A Long Island Patch reporter is racking up scoops while congressional correspondents chase down the fabulist freshman rep, who may just be leaning into the press frenzy. Says one member of the scrum, “He’s an idiot, but he’s not an idiot.”
The drumbeat of revelations exposing the pathological deceit of fabulist freshman congressman George Santos has been so relentless, it puts to shame that old journalism adage, “the story that keeps on giving.” One of the wildest whoppers that’s come to light so far materialized on Tuesday evening, when Jacqueline Sweet, a reporter covering Santos’s Long Island congressional district for the local news network Patch, published the following stunner of a headline: “Disabled Veteran: George Santos Took $3K From Dying Dog’s GoFundMe.” She had the receipts to back it up—on-the-record interviews, text messages, and corroborating social media activity.
Within the hour, the piece was all over my Twitter feed, including retweets from George Conway and mouth-agape proclamations from prominent journalists. “Congrats if you had ‘George Santos allegedly rips off disabled vet who needed money to treat dying dog’ on your bingo card,” sneered Columbia J-school professor Bill Grueskin. Placing Sweet’s article in the context of Santos’s just-announced appointment to the House’s Small Business Committee, Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin observed, “In all seriousness, this is (if true) the likely tipping point in the House. ‘Kevin McCarthy sent a dog-abusing swindler of disabled veterans to look after your small business’ is the kind of thing that starts dragging down people beyond Santos.” (Sarlin got a comment from Santos calling the Patch story “fake,” which, it goes without saying, should be taken with a hundred-pound bag of salt.) “It reminds me of Scooby-Doo,” Sweet told me when we spoke earlier in the day, “and the journalists are the pesky kids.” (Jimmy Kimmel made the same joke the following night.)
The dying dog was Sweet’s second Santos scoop in a week. The previous Tuesday, in another viral story, she’d reported that a former Santos roommate, Gregory Morey-Parker, was “100 percent” certain his missing Burberry scarf was the same one draped around Santos’s neck during a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on the eve of the January 6 riot. (Can’t make this stuff up.) It wasn’t long before Morey-Parker was all over CNN, enlightening viewers about the purloined winter accessory as well as other con-man-like behavior he’d witnessed. “The truth has finally come out,” he told a stunned Don Lemon. “Did he go one by one to everybody in his district and just literally pull the wool over their eyes?” (Reps for Santos didn’t respond to CNN’s requests for comments.) Interviews like these have become the hottest tickets in town. When I asked a correspondent from a national TV outlet whether there was any behind-the-scenes jockeying for a Santos sit-down, the correspondent replied, “You’re asking the wrong question. The question is, how intense is the competition for someone who knows something about his past and what else he’s lied about?”
Welcome to the George Santos media circus, which has captivated the press and the public for a full month now, ever since The New York Times dropped its bombshell investigation that demonstrated, in cringe-inducing, mortifying detail, how Santos’s entire résumé appeared to be an elaborate work of fiction. It’s a truly wild ride, and one that’s hard to get off of—as I was tapping out this paragraph on Wednesday afternoon, a new report started circulating about how Santos, who is openly gay but supports anti-LGBTQ+ policy, performed drag as a teen in Brazil under the name Kitara Ravache. (The accompanying photos are pretty convincing, but Santos tweeted: “The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or ‘performed’ as a drag Queen is categorically false. The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results. I will not be distracted nor fazed by this.”) Hours later, on Wednesday night, the Times published a review of immigration documents that appeared to fully debunk Santos’s claim that his mother had been working in the World Trade Center’s South Tower on 9/11. “How does he have the time for all these scams?” Rusty Foster pondered in his “Today in Tabs” newsletter. “It’s a good month if I manage to wash my bedsheets once, and George Santos is out there literally stealing from disabled veterans and babies 25 hours a day.”
There are obvious reasons why the Santos saga is so enthralling, apart from the fact that an accused fraudster from Queens managed to propel himself, almost in the blink of an eye, from outer-borough obscurity to Washington’s corridors of power. In recent years, the grifter genre has become a journalistic tour de force, popularized by sprawling narratives that tend to set the internet ablaze. Plus, thanks to the ever-more-shameless shenanigans of the modern-day Republican Party, Congress now has all the makings of a low-rent tabloid rodeo, from the bathroom brawl of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, to the positively Kardashian-like dramas chronicled last week by my colleague Molly Jong-Fast. Santos finds himself at the center of this salacious smorgasbord, his own story falling somewhere between a rollicking black comedy and a tragic psychodrama about a potentially troubled individual. If you’re finding it difficult to stay up to speed on all the madness, you might want to subscribe to this new Substack series by freelance journalist Marisa Kabas, “The Daily Santos.” From the lead of Tuesday’s installment: “He basically killed a dog.”
