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N.Y. Rep. George Santos faces another attempt to expel him from Congress

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

New York Representative George Santos is facing a third vote to expel him from Congress. The Republican congressman survived the first two votes after an Ethics Committee investigation found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for personal expenses like Botox injections and luxury trips. Santos admits lying to voters about his resume, his work history and most aspects of his past, but he has denied criminal wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to federal charges ranging from fraud to embezzlement. Despite the fact that two more Republicans joined demands that he step aside, Santos defied them in a speech on the House floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE SANTOS: To set the record straight and put this in the record, I will not be resigning.

FADEL: The Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan watchdog group that first accused Santos of campaign finance violations earlier this year. Adav Noti is its legal director, and he joins me now. Good morning.

ADAV NOTI: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: Thanks for being here. So what's on the list of suspected violations you gave to the Federal Election Commission?

NOTI: Well, it really runs the whole range of campaign finance violations. Basically, the allegations, which have now been pretty much substantiated, are that the money that Santos used for his campaign was not legitimate. It was mostly stolen from other sources, and that includes being stolen from people's credit cards and stolen from side businesses that he was running and then essentially laundered through the campaign and pocketed by Santos on the back end. And along the way, he and his campaign falsely reported all of that financial activity to the Federal Election Commission, which is itself a fairly serious crime. And so each aspect of that campaign financing was illegal.

FADEL: Now, you said they've mostly been substantiated. How do those findings compare with those of the House Ethics Committee?

NOTI: So the House Ethics Committee investigation and the investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics that preceded it found, as suspected, that the money that Santos claimed he had put himself into his campaign was not, in fact, from himself - it, as I mentioned, had been taken from these other sources - and that most of the information that was reported to the Federal Election Commission was fictitious, entirely fictitious. And so the investigation substantiated each of those allegations and also found additional ones, including the use of funds for things like Botox and at a casino in Atlantic City and other things that they uncovered through looking at bank records.

FADEL: Now, these are pretty serious charges. And House Speaker Mike Johnson - but House Speaker Mike Johnson said yesterday he thinks it's too soon to expel Santos because he hasn't been convicted of the charges. Let's hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: I personally have real reservations about doing this. I'm concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.

FADEL: Now, only five members of Congress have been expelled before - three for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War, and two who were first convicted of federal crimes. Does it set a precedent to vote to expel Santos out now?

NOTI: No, I don't think it sets a new precedent. The criminal charges remain pending. That's true. But there has been an investigation by first an independent investigator in the House and then by the House Ethics Committee. And there have been formal findings from both of those bodies that there are reams of evidence supporting the allegations that Santos engaged in very serious criminal activity. So this is far beyond just an allegation.

FADEL: Yeah.

NOTI: The criminal charges remain pending and haven't been proven. But the investigations that have been conducted and released include very serious findings.

FADEL: Now Santos, as I said, has survived two attempts to expel him from the House. Why do you think this time might be different?

NOTI: Well, it's because of the Ethics Committee investigation and report. At the time of the prior votes, all that was pending was a criminal allegation, which had not been proven, and the evidence was not released. But since then, the Ethics Committee has released its findings and the evidence supporting them, which is ample. And I think members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have determined that's sufficient basis for expulsion.

FADEL: Adav Noti is a legal - is legal director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog organization. Thank you for your time.

NOTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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