George Santos Buried a Compelling Real Immigrant Story Under His Lies, CBS News Correspondent Caitlyn Huey-Burns Says

The CBS News documentary “Campaign of Deceit: The Election of George Santos” unpacks his humble roots from Queens to Long Island’s wealthy suburbs

CBS News political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns speaks with Kristilynn Russo, former dog groomer who alleges Santos was running a sham pet charity and pocketing money for dogs in need. (CBS News)

Just over a month after Rep. George Santos took office following his victory in the 2022 midterm election, his time in office has been embroiled in scandal as pieces of his background are exposed as lies — a scam that buried a compelling story, CBS News correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns says.

“A couple of people that we talked to pointed out that the great irony in all of this is that he did have a compelling story to tell,” Huey-Burns told TheWrap while discussing CBS News’ upcoming documentary. “His mother worked really hard to support him and she was an immigrant … People are drawn to that kind of story of coming from nothing and making it to Congress. So why did he feel the need to make up all these other things, and not let voters decide what to think?”

“Campaign of Deceit: The Election of George Santos,” which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, unpacks the New York Republican’s trail of lies by following his humble roots from a basement in Queens to one of Long Island’s wealthiest suburbs.

Santos declined to participate in the CBS Reports documentary despite multiple requests. Huey-Burns unraveled his lies by interviewing sources who were burned by him, including a middle school classmate. It became apparent that Santos’ made up stories hinged on a desire to relate to those in his district.

“He said he was Jewish when he wasn’t; he said his grandparents escaped the Holocaust and they [didn’t]; he said he was wealthy when he wasn’t; he said that his mother was in the towers on 9/11 when we know that wasn’t true,” Huey-Burns said, adding that one rabbi they spoke to called the scam a work of “sick brilliance.”

“When you look at his district — this is a very wealthy district, it has a strong Jewish delegation [and] everyone in New York knows someone who was connected in some way to 9/11,” Huey-Burns said.

The aftermath of Santos’ lies has also left a handful of donors, strategists, operatives and other supporters duped by the Republican representative. “We found that party bosses in the district were fooled, constituents were fooled, but also people that knew him well were fooled,” Huey-Burns said.

Huey-Burns also recalled her conversation with Santos’ middle school classmate, now an attorney, who shared with Santos that she had a client potentially interested in financial investing. Santos, who had told his peer he had previously worked at Goldman Sachs, invited his classmate and her client out to dinner and proceeded to give the client an investment pitch for his firm — which was eventually shut down after allegations of being involved in a Ponzi scheme.

Though the classmate advised her client not to agree to the investments, she believed in Santos and trusted him.

Even after Santos’ lies had been exposed, the former classmate recently reached out to him after seeing pictures of him sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives, alone and isolated. “She reached out to him just to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’ve been seeing all these things and basically just want to check in,’ and he responded, just kind of blaming the media for what had happened.”

While Santos’ lies regarding his education and other elements of his background have become widespread headline fodder, Huey-Burns says Santos went largely unvetted through his campaign as an exposé from a local paper called the North Shore Leader caused only ripples nationally.

Despite calls for Santos to resign, Huey-Burns says he is showing no signs of stepping down, leaving his political future to the hands of multiple ongoing investigations, including two ethics complaints and a probe of his finances as the possible source of $700,000 he used to kick-start his campaign.

“He’s a member of Congress — he’s been elected [and] he’s in office,” Huey-Burns said. “There’s also very little that you can do to recall your member of Congress — it’s not like a governor where you can have a recall election … His constituents are calling for him to resign and he won’t [and] leadership is letting these investigations play out and see what comes with them.”