When it was first revealed that House Republican George Santos was a serial liar who was basically living a fictional life, it was clear that he was unfit for office. But with House Republicans unwilling to expel him (yet), the conundrum was that so many of his lies were merely lies, and not necessarily crimes. From the start, Palmer Report predicted that if Santos did end up in any legal trouble, it would almost have to be related to Santos’ money trail. After all, serial liars often tend to be serial financial fraudsters.
As things have since unfolded, it turns out Santos very much has a questionable money trail – and not just for the kinds of petty fraud one would expect from a two bit serial liar. Instead there are questions about whether he may have taken dirty money from a Ponzi scheme in Florida, funneled it through his own sham company, then into his congressional campaign. If so, this wouldn’t be an allowable personal loan to his campaign, and would instead be campaign finance fraud.
The DOJ, along with the Long Island District Attorney, and for that matter the government of Brazil, have all announced criminal probes into Santos. Brazil says it intends to charge him for check fraud, which is worth keeping an eye on. But in the meantime, the question has been whether these U.S. based criminal probes were merely once-overs to see if anything potentially illegal stood out, or whether they were serious probes identifying and focusing on specific prosecutable crimes.
We may have gotten our answer this week when the Department of Justice reportedly asked the Federal Election Commission to stop investigating Santos. This only happens when the DOJ has concluded that it has a serious criminal case on its hands that’s likely to result in criminal charges, and wants to nudge the FEC out of the way so they don’t trip over each other.
The most the FEC can do is hand out fines and such. The DOJ can put people in prison. So the fact that the DOJ is now exclusively taking over the George Santos probe at the federal level means that this is indeed a serious criminal probe. The DOJ isn’t just poking around to see if there’s anything on Santos; it believes it’s going to nail him. The DOJ has already criminally indicted two other now-former House Republicans, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, on financial crimes in the past few years. So it’s very much a real thing for members of Congress to be indicted for what Santos has allegedly done.
The DOJ’s decision to push the FEC aside is a clear escalation at the federal level. Keep in mind that is all separate from the Long Island District Attorney’s criminal probe into George Santos, who could bring state level charges separately. And then there’s the fact that Brazil wants to indict Santos as well. The jurisdictional issues alone could end up being fascinating, as various prosecutors try to decide in what order they get to charge Santos, put him on trial, and potentially put him in prison.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report