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Can George Santos still serve in Congress even if he is convicted?

New York Republican, accused of serial lies, has been hit with 13 federal criminal charges

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 10 May 2023 15:02 BST
Related: Kevin McCarthy dodges question on whether he ‘stands’ with Trump and Santos

New York Republican congressman George Santos, who rose to national prominence over a string of exaggerations, lies, and irregularities related to his personal background and campaign finances, has now been arrested on a string of federal charges.

The Justice Department unsealed a 13-count federal indictment on Wednesday (10 May) charging Mr Santos with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

Mr Santos surrendered to authorities at a federal court on Long Island that morning.

Hours earlier, the embattled congressman, who has been under scrutiny over a string of resume lies, claimed to be unaware of the charges.

“This is news to me. You’re the first to call me about this,” he said when contacted for comment by The Associated Press.

The freshman representative has been under investigation by multiple bodies since his election, including the House Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission and both local and federal prosecutors over his track record of alleged dishonesty, which was first exposed in a The New York Times investigation in December 2022.

Fellow New York Republicans including Mike Lawler, Marcus Molinaro and Nicole Malliotakis have since largely attempted to keep their distance from Mr Santos, expressing concern about the various scandals circling him.

Mr Lawler and Mr Molinaro reiterated their calls for his resignation on Tuesday as news of the charges broke.

“There’s a clock ticking, and George Santos should have resigned in December. He should have resigned in January,” Mr Molinaro told NBC.

“He should have resigned yesterday, and maybe he’ll resign today, but sooner or later, honesty and justice will be delivered to him.”

As calls mount for him to be removed from Congress, it raises the key question: Can Mr Santos still serve in Congress even if he is convicted?

In simple terms, yes.

Legally speaking, the charges have no bearing on Mr Santos’s standing as a member of Congress because there is nothing in the US Constitution to bar individuals under criminal indictment or conviction from occupying congressional office, the only exception being prohibitions against treasonous conduct committed after a member has sworn their oath of office outlined in the 14th Amendment.

George Santos

The formal rules governing the US House of Representatives, meanwhile, state explicitly that “an indicted member may continue to participate in congressional proceedings and considerations”, according to a Congressional Research Service report cited by CNN.

But, if the member is then convicted of a crime that will result in them serving two years or more in prison, House rules mean that they should not take part in committee or floor votes.

For his part, House speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNN on Tuesday he would “look at the charges” relating to Mr Santos before determining next steps, adding that it was his expectation that any congressman or woman should resign if found guilty of a crime.

Mr McCarthy gave the example of Nebraska Republican Rep Jeff Fortenberry, who stepped down on 31 March last year after being convicted of concealing information and making false statements to federal authorities as part of an investigation into illegal campaign contributions.

“Just like we had before with Jeff Fortenberry, he had the same ability, I removed him from committees, but he was found guilty and then I told him he needed to resign. That is my policies and principles on this,” Mr McCarthy said.

But others are calling for more urgent action.

New York Democratic Rep Daniel Goldman told NBC: “I think the speaker should encourage him to resign, and if not, I think we ought to bring the expulsion motion that has already been filed to the floor.”

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