Photos by Francis Chung/POLITICO; Video by JC Whittington/POLITICO
Jesús Rodríguez is simply a unit writer astatine POLITICO Magazine.
It’s 11:05 a.m. connected a Tuesday, and nary of nan 20 aliases truthful reporters huddling extracurricular George Santos’ legislature agency wants to drawback nan past of 12 donuts he brought to nan Longworth House building. The gaggle has been present for hours, camped retired adjacent to a cardboard carafe of java quickly increasing stale. Around 8 a.m., Santos had waltzed in, ceremoniously plopping a Dunkin’ Donuts container connected a broadside array placed extracurricular L-1117, a confectionery bounty. He didn’t request to beryllium present truthful early (his first ballot is astatine 6:30 p.m.), but he had teased a “surprise” nan time earlier connected Twitter, “for nan ‘journalists’ assigned to liking retired broadside [sic] of my office,” nan quotation marks smacking of cheerful condescension. “I brought you guys immoderate donuts!” he exclaims. “Donuts and coffee, for each nan difficult activity you guys do.”
“Thank you. Seriously,” he says, by now half-inside his office, conscionable earlier nan doorway swings unopen against nan videographers and photographers and reporters, each of whom crave answers much than pastries.
The donuts slow disappear.
But see this past remaining donut. Deconstruct it, for a second, from nan extracurricular in. The glaze: a gooey, cloudy constituent that varnishes nan ringing of cake, axenic glucose soon to onslaught nan palate. Then, nan barroom itself: yeast and enriched wheat flour and thenar lipid and much sugar, congealing and forcing one’s salivary glands to spell into overdrive. Thirty-three grams of carbohydrates that substance a sweetener unreserved but time off your hunger wholly unsated. At nan literal halfway of it, a spread — emptiness.
That’s what a donut is. Nothingness surrounded by nutritional nothingness.
Ask George Santos a question, and nan consequence will, too, time off you unsated. I discovered arsenic overmuch complete nan 2 days I spent pursuing him for a day-in-the-life floor plan during his first week of legislating, camping extracurricular his office, chasing him astir nan Hill — each successful nan hopes of gaining immoderate penetration into Congress’s astir scandal-plagued freshman. Down nan vaunted halls of nan Capitol he goes, TV producers pinch dense cameras successful tow, falling silent successful consequence to nan thorniest queries astir myriad allegations of lying and fraud. Why did he plaster his CV pinch falsehoods arsenic he tried to summation nan spot of nan voters of New York’s 3rd district? Is he concerned astir nan ethics, run finance, and criminal investigations he’s enmeshed successful from New York to D.C. to Rio de Janeiro? Where did his run costs travel from? Does he person nan support of nan Speaker of nan House, Kevin McCarthy? Does he scheme to measurement down? (Santos has admitted to embellishing his resume, but he maintains he’s neither a criminal nor a fraud.)
Between nan congressman’s non-answers and nan saccharine nothings I witnesser complete 16 hours and 27,000 steps pursuing Santos astir nan Hill, 1 point is becoming abundantly clear: The governmental purgatory wherever this merchant of fables finds himself is an progressively sadistic spot to inhabit. And indeed, a week aft my circuit pinch him, connected Jan. 31, he told his chap Republicans that he’s stepping down from his committee assignments.
“I will reside you,” he says complete and complete again, “on my time.”
But his philharmonic tastes, a newsman asks, half successful jest? That he will answer. He doesn’t person Spotify (he prefers Pandora). “My favourite jam correct now, uhhhh, Sam Smith song, ‘Unholy.’ Fun song!” (You know, nan popular anthem astir a man who’s cheating connected his woman that includes this line: “I perceive them whispering ‘bout nan places that you’ve been / and really you don’t cognize really to support your business clean.”)
He chuckles. The members-only elevator shuts against 2 reporters and a photographer, zipping him location wherever he tin yet beryllium near alone.
Congratulations! You’ve consumed nan Santos donut.
Tuesday, 11:34 a.m.
The click of a doorknob turning anyplace connected Santos’ hallway has go a benignant of Pavlovian bell. One that comes from adjacent intends it’s clip to look alive: drawback nan mic, move connected nan recorders, move connected nan video lights, property nan reddish fastener connected your iPhone, whatever.
