mr Santos has flat-out denied certain claims.
He denied an accusation by veteran Richard Osthoff, who accused him of scamming him of $3,000 from a GoFundMe campaign page raised for his dying service dog in 2016.
Mr Osthoff told the news site Patch that he was told Anthony Devolder, one of the names Mr Santos used before entering politics, had a pet charity called Friends of Pets United.
He claimed Mr Devolder closed the page and disappeared after the funds were raised. Mr Santos has angrily denied the reports and called them “shocking and insane”.
What makes his ‘lies’ different?
While some may say lying in politics is not new, one psychologist specialising in lying and deception research explains why Mr Santos’s claims and accusations may seem a little different.
Dr Chris Hart, a psychology professor at Texas Woman’s University, told Sky News: “If we look at the lies most politicians tell they’re often exaggerations and half-truths. They rarely lie in such a way that they are making a claim which has absolutely no basis in reality and that’s where he is different.
“The frequency with which he appears to tell them is a bit surprising compared to other politicians.”
‘I will NOT resign’
Revelations about Mr Santos’s lies and the allegations against him have caused anger among Democrats who have described him as a “total fraud” and are calling for him to resign.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said he is a “complete and total fraud” and he “deceived and connived his way into Congress”.
Despite calls from some Republicans and Democrats, Mr Santos has repeatedly refused to resign.
For now, it seems he has no intention to go anywhere.