The spate of revelations about a pattern of lies and deception by New York Rep. George Santos is heightening scrutiny of powerful New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the fourth-ranking House Republican and Santos’ 2022 presidential candidate. staunch supporter during the 2018 election campaign.
Stefanik is a key validator for Santos in their shared home state and has often touted the candidate in public and private forums. Several prominent Republican donors told CNN they donated to Santos, whom they largely don’t know because Stefanik is the state’s most powerful elected Republican and a multi-billionaire. Produced fundraiser, support him.
“I would never have donated without Elise,” said Ken Salamone, who donated $5,800 to the Santos campaign and more than $20,000 to his joint fundraising committee after Stefanik’s team reached out on his behalf Dollar. “I thought she did her homework. I always do my homework, but no. It’s a shame.”
Another Republican donor, Kristin Bianco, told CNN she was swayed by Stefanik and other Republicans’ support for Santos, where, she said, Santos lied to her about former President Donald Trump. She cut off Santos after Trump endorsed him.
“He wanted me to be a big donor … what a liar he was,” Bianco said. “I tried to warn people.” Bianco gave Santos a total of $550, according to campaign records.
Another donor who attended the fundraising lunch with Stefanik and Santos confirmed to CNN through a representative that “he donated to George Santos because of Elise Stefanik’s endorsement.”
“Congresswoman Stefanik supports all GOP candidates’ targeted seats in New York, as do all other NYG GOP elected officials, candidates, NRCC, NYGOP and the entire House GOP leadership team,” Stefan Nick’s campaign spokesman told CNN, adding that Stefanik was not “aware of the allegations (against Santos) before the New York Times report.”
Multiple Republican operatives in Washington and New York told CNN they found it implausible that Stefanik didn’t know about Santos’ lies, given that rumors about Santos had been circulating in Republican circles since at least the summer of 2021. of.
“Stefanik’s team is very focused on electing Santos to Congress — more than any other race in the country,” said a veteran Republican strategist who campaigned ahead of the midterm elections.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last week that he “always has some doubts” about the veracity of Santos’ résumé. Still, he held a fundraiser for Santos in October, about five weeks before the election, according to the campaign’s publicity. Neither McCarthy, Stefanik, nor other prominent Republicans supporting Santos have called for his resignation.
A Republican political source familiar with the dynamics told CNN that Stefanik “was an advocate for (Santos) throughout the process, even when others had doubts. There was no two ways, she was a big supporter of him.” .”
The source attributed Stefanik’s support for Santos to a lack of due diligence rather than a deliberate withholding of information, and said a senior political aide to Stefanik was involved in Santos’ campaign. Multiple sources tell us that aides are closely advising Santos’ campaign and participating in recruiters.
A Stefanik spokesman denied any involvement by her aides, saying: “No one on Congresswoman Stefanik’s staff worked for or advised this candidate.”
The uproar over Santos, spurned by all but the Republican House leadership, which has him on two committees and needs him to help maintain their slim majority in the chamber, has shifted in New York , where Republicans unleashed a congressional “red wave” that avoided them in many other states. The Nassau County Republican Committee, as well as Republican House members from the neighboring district, recently called on Santos to resign.
“His lies were more than just lies. He disgraced the House,” Joseph G. Cairo, chairman of the Nassau County Republican Party, said at a news conference last week. “He’s not welcome at Republican headquarters.”
The backlash sparked by the Santos farce threatens the New York GOP’s credibility with voters and donors in and around a string of swing districts, including Santos’ 3rd District, which includes parts of Long Island and Queens, which was voted for last year. The Republican Party won the local 2021 election.
After the election, another donor’s family frustratedly asked Santos about the allegations, first reported by The New York Times. In text messages seen by CNN, Santos responded that he had been defamed.
When the source urged Santos to “publish some evidence to refute the work/school claims,” Santos demurred.
“Party leaders are 100% calm about me getting run over,” he texted the donor. “This approach is not mine, and I allow the DC people to do it their way. They are the experts, not me, at least I’ve been told.”
On August 11, 2021, Stefanik tweeted his support for Santos. One of the posts included a link to WinRed’s online fundraising page asking for donations, which would benefit both her and Santos.
“Important support alert. Happy to support my friend and America First Conservative colleague George Santos for Congress at #NY03,” Stefanik wrote.
“@Santos4Congress will take over NYC’s liberal elite and bring a new generation of Republican leadership to New York and America. I support him all the way!”
More than nine months later, on May 23, 2022, Stefanik reported on Twitter that she had helped Santos raise more than six figures for his campaign.
“Wow! @Santos4Congress Great lunch event! We raised over $100,000 to help George FLIP #NY03 George has my full and complete support and is coming in November,” Stefanik tweeted, borrowing Trump’s phrase tweet said. “New Yorkers will send George to Congress! #SaveNewYork #SaveAmerica”
Just on Wednesday, Santos in turn highlighted Stefanik’s support for him, displaying a photo of the two together as a banner image on his Twitter account. It has been changed.
Multiple Republican operatives said Santos was able to fly under the radar for so long because of a series of anomalies surrounding the New York midterm elections.
Santos, who ran once in 2020 when he lost in a landslide to then-Democrat Rep. Tom Suozzi under the district’s old boundaries, was widely seen as an eccentric upstart, If he runs again, he’s unlikely to be competitive — even with Republicans gaining momentum on Long Island. In February 2022, when the Democrats’ Injustice map was released, the district was redrawn to include parts of the Bronx and Westchester, effectively removing it from the Republican map.
But the state’s high court ultimately overturned the unfairly drawn map and appointed a “special director” to draw the new, more politically balanced border. Unveiled in May 2022, the new map made headlines as Democrats were locked in an intense game of chairs, with incumbents drawn to overlapping districts and candidates declaring their candidacy based on the map being thrown under consideration. their choice.
While the final redistricting line favors Republicans, it was announced so late in the campaign season that it made the candidate selection process more intense and complicated, staffers said.
“In 2020, Democrats have strong districts, they have a strong incumbent, and people aren’t knocking on doors,” Cairo, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, said earlier this month. The 2020 cycle looks bleaker ahead of the court ruling. “No elected officials came forward.”
By then, Santos had effectively been locked in as the Republican nominee. The incentive to investigate his biography — and potentially damage his campaign — has all but disappeared as his race has grown more contested, according to a New York-based Republican strategist.
The strategist — who could not be sure what exactly Stefanik knew — told CNN she likely joined other senior Republicans to focus on the urgent task of winning a House majority.
“It kind of speaks to her transformation over the last few years, which has actually kind of become a zero-sum game,” the strategist said. “Win at all costs, winning is the only thing that matters.”
A source close to Stefanik expressed displeasure with the Republican conference chairman’s criticism, saying, “One of the many reasons Congresswoman Stefanik is the highest-ranking Republican in New York state is her focus on action. Yu Sheng and don’t listen to these gossip anonymous consultants.”
The source also noted that other Republicans close to Santos believed Stefanik had been unfairly scrutinized.
Sources told CNN: “The Santos FEC has a number of prominent advisors and staff who are currently working for senior elected officials and committees, people working for Congresswoman Stefanik or advising the Santos campaign. zero.”
Another New York GOP operative told CNN that “all of us screwed up[in Republican campaign circles]because we should have scrutinized him better,” and that Stefanik “could have been attracted by the fact that the seat has become winnable and he can win it.”
The agent added that while there was some skepticism about Santos, there was no indication at the time how deep the candidate’s lies were and that most Republican state and local leaders in the state were more focused on high-profile races, including former Republicans. Rep. Lizeldin’s campaign. He ended up losing by only about six points to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Other House campaigns, like newly-elected Rep. Mike Lawler, the Rockland Republican defeating Democrat Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the party’s House campaign arm, have also attracted more attention and resources.
“Stefanik and (House Speaker Kevin) McCarthy should have allowed this moral process to happen more quickly,” the agent said, and ultimately voted to expel Santos.