(NewsNation) — Embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) said he remains focused on his duties as a congressman despite facing a 13-count indictment on allegations he diverted campaign funds for personal use.
He generally denied the allegations and declined to comment about the criminal case during a wide-ranging interview Thursday on News 2’s sister station, NewsNation.
“I’m challenging everything,” Santos said of the criminal charges, as well as a House Ethics Committee investigation.
Santos’ tenure in Congress has been mired by allegations that he lied about his resume — which he admitted — and a criminal indictment.
Santos has been charged with — and pleaded not guilty to — duping donors, stealing from his campaign and lying to Congress about being a millionaire, all while cheating to collect unemployment benefits he didn’t deserve.
Among the allegations, prosecutors said Santos created a company and then induced supporters to donate to it under the false pretense that the money would be used to support his campaign. Instead, they said, he used the money for personal expenses, including designer clothes and credit card and car payments.
Santos declined to comment on the criminal case but said he never spent a single penny of campaign money for personal items.
“Had I deviated all this money from the campaign, I wouldn’t have won,” he said.
The allegations against Santos have made him a recognizable name and face, a rarity for a freshman in the House that has 435 members.
“It is what it is, you just take it day by day at this point,” Santos said. “I’m human, I’ve made mistakes, I move on. I’ve done the apology, I’ve made those apologies, as sincere as I could. At this point, if I continue to put any effort into that, then I’m reneging on the civic duty that I have to serve the constituency, which is where I’m putting all my focus on.”
Santos’ troubles began in December 2022, a month before he was sworn into the House, when the New York Times published a story poking holes into parts of his biography, including his education, charitable efforts and basic work history. He told people he was a wealthy Wall Street dealmaker with a substantial real estate portfolio who had been a star volleyball player in college, among other things.
In reality, Santos didn’t work at the big financial firms he said employed him, didn’t go to college and struggled financially before entering politics. He claimed he fueled his run largely with self-made riches earned from brokering deals on expensive toys for wealthy clients, but the indictment alleges those boasts were also exaggerated.
He later admitted to lying about his resume and apologized, but said it wouldn’t stop him from serving in Congress.
In a poll earlier this year, 78% of voters in New York’s Third Congressional District said Santos should resign. He said he’s not going to.
Instead, he’s focused on his reelection bid and welcomes a Republican primary challenger. Santos has run twice, both times uncontested.
“I could have as little as 30% (support) and coast” to victory in a primary, he claimed, citing internal polling showing more pro-Santos primary voters than anti-Santos voters. “(Other primary candidates) are going to split up the anti-Santos vote.”
He noted other politicians under indictment have won reelection, including former New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, who was indicted on insider trading and charges of lying to federal agents. In 2020, he plead guilty to giving his son nonpublic information about a drug company and was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
Santos said he’s acted “nothing but ethically” while in Congress, giving voters a reason to vote for him.
“My conduct as a member of Congress has been above reproach,” he said. “I’m confident, and I’m proud of the work that I’m being able to do despite being besieged by the media.”
In the eight months he’s been in office, Santos has echoed fellow Republicans’ calls for hiring more border agents and getting U.S. Customs and Border Protection a bigger budget. He’s also alleged that at least a handful of asylum-seekers in his New York district have been arrested for robbery.
He recently visited the southern border and wants New York City leaders to more aggressively combat an influx of migrants to the city.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing migrants north, including to New York, and the city has been grappling with where to house them.
Santos said Mayor Eric Adams should do more, such as declaring an emergency or sending the migrants elsewhere.
“Return to sender. The buses are coming, say, Governor Abbott, here, they’re your problem, too,” Santos said. “Is it the best solution? No, but we need to draw a line and say we can’t take them.”
He called on the U.S. government to “close the border” and only allow migrants to enter at ports of entry.
“if we put them through the proper channels, we slow the intake,” he said. “We have a capacity, we just need to draw the line and stop saying we don’t have a capacity.”
The Associated Press and The Hill contributed to this report.