Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that he will not resign despite facing a 13-count criminal indictment.
Federal prosecutors charged Santos earlier Wednesday 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, a significant escalation of the months-long controversy surrounding his biography and finances.
Shortly after entering a not guilty plea at a Long Island courthouse — and being released on a $500,000 bond — the congressman delivered a full-throated defense.
“I will not resign,” Santos told reporters outside the courthouse, later adding, “I believe I’m innocent.”
“I’m gonna fight my battle, I’m gonna deliver, I’m gonna fight the witch hunt, I’m gonna take care of clearing my name and I look forward to doing that,” he said.
Santos has been the subject of scrutiny for months — since before he was sworn into the House — amid questions about his personal and professional background and finances. Lawmakers from both parties have called for Santos to resign or be expelled, but the congressman has remained adamant that he will not step down from his seat.
He reiterated that sentiment Wednesday, noting that he will return to the Capitol on Thursday.
“I’m gonna keep fighting, I’m gonna keep fighting for what I believe in, I’m gonna keep fighting to represent my district, I’m gonna keep fighting to deliver results and now I have to keep fighting to deliver, you know, to defend my innocence and I’m gonna do that,” he said.
While a number of lawmakers have called on Santos to resign, House GOP leadership has stopped short of doing so. On Wednesday, top House Republicans said they would let the legal process surrounding Santos play out.
The charges against Santos do not — by rule — disqualify him from serving in Congress. According to House rules, members charged with criminal conduct as a felony that carries a sentence of two or more years in prison should resign from committees and step aside from party leadership as the legal process plays out. Santos stepped down from his committee assignments in January amid his mounting controversy, and he does not serve in House GOP leadership.
Prosecutors allege Santos directed an unnamed person to connect with potential donors and falsely tell them that their contributions would go toward purchasing television advertisements for the New York Republican’s congressional campaign.
But in actuality, according to the indictment, the contributions were transferred to Santos’s personal bank accounts and subsequently used for personal expenses — including buying designer clothing and discharging his personal debts.
The indictment also accuses Santos of fraudulently receiving more than $24,000 in unemployment benefits after falsely asserting that he was unemployed during parts of the pandemic. Additionally, it alleges that Santos made false statements to the House of Representatives in financial disclosure reports during his congressional campaigns, and that he failed to disclose some income sources.
The top charge Santos faces — wire fraud — carries a maximum jail time of 20 years. If Santos is convicted on multiple counts, a judge will decide whether to make any sentences run concurrently.
Santos told reporters Wednesday that he will continue with his 2024 reelection campaign despite the charges against him. He announced his reelection bid last month.
“Yes I am,” he told reporters when asked if he will run for re-election.
“I will prove myself innocent and then we’ll move from there, and reelection is a very far time away,” he added.