Santos emerges from his office, dressed successful his signature pullover and suit jacket. He’s carrying a immense POW-MIA emblem that he’s astir to group up successful nan banner holders extracurricular his door. The property virtually swarms him, asphyxiating him pinch questions he won’t reply arsenic an adjutant who useful for nan legislature TV/radio assemblage pleads pinch journalists successful nan hallway to time off space, guys, please time off space. Santos, looking much than a small aggrieved, manages to spot nan emblem (which has an orangish lipid stain connected it) successful nan mast and extricate himself, slipping backmost into his safe space.
The property corps exhales successful disappointment, turns astir to cheque what footage they got. Exactly 4 minutes later, though, nan doorway clicks unfastened again.
Out comes Vish Burra, Santos’ reportedly divisive operations manager, pinch nan congressman correct down him. He seems astatine first to beryllium headed to nan brace of gilded elevators located immoderate 21 steps from his office, but he feints and marches to nan stairs instead. We’re jaunting briskly, shoes screeching against nan marble floors. Maybe because we’re recovering from nan daze of seeing him again truthful soon aliases because we’re still turning connected our instrumentality arsenic we walk, nary 1 asks a question. We’re conscionable scrambling to support up. At this point, I cognize he won’t elaborate connected his galore investigations, and I cognize he’s said he won’t measurement down, truthful I effort casting a different line:
Is he moving for reelection successful 2024?
He cranes his cervix to place maine down him and says pinch a smile: “Wow, it’s truthful early for that question! I conscionable sewage here, guys!”
Down a formation of steps he goes arsenic reporters from awesome news outlets, temporarily out-maneuvered, effort mightily to drawback up pinch him. Lalee Ibssa, nan ABC News journalist who took nan viral video of Santos ignoring her questions connected his first time successful Congress, jogs ahead. No, he tells her calmly, he’s not going to nan White House, wherever Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are hosting a bipartisan reception for first-year members of Congress. He’s sewage a anterior commitment. “But,” he adds, veering somewhat from nan Republican book successful these exceedingly partisan times, “I’d emotion to spell sojourn pinch nan president.”
Another formation of stairs, followed by an escalator pinch ultra-bright fluorescent lights, past a agelong corridor. Sixty-eight seconds pinch much questions astir whether he’ll donate his salary, whether he’s concerned astir morals investigations, whether he’s spoken pinch McCarthy. None of them answered. Someone asks again if he’s going to nan White House and Santos momentarily drops his studied cheerfulness to service up a coy rebuke. Answering repetition queries buys him time. “How galore times are we gonna reply nan aforesaid question? Yes! I’m not going.”
The elevator closes, and nan scrum returns to his office, panting.
The container of donuts is empty.
Tuesday, 2:02 p.m.
Santos returned to his agency 43 minutes ago, trotting down nan acold extremity of nan hallway, carrying a tin of Red Bull (carbonated water, sucrose, glucose, citric acid, taurine). “Do they springiness you guys breaks for food?” he asks solicitously, pinch nary trace of his earlier irritation. “I’m concerned you guys are not having lunch.” A newsman asks him really his time has been truthful far.
“It’s good! It’s good, productive, and exciting, and I’m looking guardant to serving nan people,” he says, eyes darting.
From nan scrum: “The aforesaid group you lied to to get elected?”
“Thank you guys, convey you truthful much,” he says, still smiling arsenic he firmly closes nan door.
With Santos cloistered successful his office, which presumably has a restroom, astir of nan hours crawl by without overmuch activity. But passersby — staffers, lawmakers, visitors, visitors — can’t defy slowing down agelong capable to look astir astatine nan dejected, saturated faces sitting connected scattered chairs aliases moreover connected nan floor. They put 2 and 2 together and smile, aliases mutter thing to their companions. Some return selfies adjacent to his nameplate. At 1 point, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), whose agency is astatine nan different extremity of nan hallway and who often sits pinch Santos connected nan House floor, walks by and offers his appraisal of nan situation. “Go to publicity school!” he quips. “And past they delegate you to this.”
Others plaything by to dispense immoderate empathy successful these trying times. “Is he home?” asks Don Beyer, Democrat from Virginia and Santos’ neighbor. After a mates reporters opportunity yes, he figures he’ll extremity by and opportunity hello.
Beyer’s personnel pin is simply a powerful point for galore reasons, but for our purposes, it’s powerful because it grants him entree to nan congressman’s lair. And nan property wants to know: What did he say? How does he seem?
“I was conscionable welcoming him to nan first level of Longworth. No greater extent than that,” he assures reporters. “We stayed distant from nan governmental and nan policy.”
Does he dream that Santos will stay his neighbor?
“Oohhhh, that’s not up to me,” he says, shifting successful his feet, furrowing his brow, looking down. “That’s a very different, analyzable communicative that has to do pinch what’s happening successful New York and his caucus.” Nor is he calling for Santos to resign; he doesn’t want to play judge and jury. He really conscionable wanted to definitive quality sympathy straight to Santos, a rarity successful Washington.
In another, little welcoming area of nan Hill, nan reception from a different Democrat is simply a spot much icy. No, frigid: “I would garbage to shingle his manus and I would garbage to speak to him. He’s a fraud who has nary business being successful Congress. I person zero respect for him,” says Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from New York, who has been promoting his Stopping Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker Act — statement nan acronym — a measure that would require legislature candidates to record a connection nether oath astir their acquisition background, subject service, and employment history. It would levy civilian penalties of $100,000, 1 twelvemonth successful prison, aliases both, connected candidates who falsify specified statements.
The measurement Torres sees it, nan criminal prosecution of George Santos is not an if, but a when. “He defrauded nan voters of New York state, he defrauded his measurement into nan United States Congress, and there’s a existent interest that he could corrupt nan institution from within,” Torres tells me.
In these early weeks of Congress, though, Torres’ measure has gotten nary further support from nan GOP, whose members person somewhat steered distant from nan elephant successful nan room.
Well, astir of them. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said Santos was “nutty arsenic a fruitcake,” adding that if nan allegations astir him beryllium to beryllium true, “I would footwear him.”
Tuesday, 6:25 p.m.
The first point retired of George Santos’ rima erstwhile he sees maine successful nan passageway that connects nan House agency buildings to nan Capitol is, “I person dogs. No friends.” He’s connected his measurement to votes and it’s been a agelong day. He’s moving retired of steam, and nan entourage of cameras that could seizure his cheerfully defiant demeanor isn’t pinch us.
This seems for illustration a non sequitur, but he’s referring to a mobility I’d blurted retired earlier conscionable arsenic he was dashing into an elevator: Did he see immoderate of his caller colleagues to beryllium his friends? “I’m sorry?” he’d said, conscionable earlier nan elevator doors closed, puzzled. “Wow, that’s a awesome question.”
But now that we’re alone, I effort to inquire him astir his lodging situation, fixed nan stories of members of Congress sharing apartments or sleeping connected their agency couches. But I fumble my phrasing, truthful he intelligibly believes I’m asking a personnel of Congress for his location address. “Can you inquire me, like, thing personal?”
Okay. More than half of New York Republicans want you to resign. What’s your connection to them?
“It’s their prerogative, it’s a free country! Free speech, I support it!”
A workfellow from nan Daily Beast who is speed-walking on pipes up: “Do you person immoderate commitments connected whether aliases not you’ll tally again successful 2024?”
“I’ve answered this question, I’ve been present 3 weeks!” he says, laughing to his property caput adjacent to him.
So you’re not ruling retired different run, nan Daily Beast newsman presses, arsenic we get astatine different members-only elevator.
Now he’s increasing exasperated, truthful he turns to america to present a small speech connected nan First Amendment.
“You guys support asking maine nan aforesaid questions, and it pains me. You guys don’t spell to eat. You guys don’t return a break. And it frustrates maine that you’re sitting location extracurricular of my doorway each day.
“I will reside you guys,” he says, enunciating emphatically, his eyes bulging, “on my time.”
“You haven’t seen a azygous reply travel retired of nan repeated questions complete and complete and complete again, because this is not really you behaviour interviews. You schedule pinch our comms team, we beryllium down, and we springiness you answers,” he assures us, his sound lilting, sounding for illustration a coach addressing a people of unruly kindergartners.
Ah, if only it were that easy. (His agency declined repeated requests from POLITICO Magazine for an interview.)
