CENTRAL ISLIP, New York--U.S. Representative George Santos on Wednesday vowed to fight charges of fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds in the latest hit to the newly elected Republican, who has resisted calls to resign for lying about his resume. "It's a witch hunt," Santos said shortly after appearing in court in Central Islip, New York, to face the federal charges, echoing a claim often voiced by former President Donald Trump. "I'm going to fight my battle. I'm going to deliver. I'm going to fight the witch hunt.
I am going to take care of clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that." A 13-count indictment charged Santos, 34, with defrauding prospective political supporters by laundering funds to pay for his personal expenses and illegally receiving unemployment benefits while he was employed. It also accuses him of making false statements to the House of Representatives about his assets, income and liabilities. Top House Republicans, who control the chamber by a narrow 222-213 margin, said they would wait for the legal process to play out before taking further action on Santos, who pleaded not guilty.U.S House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would not support Santos' re-election, CNN reported later on Wednesday.
"Santos has a lot going on. I think he has other things to focus on in his life other than running for re-election," he was quoted as saying. Santos was released on a $500,000 bond and is due back in court for his next appearance on June 30. This means he can go back to Washington and cast votes in Congress. As a condition of his release, he agreed to surrender his passport and to limit his travel. Federal prosecutors said they had evidence of a sweeping pattern of fraudulent behaviour. "Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself," Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. Nine House Republicans have so far called on Santos to resign, including six from his home state of New York. But No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise said the caucus would withhold judgment on Santos. "In America, there's a presumption of innocence, but they're serious charges. He's going to have to go through the legal process," Scalise told a press conference.