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Suffolk Closeup: Lying as a way of life

George Santos, expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives last week, was a bizarre member of Congress. By his serial deceit, Santos obtained a national reputation for being a liar, a superstar of dishonesty.

No member I’ve written about representing Long Island in my 60 years of reporting has been anything like him. What had been Santos’s district is made up of parts of Nassau and Queens, and before it was reapportioned for the 2022 election, a piece of Suffolk County.

He received widespread media attention, even beyond the U.S. As the British publication, The Guardian, in an article last week related: “In a way, George Santos is one of the great success stories of American politics … Santos’s accomplishment has … been to win an election by weaving a staggering, barely believable web of lies, deception and deceit that is surely unmatched in the modern age.”

The Guardian, as have all of media, listed some of his lies: “Santos claimed he was privately educated at an elite New York City high school. He wasn’t. He said he went to Baruch College” and “graduated in the top 1% of the class. Baruch said it had no record of him going there … He said his mother was working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York. Her immigration history shows that she wasn’t even in the country. Santos said he was Jewish and his grandparents escaped the Holocaust. That wasn’t true … He said he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, which he didn’t …”

The list in The Guardian of Santos falsehoods could have continued on and on, but there have been so many it would take a book — and such a book was published, last week. Written by former Newsday journalist Mark Chiusano, it’s titled: “The Fabulist — The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos.”

Chiusano last Sunday presented a commentary on Santos on the “CBS Sunday Morning” program. He began: “2023 was a season of chaos in the House of Representatives, a cartoon of what a legislative body is supposed to be. Through it all, we’ve had a mascot of the messiness, and his name is George Santos … How did this con man get a seat in Congress? And what made him lie so promiscuously?”

“Santos was skillfully angling for more money and celebrity,” Chiusano said. And, “it was the weakness of America’s institutions that allowed Santos to go undetected. Most local media outlets were stretched too thin to expose this fabulist in time. Democrats were overconfident of winning. And Republicans [Santos ran on the GOP ticket] shrugged, allowing the newcomer to win — and keep — his seat for cynical political and fundraising reasons.”

Chiusano added: “But the accountability is only beginning for him and for Trump.” (Santos is scheduled to go on trial in September in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on a 23-felony count indictment.) “In the meantime,” Chiusano concluded, “Santos’ wild … story is a reminder of what happens when lying becomes a way of life.”

The Washington Post in December 2022 ran a story headlined: “A tiny paper broke the George Santos scandal but no one paid attention.” It was about The North Shore Leader, which in September 2022 “when few others were covering Santos,” its editor, Maureen Daly, wrote about how in his Congressional run Santos “has repeatedly claimed to own ‘a mansion in Oyster Bay Cove’ …and ‘a mansion in the Hamptons on Dune Road.’” The Nassau weekly, which usually endorses Republicans, ran an editorial saying Santos “is so bizarre, unprincipled” that it couldn’t endorse him because “he’s most likely just a fabulist — a fake.”

The New York Times published an article on Santos’s lies, but in December 2022, after the election. The Times piece prompted the broad media coverage.

On the eve of Santos’s expulsion, Republican Congressman Nick LaLota, who represents central and eastern Suffolk, including Shelter Island, said on the House floor: “George Santos is not the person he offered to voters. He didn’t work where he said he did. He didn’t go to school where he said he did. He’s far from rich. He isn’t Jewish. And his mother was not in the South Tower during 9/11. So, the argument that New Yorkers voted George Santos in, and that we should wait … for voters to decide his fate is inherently flawed, since voters weren’t given a chance … to determine who they were actually voting for.”

After the vote Friday to expel Santos — a whopping 311 to 114 — LaLota said, “Today, my colleagues and I set a strong precedent: A member who lies about everything about themselves to get elected will be expelled so voters can have a chance at a proper election.”

Expulsion requires a two-thirds House vote. In its 234-year history only five members had been expelled, three for disloyalty during the Civil War. Some members said they wanted to await the completion of an Ethics Committee investigation before voting to expel Santos. The scathing report, 56 pages about Santos’s “complex web of unlawful activity,” changed their minds.

And so Santos, who the Ethics Committee said broke federal laws, stole from his campaign and delivered a “constant series of lies” to voters and donors and “continues to propound falsehoods and misrepresentations rather than take responsibility for his actions,” was thrown out of the House. 

A successor is to be chosen in a special election in February.