Typically, nan laws of nan Hill activity thing for illustration this: if a random leader declines to speak pinch you, aliases is busy, aliases doesn’t person time, you effort talking to their property secretaries and securing clip connected their calendar. But Santos doesn’t person clip for each that. Unless you’re Fox News aliases nan “Firebrand pinch Matt Gaetz” podcast, he’s improbable to beryllium down pinch you. Which intends nan property resorts to pursuing him astir almost everyplace he goes, shoving microphones successful his look successful an effort to get an answer.
Is what we’re doing annoying? Yes. Illegal? No. Constitutional, actually.
And besides, these aren’t emblematic times. Nor is he a emblematic personnel of Congress.
This is evident successful nan faces of nan Capitol Hill denizens who walk him arsenic he walks astir campus. As soon arsenic they’re retired of his sight, their mouths driblet and their eyebrows lift, arsenic if they’ve seen a ghost. The rubberneckers eagerly propulsion phones from their pockets, astir apt to matter their aggregate group chats.
Earlier, arsenic Santos enters nan building, 1 bystander mutters nether her breath, “What. The actual. Fuck.”
Wednesday, 10:06 a.m.
On this cold, damp morning, he’ll group disconnected different scrum. George Santos is astatine nan Capitol Hill Club, nan charismatic sanction for nan GOP’s clubhouse, a white-brick building a artifact distant from his office. With George Santos are his closest colleagues (the full GOP conference), gathering down closed doors. The property corps is outside, waiting patiently, looking for broadside entrances and scrolling astatine their phones. (Also inside: Stephen Miller.)
On nan agenda: nan removal of salient Democrats from definite committee assignments. But for a moment, McCarthy besides concisely touches connected Santos, whose triumph successful November flipped a bluish territory encompassing Long Island and helped present nan House majority. The congressman will proceed to serve, McCarthy says, until —unless?— a criminal complaint triggers his removal. This has been nan statement line, moreover if respective members of nan caucus spot successful him an onerous liability — aliases worse, arsenic his Republican workfellow from New York Nick LaLota put it, “totally untrustworthy,” “an embarrassment,” and “a joke.”
Left unaddressed by McCarthy’s remarks, betwixt nan lines, is nan truth that nan nighttime before, Santos’ run filed an amended run finance report pinch nan Federal Elections Commission showing a individual half-million dollar indebtedness he gave to his run wasn’t “personal” aft all. The filing didn’t explicate wherever nan costs came from. This is what nan property would for illustration to know. When George Santos steps retired into nan gelid atmosphere, he sends reporters and photographers and videographers scrambling pinch a ruffling of jackets and integrative and mobility marks. “Are you guys gonna springiness maine abstraction to walk?” he snipes.
Then nan inevitable mobility astir his FEC filings comes, and he’s intelligibly frustrated. He starts swatting his manus astatine CNN’s Manu Raju, abruptly reproachful: “Let’s make it very clear. I don’t amend anything, I don’t touch immoderate of my FEC stuff, right?” As Raju tries to interrupt, Santos lifts his scale finger, wagging it astatine him. “So don’t beryllium disingenuous and study that I did, because you cognize that each run hires fiduciaries, truthful I’m not alert of that answer.”
“What was nan root of your funds, sir?” personification other shouts. “What was nan root of that money? … Sir?”
“Does anyone person a mobility here?” Santos responds. The mobility hangs, suspended.
Since he won’t reply that question, I alternatively inquire him what constituent services he’s provided.
“That I provided?”
He pauses, thinking.
“Oh, uh, taking in… awesome requests,” he says, “and we’re reviewing stuff, and we’re getting a batch of requests for nan subject academies.”
Then personification asks: Have you heard from nan Brazilian authorities? Santos says no, he hasn’t heard from immoderate authorities aliases investigations, eager to disregard nan question. He disappears into Longworth — he’s sewage nan advantage of skipping nan information statement — truthful nan intelligibly exasperated gaggle of reporters is forced to pump nan brakes.
Later, arsenic he scurries retired of his office, I inquire him whether he thinks McCarthy has his back. “What’s your appraisal of that?” he shoots back, arsenic he bounds down a staircase. “You guys sewage nan information, truthful that should beryllium incumbent upon you guys to make that assessment.”
Outside, he hops into nan driver’s spot of his achromatic SUV, but not earlier telling a newsman that he’d want Leonardo DiCaprio to play him successful a biopic. He’ll instrumentality his measurement into a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru and return to his agency astatine 12:15 p.m. pinch a greasy insubstantial container containing $178.20 worthy of chickenhearted sandwiches. Paid from his individual funds, he says, to support different banquet for nan press. A staffer gives it a Trump-like spread.
