Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos has navigated a swirling stream of scandals and calls for his resignation, denying on Thursday one of the most damning allegations against him: that he took thousands of dollars intended to fund surgery for a veteran’s ailing dog.
“The news that I would let a dog die is shocking and insane,” the new New York lawmaker tweeted Thursday morning. “My work in animal advocacy has been a labor of love and hard work.
Santos, who is facing backlash from some Republicans after admitting he lied about key details of his past, also claimed in a tweet that he had recently “received pictures of the dogs I’ve helped reduce over the years, along with supportive messages.”
The word “reduce” was corrected to “rescue” in a subsequent tweet on Thursday afternoon. Santos’ office did not immediately provide any of those photos when asked by CNBC.
“These distractions won’t stop me!” Added Santos’ tweet.
The congressman’s tweet criticizes, but does not directly deny, allegations that Santos disappeared in 2016 with thousands of dollars raised in a GoFundMe to cover the cost of surgery for the veteran dog’s stomach tumor.
Patch.com first reported Richard Osthoff’s allegations. He was described as a disabled U.S. Navy veteran who was honorably discharged in 2002 and was living in New Jersey with his pit bull mix, Sapphire, while he sought a veterinary procedure.
He and another veteran told Patch that Osthoff was in contact with Anthony Devolder — one of the many names Santos has allegedly used in the past — who set up a GoFundMe through his purported pet charity, Friends of Pets United. The New York Times reported last month that neither the Internal Revenue Service nor the New York and New Jersey attorney general’s offices could find any record of a registered charity with that name.
After the fundraiser reached its $3,000 goal, Santos allegedly ordered Osthoff to take Sapphire to a vet in Queens, who refused to operate on the dog. Santos then became elusive, eventually telling Osthoff that he moved the money to his charity to use “for other dogs,” the veteran told Patch.
Sapphire died in January 2017, and Osthoff said he had to pay for the dog’s end-of-life services, according to the report.
“I was so angry to realize that this guy is now a serving congressman. He doesn’t deserve the job. It’s horrible that he can lie, steal and cheat his way through life,” Osthoff said Wednesday. in an interview with NBC News.
The Queens district attorney’s office declined to comment specifically on Santos’ alleged mishandling of the crowdfunding campaign. A spokesman for the office instead reiterated a previous statement about Santos’ alleged conduct, saying, “While we do not, of course, comment on open investigations, we are reviewing whether Queens County has jurisdiction over any potential crimes.”
GoFundMe spokesman Jalen Drummond said in a statement Wednesday: “When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and security team sought proof of delivery of funds from the organizer.”
“The organizer did not respond, resulting in the removal of the fundraiser and the email associated with this account being banned from further use on our platform,” Drummond said. “GoFundMe has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”
Santos on Wednesday called the patch report “fake”, he told the Semafor newspaper that he “has no idea who he is.”
Santos has been under constant pressure, including from some of his fellow Republicans, since a bombshell report last month from The New York Times cast doubt on many of Santos’ claims about his education and personal life.
NBC reported on Wednesday that Santos claimed his mother was at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. But records show she wasn’t even in the US at the time.
Santos currently faces local and federal investigations and multiple ethics complaints. He apologized for “embellishing” his resume but said he had committed no crime.
Santos, who won his Long Island congressional district in November, was sworn in this month and rejected calls to give up his seat.
Republicans in New York denounced Santos as a liar and a disgrace and called on him to resign. But some leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have not joined those calls. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California echoed Santos’ own argument that the voters of his district should decide whether he remains in Congress.
McCarthy leads a slim, fragmented Republican majority in the House. If Santos were to leave office, it would likely trigger a competitive special election in New York to replace him.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., made a similar argument Thursday when asked by CNN if he believed Santos should resign.
“No, I made it clear, I think it’s something between him and his constituents,” said Donalds, a member of the House Oversight Committee.