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Congressman-elect George Santos is ready to be sworn in amid controversy

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Lalee Ibssa/ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — As the 118th Congress prepares to be sworn in after members convene on Tuesday, Republican leaders in the House have declined to comment on George Santos, an incoming lawmaker who has acknowledged lying or embellishing details of his work experience, educational history and his Jewish ancestry.

He has faced scrutiny about other parts of his background, including what financial records from 2020 to 2022 show was a sudden increase in his wealth. Prosecutors say they are looking into him as well, though none have accused him of wrongdoing.

Santos, who won the seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional District formerly represented by Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, has said he will not resign and will instead strive to serve effectively in Congress.

He’s cast his past statements as more routine exaggerations and said the details of his work history were “debatable.”

“I believe that in order to move past this and move forward … I have to face my mistakes and I’m facing them,” Santos said in an interview on Fox News last week.

“I’m not a fraud. I’m not a fake,” he added.

Privately, Santos has told local leaders he will not seek reelection in 2024, according to the Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr., who is in Santos’ district.

An ABC News journalist on Capitol Hill on Monday saw that a name plate for Santos has been put up next to his future office, although a Hill worker said that freshman representatives will not be able to access their offices until Tuesday.

After a New York Times report last month questioned significant parts of Santos’ biography — which had also been investigated by a local paper — further discrepancies have emerged.

Santos has now said he spoke incorrectly about attending Baruch College and working directly for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. In the latter case, he says that a firm he claimed employed him did business with those two companies.

A spokesperson for an elite private school in New York City, Horace Mann, contradicted Santos’ claim of attending the institution. IRS records undercut his past claim of running a charity and he has said conflicting things about his mother’s death, which he has linked to 9/11.

Santos told The New York Post last week that he didn’t actually own any property, despite identifying himself on Twitter last year as a “landlord.”

The New York Times further reported on Sunday that Santos’ mother, Fatima Devolder, was known by his friends as a cook and house cleaner, contrary to Santos’ claims that she worked as a finance executive.

An attorney for Santos, Joseph Murray, initially pushed back on the questions over his background as “defamatory,” claiming it was a biased smear. Murray has since referred ABC News to Santos’ press team, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy, Elise Stefanik and Steve Scalise have remained silent on Santos and have not responded to ABC News’ inquiries.

However, a rules package released by the House GOP on Sunday would require the ethics committee to establish “a process to receive complaints directly from the public.” That could be notable in the context of Santos: If Republican leaders do not refer him to the committee themselves, the public could lodge complaints against him.

GOP leadership is also grappling with Tuesday’s vote to elect the next speaker of the House. Republicans will control the chamber with 222 seats and Kevin McCarthy of California will need 218 votes to win the gavel. Santos’ vote could make a difference.

Santos has been defended by some future colleagues, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. But other prominent Republicans have criticized him.

Retiring Texas Rep. Kevin Brady said on “Fox News Sunday” that he believes Santos “is going to have to consider resigning.”

“He’s got really two choices here … one, he can try to politically ride it out. We’ve seen that happen in Washington, D.C. Or he can take the tougher choice, which is, I think, look, own every lie that he’s made and apologize to everyone and anyone for as long as it takes,” Brady said.

Santos’ fellow New York congressman-elect Nick LaLota released a statement asking the ethics committee to investigate.

“House Republicans like me are eager to be sworn in and focus on our commitment to America and our respective districts. Yet over the last few weeks, I have heard from countless Long Islanders how deeply troubled they are by the headlines surrounding George Santos,” LaLota said last week.

“As a Navy man who campaigned on restoring accountability and integrity to our government, I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” he said.

Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former House member himself, told ABC’s “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday that what Santos did “is unacceptable.”

“I don’t know whether you can go so far as to not seat him but certainly the ethics committee should deal with this, and he has to be held accountable for that,” Hutchinson said.

House members may be removed by expulsion, which would require a two-thirds vote. Democratic leaders have suggested such a move would rest with McCarthy. A majority of representatives could also censure Santos, or Republicans could keep him off committees — a major source of legislative power.

In a statement on Friday, the Republican Jewish Coalition criticized Santos for exaggerating his Jewish ancestry.

His campaign has said his maternal grandparents fled persecution during World War II and resettled in Brazil, though genealogical records show otherwise. Santos, who is Catholic, told The New York Post last week that he meant he was “Jew-ish” through his mother’s family.

“He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage. In public comments and to us personally he previously claimed to be Jewish. He has begun his tenure in Congress on a very wrong note. He will not be welcome at any future RJC event,” the group wrote.

ABC News’ Hannah Demissie, Gabe Ferris, Lalee Ibssa, Aaron Katersky, Lauren Peller and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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