Someone wonders: Whose thought was it to bargain this fast-food feast?
Burra gestures to nan charismatic nameplate supra nan sandwiches and flashes a grin.
“Mr. Santos,” he says. “He’s a superb congressman.”
Wednesday, 4:52 p.m.
Santos stands up from his accustomed spot successful nan mediate of nan House chamber, 3 seats from nan halfway corridor wherever nan late-night McCarthy speakership ballot almost descended into a brawl. This is his accustomed perch connected nan floor, wherever he often yawns, covers his mouth, scrolls connected his phone, looks disconnected into nan distance, intelligibly bored. His accustomed level comrades: Republicans Burchett, Andy Harris of Maryland, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, pinch whom he trades jokes and makes conversation. Nancy Pelosi stops by successful a burnt orangish pantsuit, exchanging pleasantries pinch Burchett, grasping his forearm and patting his shoulder, laughing but pointedly ne'er truthful overmuch arsenic glancing astatine Santos.
Carrying a brownish folder, Santos makes his measurement down to nan well, looking confident. He’s going to springiness his first level speech, a one-minute look of support for Iran’s protests. The enclosure had conscionable voted, pinch 420 members successful support, to walk a solution commending nan protesters.
He approaches nan clerk, wearing a variety of his trademark ensemble — a charcoal grey pullover nether a slate pinstripe overgarment — and he starts waxing connected Ronald Reagan and freedom, words tumbling complete words successful a unreserved to make time. He looks down astatine nan lectern, exposing nan thinning tuft of hairsbreadth atop his head.
“I state pinch each slug and pinch each enactment of unit imposed by nan Iranian authorities comes a telephone for america to condemn their actions,” he says, successful a decorous monotone, “and impulse nan Biden management to return acold greater action than specified sanctions to reside nan countless murders and examples of senseless brutality.
“I output backmost my time.”
I drawback Santos arsenic he’s coming retired of nan Speaker’s Lobby, nan colonnaded foyer conscionable extracurricular nan House chamber. A seasoned journalist is stepping pinch him, deploying nan time-honored reporter’s maneuver of asking his mobility successful a level, measured tone, truthful arsenic not to travel disconnected arsenic combative.
“Do you consciousness for illustration astatine immoderate constituent you request to reply questions, though, to benignant of clear up—” nan newsman says. “WHO’S KICKING ME?” Santos spits backmost astatine nan roving scrum that had now mushroomed to a fewer reporters pushing for space, including me. (To beryllium clear, cipher kicked him. I’d stepped connected nan backmost of his ft by mishap amid nan chaos. I quickly apologize, but he ignores me.)
Then much questions from nan press, which aren’t conscionable questions that journalists have, but questions that his constituents besides have: “Have you been contacted by nan Ethics Committee?”
“I’ve not,” George Santos says. (“No comment,” writes Tom Rust, nan committee’s main counsel, successful a later email.)
I ask: “Have you been successful touch pinch your ineligible team?”
“With who?” With your ineligible team.
“With my legal team? Do I have a ineligible team? I’m asking you, ‘Do I?’ You guys look to cognize much than I do astir myself!”
The elevator dings.
“So you don’t person a ineligible team,” I say. I fig nan only measurement to get an reply retired of Santos is to show him nan spread astatine nan halfway of nan donut, to make him correct nan nothingness.
“Of people I person a ineligible team,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Don’t artifact nan elevators. Thanks, guys!”
And this way, George Santos gets away, yet again, without an answer, nan elevator plunging him down to nan bowels of nan Capitol. Later, he’ll extremity by karaoke nighttime astatine Hill Country Barbecue Market successful Chinatown and merrymake pinch lobbyists, reporters and Hill staffers. Photos of him taking a selfie pinch a D.C. comms operative circulate astir Twitter. He’s beaming arsenic iPhone flashes ray up from galore sides, his eyes squinting almost unopen down his thick-rimmed achromatic Ray-Ban glasses.
“We whitethorn aliases whitethorn not person encouraged ‘I Will Survive’ arsenic his karaoke song,” personification tweets.
All quiet carbs, small substance. And he’s loving it.