Column: Our First ‘Jew-ish’ Congressman: How Perilous Is He?

Our very first Jew-ish” congressman established himself as a serial liar, a possible criminal suspect and a punchline. Until Tuesday. Now it is far worse: George Santos is scary, and maybe dangerous.

The Washington Post reports a web of connections that begs questions as to what he is capable of, in or out of Congress. It compounds other disturbing elements of the controversy.

Santos’ successful campaign for U.S. representative last Nov. 8 was helped by businessman Andrew Intrater and his wife. Intrater is also cousin to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who was sanctioned by our government for his role in the Russian energy industry.

The Post reports in these passages, “The evidence suggests Santos may have had a business relationship with Intrater as Santos was first entering politics in 2020.” (That year, Santos lost his first congressional campaign.) “It also shows, according to the SEC filing, that Intrater put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Santos’ onetime employer, Harbor City, which was accused by regulators of running a Ponzi scheme.

“While Intrater is a U.S. citizen, his company, the investment firm Columbus firm Columbus Nova, has historically had extensive ties to the business interests of his Russian cousin…Intrater’s interactions in 2016 and 2017 with Michael Cohen, who at the time was working as a lawyer for Donald Trump, were probed during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between Trump and the Kremlin.”

It sounds as if Santos served as one of the former president’s agents spying for the Russians. We have no idea if that is true, but the Post article offers strong circumstantial evidence that Santos has been involved in some sleazy doings.

He also spent Jan. 5, 2021, the day before the Capitol riot, in Washington where he addressed a crowd, telling them, “Who here is ready to overturn the election for Donald Trump?”

Santos is an accidental congressman who benefited from combined circumstances in his Long Island district, which covers portions of Queens and Nassau County in New York state. He did not need to challenge a respected incumbent; redistricting favored Republicans; few people seriously vetted him; and he benefited from the coattails of Lee Zeldin’s energetic but failed campaign for governor.

Since he was elected, we can wonder if he ran as a Manchurian candidate so he can support treasonous policies, all part of Trump’s reported conspiracy to seize control of the country.

The Post article even coincides with the arrest of a former Republican candidate in New Mexico who led shootings into homes of Democratic elected officials.

As the entire world knows by now, Santos is being investigated by local, state and federal law-enforcement into possible campaign finance fraud, and he even faces an allegation of checking fraud in his native Brazil. Prosecutors abruptly announced these investigations after The New York Times reported multiple discrepancies about Santos’ background.

Times reporters found he excluded key details about his business on required candidate financial disclosures and concocted falsehoods about his real estate holdings, academic degrees and a successful Wall Street career.

Most personally offensive was his claim that his maternal grandparents survived the Holocaust. His grandparents were probably Catholic, not Jewish, the Times suggested.

The Santos scandal could ultimately increase Democratic influence in the House, where Republicans currently hold the majority by six votes. Already, in an unrelated special election, a Democrat is expected to win a seat in southern Virginia on Feb. 21 due to a vacancy created last November by the death of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin, a few weeks after he was re-elected. The Feb. 21 election is likely to leave Democrats with 213 House seats.

Perhaps Santos will survive his nightmare until his two-year term ends, but the odds do not favor him. Bets on his fate might best focus on when, not whether, a special election is held to replace him.

Democrats need 218 seats to restore their majority. It is highly doubtful that there will be five more special elections in the next two years, but one for Santos’ seat looms. Prosecutors who announced investigations acted as if they believe they have slam-dunk cases against him. Chances are that they do.

If the gap is narrowed from six to four seats, Republicans will have less maneuvering room and Democrats will have better chances of enacting legislation with GOP help. Republicans representing swing districts could well come around.

The Republican response to the Times article was at least as annoying as Santos’ original lies. He even lied about his lies, as a Times article reported.

“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos said in an interview with The New York Post, according to the Times. He explained that he was Jew-ish in spirit.

No such claim? He declared himself “a proud American Jew” in a position paper he shared with Jewish and pro-Israel leaders. So reported in The Forward, a Jewish website.

Two days after the original Times piece appeared, we were treated to this response: “He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage,” Matt Brooks, who heads the Republican Jewish Coalition, proclaimed in a statement.

Certainly, Donald Trump never lied during his four-year term as our president. As long as he was Israel’s best friend, he could not possibly tell a lie.

This was a classic “shocked-that-gambling-is-going -on-here” moment.-What is most striking about the Santos scam is how disingenuous Republican leaders responded after the incoming congressman admitted that he lied to Long Island voters about his employment, education and his heritage.

They never challenged Trump’s lies and conduct during his presidency. For Jewish conservatives, Trump’s ardent support for Israel, as important as it was, topped any concerns they had about all other issues.

It turns out that some Republicans were aware of Santos’ falsehoods long before he was elected, though it is not yet known how widespread. Nassau Republicans publicly disowned him and indicated they did not know of his fabrications. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders are having his back for now, after Santos voted for McCarthy as speaker.

The divide between local and national politics fit their interests. Team McCarthy needs Santos while the New York state GOP has sustained a severe body blow that undermines them in future elections. It is hard to believe that the locals did not know, and maybe they didn’t. If we learn later that New York Republicans were aware, what will that do to whatever credibility they have left?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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