George Santos facing criminal charges for corruption and lies


Aggie Whelan Kenny | Associated Press

In this courtroom sketch, U.S. Rep. George Santos, left, R-N.Y., sits with his attorney Joseph Murray in federal court, Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Central Islip, N.Y.

White lies and obscure claims have finally caught Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) at his heels as he is facing a plethora of criminal charges of corruption and making false statements to Congress, shown in a 20-page indictment released on May 10.

These charges were brought to light only a day after former president Donald Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation by a Manhattan federal jury on May 9.

Jean Carroll became the first woman to successfully bring charges against Trump with more than a dozen other women additionally accusing Trump of sexual misconduct throughout his time in the political and social spotlight.

George Santos finds himself entangled in corruption issues as claims arise that the congressman received $50,000 of donations from a fake super PAC. He then pocketed the money and used it not only to heal personal economic troubles but to indulge in luxury goods. 

The recent exposure of politicians and their legal troubles is not a new trend in American politics.

Steven Greenberger, a professor of law at DePaul, does not believe that high-profile politicians facing legal issues is a new circumstance.

“It’s kinda deja-vu as far as I can see,” Greenberger said.

But, what asserts itself as unprecedented is the lack of accountability taken by politicians for their various illegal actions.

“I think what is new is chiefly attributed to Trump,” Greenberger said. “He thinks the law doesn’t apply to him, I think that’s new.”

As former President Trump’s administration remains almost four years in the past, the lasting impacts of his unique approach to politics, including his attitude towards his criminality, remain significant in the American political climate.

Ben Epstein, DePaul professor of political science, views Trump’s actions in the legal sphere may be a sign of changing norms in the political system.

“I think the one thing that Donald Trump has always done that has been breaking from norms is that he has no shame,” Epstein said. “He has never been someone who has taken credit or responsibility for things that have gone bad.”Epstein believes Santos has adopted a similar stance against his legal issues. 

“[Santos] hasn’t apologized,” Epstein said. “He said he’s going to prove his innocence, and says he plans to run for reelection.” 

Despite his legal issues, Santos remains a powerful political pawn for the Republicans to hold on to their slim majority of nine seats in the House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy chose not to call upon Santos to resign, unlike other bipartisan members of Congress. 

“They have a right to vote, but they have to go to trial,” McCarthy said when speaking with reporters on Santos’ current position in the House.

Keith Simonds, a lecturer of political science at DePaul, explains the little impact ethical and legal issues seem to have on political support. 

“Similarly to Santos, the Republican party is not abandoning [Trump] at all,” Simonds said. 

Not only has Trump adopted a shameless attitude towards the plethora of legal issues he faces, but can turn this stance into a powerful political strategy, connecting him to supporters, according to Epstein. 

Despite illegality being a significant pillar in the American political system, and being a haunting aspect for politicians throughout history, Epstein said that many things have changed. 

“Contextually, this isn’t new,” Epstein said. “But what is really interesting to me is what once was a disqualifying event or action for someone who was running for office or serving in office, that norm is changing.”

Simonds said that the success of using criminality as a political advantage is shifting the attitudes and actions of politicians towards a less ethical standard, regardless of their partisan loyalties. 

“Both sides right now just have this really strong incentive to say ‘that’s what works,’” Simonds said. “We’re all learning bad lessons from each other.”

Both Simonds and Epstein agree that unethical behavior and illegal action are not strategies binary to a particular party, as they emphasize the example of former President Bill Clinton’s stagnant high approval ratings following his impeachment in 1998.

Pew Research Center finds that after the House moved to impeach Clinton, his approval ratings hit 71%.

As of May 16, House Democrats, led by Rep. Garcia (D-CA) moved to force a vote to remove Santos from his position.

 But, because of Republicans’ reliance on Santos for majority power, the task has been deployed onto the House Ethics Committee to continue to reassess Santos’ standing in the House. 

What remains a significant issue to Epstein as illegality and unethical behavior become an increasingly normal political tactic, is the accountability that is held towards elected officials.

“The lack of holding politicians accountable for egregious, illegal activity from the voters, from certain portions of the media that covers them, and frankly from colleagues, publicly, is a problem in my view,” Epstein said. 

As Santos faces wire fraud and money laundering charges, his status as a politician remains unknown. 

Santos still holds legislative power, plans to run for reelection and is a protected, sacred actor for the Republicans as they attempt to maintain their slim control over the House.

Trump has begun touting his 2024 reelection campaign for president amidst countless legal concerns. 

What worries Simonds is the image these actors bring to the forefront of American politics, and what impact it will have on future voters.

I think in some ways the part that worries me the most is when everyone’s expectation is that politics is corrupt, or is really ugly, then that both becomes more true, and turns people away,” Simonds said.

Epstein believes there needs to be a higher standard held towards elected officials, and that attitudes need to change.

“I would also hope our elected officials are amongst the best of us, they’re our leaders, they are elected to represent us and guide us towards the future,” Epstein said. “I hope they will be both ethical and act according to the laws they write.”