Navigating a swirling torrent of scandals and calls for his resignation, embattled Republican Rep. George Santos pushed back Thursday on one of the most damning allegations against him: that he took thousands of dollars intended to fund a surgery for a veteran’s ailing dog.
“The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane,” the freshman lawmaker from New York tweeted Thursday morning. “My work in animal advocacy was the labor of love & hard work.”
Santos, who faces backlash from some Republicans after admitting he lied about key details of his past, also claimed in the tweet that he has recently “received pictures of dogs I helped reduce throughout the years along with supportive messages.”
The word “reduce” was corrected to “rescue” in a subsequent tweet Thursday afternoon. Santos’ office did not immediately provide any of those photos when asked by CNBC.
“These distractions won’t stop me!” Santos’ tweet added.
The congressman’s tweet criticizes, but does not directly deny, allegations that Santos in 2016 had disappeared with thousands of dollars raised in a GoFundMe to cover the costs of a surgery for a veteran’s dog’s stomach tumor.
Patch.com first reported the allegations from Richard Osthoff. He was described as a disabled U.S. Navy veteran who was honorably discharged in 2002 and living in New Jersey with his pitbull mix Sapphire at the time he sought the veterinary procedure.
He and another veteran told Patch that Osthoff was put in touch with Anthony Devolder — one of multiple names Santos is said to have 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 attorney general’s offices of New York and New Jersey could find any record of a registered charity by that name.
After the fundraiser hit its $3,000 goal, Santos had allegedly directed Osthoff to take Sapphire to a veterinarian in Queens, who declined to operate on the dog. Santos then became elusive, and finally told Osthoff he had moved the money into his charity to use “for other dogs,” the veteran told Patch.
Sapphire died in January 2017, and Osthoff said he had to panhandle to pay for the dog’s end-of-life services, according to the report.
“I was so livid that I realized that this guy is now a serving congressman. He doesn’t deserve that job. It’s horrendous that he could lie and 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 spokesperson for the office instead reiterated a prior statement about Santos’ alleged conduct, saying, “While as a matter of course we do not comment on open investigations, we are reviewing whether Queens County has jurisdiction over any potential criminal offenses.”
GoFundMe spokesperson Jalen Drummond in a statement Wednesday said, “When we received a report of an issue with this fundraiser in late 2016, our trust and safety team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer.”
“The organizer failed to respond, which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform,” Drummond said. “GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing.”
Santos on Wednesday called the Patch report “fake,” telling news outlet Semafor he had “no clue who this is.”
Santos has been under compounding pressure, including from some of his fellow Republicans, ever since last month’s bombshell report from The New York Times called into question many of Santos’ claims about his education and personal life.
That report set off a flurry of other damning accusations, ranging from Santos flaunting his inaccurate resume to help raise campaign funds, to Santos lying about being a college volleyball star.
NBC reported Wednesday that Santos claimed his mother was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. But records show she wasn’t even in the U.S. at the time.
Santos is currently facing local and federal investigations and multiple ethics complaints. He has apologized for “embellishing” his resume but said he committed no crimes.
Santos, who won his Long Island congressional district in November, was sworn in this month and has refused calls to give up his seat.
Republicans in New York have denounced Santos as a liar and a disgrace and have urged him to resign. But some top Republicans on Capitol Hill have not joined those calls. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has echoed Santos’ own argument that voters of his district should be the ones to decide whether he stays in Congress.
McCarthy leads a slim, fractious Republican majority in the House. If Santos were to leave office, it would likely trigger a competitive special election in New York for his seat.
Santos has vowed to serve out his full two-year term.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., made a similar argument Thursday when asked by CNN whether he believed Santos should resign.
“No, I’ve been clear, I think that’s something between him and his voters,” said Donalds, a member of the House Oversight Committee.