Interest in George Santos—or Anthony Devolder, as he was previously known to many—intensified when Santos showed up for his first day of work in the nation’s capital on January 3, greeted by a crush of journalists staking out his office, “just waiting for him to come in and say literally anything,” as Politico’s Nicholas Wu put it, “waiting outside for any sign of life, any crumb of news he might drop. There’d be times when he’d pop out and there’d be a whole stampede of reporters and photographers and video people all following after him.” Here he is on January 9 being pursued by ABC News correspondent Rachel Scott: “You’re accused of fabricating almost every single part of your life. Why do you deserve to represent the people of New York?” Later that same afternoon, Scott ambushed Santos as he rounded a corner: “Congressman, did you misuse campaign finances? Why won’t you answer our questions?” Disappearing into his office, Santos replied, “I will be addressing the media soon. On my time.” In another clip that went viral on Twitter, from January 12, Santos is asked for a response to calls that he step down. “I will not resign,” he says, unlocking his office door. “I will be continuing to hold my office elected by the people.” Then he walks into said office and slips on a newspaper, a move that HuffPost’s Igor Bobic described as “prime VEEP.”
Before Congress went into recess on Wednesday, the Santos stakeouts were a grueling daily exercise. Reporters, mostly from the TV networks, would show up outside his door on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building as early as 8 a.m., barking out questions as he arrived shortly before 9 a.m. There they would remain for hours on end, hoping to catch a face-to-face moment with some fleeting comment worthy of a headline. (Or at least a good tweet.) A Democratic staffer from a neighboring lawmaker’s office, Aaron Fritschner, would tip them off if he saw Santos exiting the premises through a side door. “I’ve done it twice," Fritschner told Politico. “I’m gonna keep on doing it for as long as he’s there. And it seems like he’s not going anywhere.”
Congressional reporters told me they’re surprised by the degree to which Santos has engaged, albeit minimally. When a misbehaving member of Congress becomes embroiled in controversy, they usually just look straight ahead and pretend the reporters aren’t there. Santos is comparatively accessible. On one camera-ready occasion, reporters noticed that Santos hadn’t parked near the restricted House carriage entrance, where lawmakers generally make a dash for it whenever they want to avoid being hounded by the press. Instead, as the television correspondent recalled, “He was parked on Independence, and there was a super long TV shot where the press was running after him, this amazing footage of reporters throwing questions until he jumped into a Ford Bronco. Best TV ever.” Are Santos and his staffers—there are only four of them listed so far—just a posse of rank amateurs, or are they deliberately leaning into all the media attention? My source suspects the latter. “He’s an idiot, but he’s not an idiot.”
Another member of the Santos scrum isn’t so sure. “What is perceived among Republicans is that whatever guidance he’s getting in terms of his interactions with the press, he’s doing it wrong,” this person told me. Going on Fox News “was seen as a huge mistake”—i.e., when Tulsi Gabbard annihilated Santos while filling in for Tucker Carlson—“and so was the Semafor story in which he talked about how he got all this money from his involvement in the luxury world. It’s sort of like, every time he opens his mouth, it makes it worse.”
Back in New York, where the local branch of Santos’s own party has called on him to resign, reporters continue to dig up dirt. If Sweet’s expanding universe of sources is any indication, there are truckloads yet to be spilled. She started covering Santos’s district just before the election and found him a little “strange” as she watched an online debate hosted by Newsday. In the aftermath of the Times investigation, she found herself scrolling through the comments on a News12 article when one of them caught her eye—some woman who appeared to have knowledge about Santos’s past marriage. “I reached out to her and said, ‘How do you know about his marriage?’ And she said, ‘I used to work with him.’ She starts providing me with information, and she has all this corroborating proof.”
The source put Sweet in touch with additional former coworkers, which is how Sweet was the first to report that Santos, during the same period in which he was supposedly a burgeoning finance hotshot, had in fact worked as a bilingual customer-service representative at DISH Network in Queens. “That sort of broke everything open for me,” she said. “I probably talked to 10 people who worked with him. They all understood him to be a liar and a con man.” From there, Sweet’s Rolodex kept growing. “The coworker got me to the roommates, the roommates got me to the Brazilian friends, and I’m still going. No one’s really gotten too far back before he was 18 or 19. I’ve gotten pretty much there, and then the trail goes a little cold.” After an MSNBC appearance last Friday, Sweet got the tip that would culminate in her yarn about the disabled US Navy veteran, Richard Osthoff. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday night, he described the moment, just a week ago, when he realized that Santos was the same person as Anthony Devolder, accused of bilking his service dog’s cancer funds. “I was sick,” Osthoff said. “To see that someone like that who could do something that dastardly could raise to such a high position? It shouldn’t be.”
As with any good mystery or thriller, it feels like Santos-gate is hurtling toward some spectacular climax. A criminal indictment? A revelation so dark and disturbing it can lead to nothing but his ignominious retreat from public life? A dead body? But this is 2023, after all, and a political scandal ain’t the career killer it used to be. Perhaps the only certainty is that we’ll continue to eat it up. “I find it incredibly unique and incredibly fun to cover,” said one of the congressional reporters. “It’s comical, some of the stuff he has done. I mean some of it could also be dangerous, but it’s just a great story.