WASHINGTON - The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday it is launching an investigation into embattled Republican Rep. George Santos, the New York congressman whose lies and embellishments about his resume and personal life have drawn deep scrutiny.
The investigation appears to be far reaching. It seeks to determine whether Santos "may have engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign" among other actions, the committee said in a statement.
The panel will also investigate whether Santos "failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House, violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services, and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office," the statement said.
Santos had already removed himself from his committee assignments but otherwise has refused calls from Republicans in New York to step down from office. On Twitter, his office said that he is "fully cooperating" with the Ethics probe and would not comment further.
Ethics committee members David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Susan Wild, D-Pa., will lead the probe, with two other lawmakers from each party. The panel had voted unanimously to establish a subcommittee to investigate the allegations.
"The Committee notes that the mere fact of establishing an Investigative Subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred," Thursday's statement said.
The committee could take an array of actions, from a letter of reprimand to recommending censure and a fine.
FILE - Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., is seen outside a House Republican Conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
It can also recommend expulsion, the sternest form of punishment the House can impose, an action it has used only five times in more than two centuries and never when it comes to conduct that took place before a member was sworn into office. At least two-thirds of the House must vote for expulsion for it to occur.
Any recommendation would be part of a committee report that states the evidence supporting its findings and an explanation of the reasons for the recommended sanctions.
A Long Island prosecutor has already been investigating whether Santos defrauded supporters. The Federal Election Commission has repeatedly flagged problems with Santos’ campaign finance reports.
Santos admitted that he lied about key parts of his background, including his job experience and college education, after The New York Times raised questions in December about the life story that he presented during his campaign.
"My sins here are embellishing my resume. I’m sorry," Santos told the New York Post in the wake of the Times' story.
Santos said he obtained a degree from Baruch College in New York, but the school said that couldn’t be confirmed. Santos had also said he had worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, but neither company could find any records verifying that.
A Jewish news outlet, The Forward, questioned a claim on Santos’ campaign website that his grandparents "fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII."
"I never claimed to be Jewish," Santos told the Post. "I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’"
Perhaps the most serious questions facing Santos involve the personal fortune he claims to have used to finance his campaign.
Since announcing his candidacy in 2021, Santos has reported loaning his campaign organization $705,000, accounting for nearly 25% of its receipts over the last two years.
The underlying question remains how Santos earned the money. Despite his false claims of having worked for big, international banks, he was having financial problems up until a few years ago that led to multiple eviction proceedings from New York City apartments.
When Santos first ran for Congress in 2020, his financial disclosure form listed a modest $55,000 salary from a financial company and no significant assets.
After he lost that race, he took a job selling investments in a company that the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of being a Ponzi scheme.
Last summer, Santos filed a financial disclosure report suggesting an explosion in his personal wealth.
Santos reported he was making $750,000 per year from his own company, the Devolder Organization, had $1 million to $5 million in savings and owned an apartment in Brazil worth up to $1 million. Santos has yet to fully answer questions about how he got so rich so quickly. In an interview with Semafor, Santos said he worked as a consultant for "high net worth individuals," helping broker the sale of luxury items like yachts and planes.
Associated Press congressional reporter Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report. Sisak reported from New York.