Wearing bright red shoes and a self-satisfied smirk, U.S. Rep. George Santos left the Central Islip Courthouse on Friday with a positive vibe unusual for someone facing over 20 years in federal prison. Even as the fabulist was booed and jeered by protestors, he took it in as though it was applause, blowing kisses and waving to the crowd as he drove out of court.
Santos, New York’s most infamous congressman, pleaded not guilty to the superseding indictment brought against him on Friday. The Republican freshman also told Joanna Seybert, the case’s presiding judge, that he will be retaining the services of attorney Joseph Murray, despite a potential conflict of interest concerning a witness in the case identified only as “Person 1” as well as Nancy Marks, Santos’ former campaign treasurer, who has already pleaded guilty to charges related to her management of the congressman’s campaign finances.
The charges brought against Santos in the superseding indictment issued earlier this month included allegations of wire fraud, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and various other crimes. Santos had previously been indicted in May, to which he pleaded not guilty to the initial 13 charges.
Seybert set a trial date for Sept. 9, 2024, marking a significant development in the legal proceedings that have shadowed Santos's political career. Protestors from Concerned Citizens of NY-03, a bipartisan non-profit organization dedicated to seeing Santos removed from office, expressed surprise at his not guilty plea and concern that the trial date could keep him in Congress for nearly a year.
“Justice delayed is justice denied as they say,” Diana Mueller of Glen Head, an active member of Concerned Citizens, said following the trial. “It allows (Santos) to squat in his seat without coming to any kind of accountability. So far in his life he’s skated by without becoming truly accountable for the crimes he’s committed.”
Before his court appearance, Santos took to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to assert his belief in the importance of due process.
In the superseding indictment, federal prosecutors painted a picture of widespread alleged fraud during Santos's campaign for a congressional seat. The charges included conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of making false statements to the FEC, two counts of falsifying records to the FEC, and access device fraud. The allegations involved the submission of bogus campaign finance records, reporting a fictitious $500,000 loan to his campaign, and charging his donors' credit cards without their consent.
Santos's legal troubles have been accompanied by intense scrutiny and calls for his resignation, stemming from revelations that he fabricated significant portions of his biography and resume, as reported by The New York Times and other media outlets.
“We knew he was a liar, we know he was a criminal, but we didn’t really think he was that stupid,” Jody Kass Finkel, one of Concerned Citizens’ organizers, said of Santos at a press conference following his court appearance. “So why didn’t he plead? Probably because he likes playing congressman, he likes being in the room where it’s all happening.”
The future of Santos's congressional tenure remains uncertain, as he faces the potential for expulsion from Congress next week. Anthony D’Esposito, a fellow freshman New York Republican congressman, introduced a resolution to expel Santos from Congress last week, arguing that the charges and accusations against him render him unfit to serve.
However, any expulsion attempt faces formidable odds, requiring a two-thirds majority in the US House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a slim majority. Even if Santos survives the expulsion attempt, the question of whether he will still be able to run for re-election by the time the trial begins in September 2024 remains unclear.
Santos’ next court date is Sept. 9, 2024, while his next status conference is Dec. 12 of this year at 10:30 a.m.