Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming House Democratic leader, on Wednesday accused Representative-elect George Santos of being a “complete and utter fraud,” as a new report cast doubt on his claim of being Jewish.
“His whole life. Made up,” Mr. Jeffries said at a news conference in Washington. “Did you perpetrate a fraud on voters of the Third Congressional District of New York?”
Hours before Mr. Jeffries spoke, The Forward, a Jewish publication based in New York City, reported that Mr. Santos, a Republican, may have misled voters about having Jewish ancestry, as he has claimed on his website and in statements during his political campaign.
In his current biography, Mr. Santos says that his mother, Fatima Devolder, was born in Brazil to immigrants who “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”
But according to The Forward — which cited information from myheritage.com, a genealogy website; Brazilian immigration cards; and databases of refugees — Ms. Devolder’s parents seemed to have been born in Brazil before World War II.
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Ms. Devolder died in 2016, according to an online obituary. On her Facebook page, which links to Mr. Santos’s, she regularly shared Christian imagery, and had “liked” numerous Facebook pages associated with Brazil-based Christian organizations.
Mr. Santos’s campaign, his lawyer and a political consulting firm that had been fielding reporter inquiries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential conservative group that has hosted Mr. Santos and billed him as a Jewish Republican, said that it had reached out to Mr. Santos’s office regarding The Forward’s reporting.
“These allegations, if true, are deeply troubling,” the coalition’s director, Matt Brooks, said. “Given their seriousness, the congressman-elect owes the public an explanation, and we look forward to hearing it.”
Mr. Santos, whose victory in a district covering parts of Long Island and Queens helped his party secure a narrow majority in the House next year, has not directly answered questions about his background raised by an article in The New York Times earlier this week.
The Times’s report found that Mr. Santos may have misled voters about key details of his résumé that were on his campaign website at various points during his two bids for Congress, including his college graduation and his purported career on Wall Street.
It also found that Mr. Santos did not include key details about his business, the Devolder Organization, on financial disclosure forms. The Devolder Organization, which was registered in 2021 in Florida, had been dissolved by state officials in September after it failed to file an annual report. On Tuesday, Mr. Santos filed paperwork to reinstate it.
The claim that Mr. Santos’s maternal grandparents fled Jewish persecution was added to his campaign website sometime between April and October, according to a review of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. An earlier version of Mr. Santos’s biography said simply that Mr. Santos’s maternal grandparents “fled the devastation of World War II Europe.”
Though Mr. Santos has identified as Catholic, he has more often trumpeted his Jewish heritage on the campaign trail, even as he described himself as a nonobservant Jew. As early as June 2020, when he was making his first bid for Congress, he wrote on Twitter that he was the “grandson of Holocaust refugees.”
On Sunday night, Mr. Santos attended a Hanukkah party on Long Island being held by the Republican Jewish Coalition. He also spoke last month at the coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas.
In his remarks in Washington, Mr. Jeffries did not address the new questions about Mr. Santos’s heritage. But he said that The Times’s reporting left him with doubts as to Mr. Santos’s suitability for office that he believed the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy, needed to address.
“It’s an open question to me as to whether this is the type of individual that the incoming majority should welcome to Congress,” Mr. Jeffries said.
Mr. McCarthy, the top House Republican, who is currently trying to shore up support for his bid to become the House’s next speaker, has not commented on The Times’s findings.
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy has not responded to emails or phone calls about Mr. Santos, who voiced his support for Mr. McCarthy’s potential speakership hours after The Times warned him of its report on Sunday night.
Legal experts have said it is unlikely that the House of Representatives could deny Mr. Santos his seat in Congress. There are procedures that allow losing candidates to contest the results of a House election. But a Supreme Court decision in 1969 limited the House from preventing candidates from taking office unless they do not meet the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements.