Fact-checking OAN’s dishonest interview with Rep. George Santos
One America News let a cascade of falsehoods and unanswered questions slip through its interview with Santos
Right-wing propaganda channel One America News dragged out a disingenuous sit-down interview with Rep. George Santos (R-NY), airing clips from January 31 to February 6. While reporter Caitlin Sinclair claimed Santos would “address the barrage of accusations against him,” Sinclair spent the hour glossing over outright lies and non-answers from the scandal-ridden freshman representative.
While Santos did apologize for “embellishing my resume” — fabricating his work and educational experience — Sinclair nodded along as the self-proclaimed “sacrificial lamb” for the GOP pushed falsehood after falsehood and accused journalists of taking “cheap shots” at him. Sinclair let Santos mislead viewers about his nonexistent connections to the Holocaust and Judaism, his mother’s death, his alleged theft of $3,000 from a veteran, his campaign finances, and more.
During the interview, Santos promised, “From now on, anything and everything is always going to be above board,” and encouraged his constituents – 78% of whom believe he should resign, according to one recent poll – to move on. At the end of the special, Sinclair wished Santos good luck after he announced, “Let’s get the work done and make sure that everybody sees that, you know, judging a person by their past isn’t necessarily the best way to examine their body of work.”
OAN did not address their standing relationship with Santos until fifty minutes after the special concluded, making the interview seem more disingenuous in hindsight. OAN followed Santos from his 2020 congressional campaign all the way through his 2022 win. In a post-interview recap with OAN’s Weekly Briefing, Sinclair said that actually “made the interview a lot tougher.”
Here are some of the deceitful claims and known falsehoods Sinclair let Santos spread:
That his grandparents fled the Holocaust
CLAIM: Sinclair asked Santos to “respond” to the fact there is no genealogical evidence that his family escaped the Holocaust. Santos maintained that he was just referencing stories his family told him, his grandfather is from Belgium, and “forged documents” were “a very common occurrence in the name of survival.”
SANTOS: I never said they survived the Holocaust per se. They were there. They escaped the Holocaust. And if there was ever a time and place that I might have to say survived versus they escaped, I, you know, bad word choicing, but nothing nefarious to say my parents stayed all the way through D-Day, that was never the claim. They escaped before things got really bad. They forged documents like many other Jewish families did at the time.
When Sinclair asked how Santos mixed up the terms “escaped” and “survived,” he responded, “I wouldn't be the first or last one to do it right? People misspeak all the time. …. We can nitpick this all day long.”
REALITY: First, Santos did state that his maternal grandparents “survived the Holocaust.” Additionally, the first line on his campaign website’s “About” page previously stated, “George’s grandparents fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.” Santos also said he was “the grandson of Holocaust refugees” in a Twitter reply he reposted to Facebook.
As Sinclair mentioned, there is no genealogical evidence that Santos’ family escaped the Holocaust. A Forward investigation discovered Santos’ mother’s side of the family has lived in Brazil since the 1800s; there is no indication they lived abroad during the Third Reich. Additionally, Santos’ mother “regularly shared posts with Catholic themes and images of Jesus” on Facebook before her death.
That he never claimed to be Jewish, just “Jew-ish”
CLAIM: Santos told Sinclair he never claimed to be Jewish.
SANTOS: I grew up Catholic, and part of my shtick throughout the years has always been a joke about people saying, “Oh, George, you come from a Jewish mother family — your maternal family’s Jewish, so that makes you Jewish.” And I’ve always joked, saying, “No, no, no, I’m Jew-ish.” Now, it’s being used against me as if I’m some sort of antisemite, some grotesque creature trying to bring harm to the very heritage I hold.
Sinclair did not press him further.
REALITY: Sinclair failed to mention Santos had called himself a “proud American Jew” in a position paper shared with Jewish leaders, in which he also claimed that he’d “been to Israel numerous times.” The OAN reporter also failed to mention Santos participated in Republican Jewish Coalition events. Following the revelation Santos and his family are not actually Jewish, the RJC said he “deceived us and misrepresented his heritage.”
In fact, Santos’ fake “Jew-ish” heritage appears to be rooted in antisemitic tropes. As his former friend Gregory Morey-Parker explained in an interview with CNN, Santos used the alias “Anthony Zabrovsky” because “the Jews will give more if you're a Jew,” and the future congressman would frequently brush off making antisemitic jokes, “usually around the subject of paying the bill at restaurants,” by claiming he “was Jewish.”
That Facebook comments showing Santos praising Hitler were faked
CLAIM: Santos told Sinclair “I stand by” the claim a Facebook comment praising Hitler was fabricated before attacking the media:
SANTOS: This is how low the media is willing to stoop. To come out with such accusation, conveniently, on Holocaust Remembrance Day just shows you that there's an agenda. If that had been uncovered months ago, and it was de facto truth, they would have come out with it months ago.
Sinclair did not press Santos further, and the interview cut to a commercial break.
REALITY: Freelance reporter Jacqueline Sweet obtained screenshots of Facebook comments Santos reportedly left under a friend’s post in 2011 stating, “(hight hitler) lolololololololololololol” and “sombody kill her!! The jews and black mostly lolllolol!!!” The Glen Cove Patch confirmed these screenshots with Santos’ former roommates, colleagues, and friends.
That the 9/11 attacks claimed his mother’s life
CLAIM: Santos told OAN, “I never claimed my mother died on the 9/11 attacks. When I said 9/11 claimed my mother's life, I never said she died on 9/11.” Sinclair then asked, “What about claims that your mother was nowhere in America, nowhere near America.” Santos said, “That, to me, remains a mystery. … I don’t know if it’s bad timing, paperwork being filed in a consulate, my mother in fact did get robbed sometime in the nineties, her green card was taken in her purse.” He maintained it is his family's belief his mother died from a “9/11-related illness.” Sinclair did not press further.
REALITY: While it is technically correct that Santos never claimed his mother, Fatima Devolder, died in the 9/11 attacks, on the campaign trail, he said, “9/11 claimed my mother’s life.” He also claimed that his mother “was in her office in the South Tower,” escaped, was “caught up in the ash cloud,” and died “a few years later.” Devolder died in 2016.
Those claims contain abject falsehoods. Santos' mother was in Brazil during 9/11. In a 2003 U.S. visa application from Brazil, Devolder said she hadn’t been in the country since 1999. There’s no evidence Devolder worked, let alone had an office, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center either. Friends described Devolder as “a hard-working cleaner who never worked at Wall Street.”
That he lost coworkers in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting
CLAIM: Santos clarified the coworkers he alleged were killed during the Pulse nightclub shooting were new hires set to join a company he was working at:
SANTOS: I was working for a company called MetGlobal and one of their subsidiaries. … I worked in their business development team. At the time, it was presented that four of the, you know, agreed-upon hires that would be onboarded to the company had perished that day at the Pulse – which, during the Pulse night shooting, I was in Orlando. I wasn’t anywhere near Pulse, but I was in Orlando. So this was tragic for that city.
Sinclair wrapped up this line of questioning after Santos said he had “yet to know and understand how” outlets concluded his Pulse nightclub comments were an exaggeration.
REALITY: Santos told WNYC in November, “My company, at the time, we lost four employees at work that were at Pulse nightclub.” A month later, loved ones of Pulse victims accused Santos of lying about his relationship to the victims.
While MetGlobal does have an Orlando location, The Associated Press and The New York Times could not confirm Santos’ employment. A Times review found that none of the 49 Pulse nightclub shooting victims appeared to be associated with any of the firms named in Santos’ biography.
That he did not allegedly scam a disabled veteran out of $3,000
CLAIM: In response to a question about potentially scamming disabled veteran Richard Osthoff out of money raised to provide life-saving surgery to his service dog, Santos claimed, “It took me by surprise. … I’ve never met that man before. I don’t know him.” He added, “Every case of any animal advocacy work I've ever done in the past, I've always strived to meet people. I’m very hands-on as a person.”
Santos told Sinclair a story suspiciously similar to Osthoff’s own experience, as detailed by the Patch. Santos claimed that he drove a “gentleman who’s disabled on Facebook crying about how he needed a service dog” to a Rockland County animal shelter. Santos added, “That’s what I’m known for. For going out of my way to help animals or going out of my way to help people.”
REALITY: Osthoff said Santos – operating under the name Anthony Devolder– promised to raise funds for a lifesaving surgery for his service dog, Sapphire, before disappearing with the $3,000 raised on Devolder’s GoFundMe. Santos claimed he never met the man, but the Patch found acquaintances and a digital trail, including Facebook posts with the GoFundMe link and texts from Osthoff to Santos, that corroborated Osthoff’s story.
Osthoff raised attention for Sapphire’s GoFundMe on Facebook– run by Devolder– and a vet tech drove Osthoff and Sapphire to New York on Santos’ recommendation. At the time, Santos texted the veteran he was “not coming for the ride. … We do not drive people around nor do we give them rides.” Santos told OAN he “raised hell until I could find the guy a service dog” and is known for “going out of my way to help animals.” However, when Osthoff arrived, the veterinarian said they couldn’t operate on his dog. Afterward, Santos told Osthoff he had moved Sapphire's funds to another animal. Sapphire was later euthanized.
That Santos’ animal rescue, Friends of Pets United (FOPU), was a real and legitimate nonprofit
CLAIM: Sinclair asked Santos about the FOPU “shelter” he claimed to have run for five years: “there are claims that the shelter you were said to have run was either nonexistent or no one has any record of it.” Santos maintained the nonprofit was real, but it was never a shelter. He explained, “I was essentially one of the founders and the operations guy. I never handled the finances.” He said, “It was just a rescue group, there was no physical facility, we were just volunteers, you know, saving animals.” Sinclair did not ask whether Santos “was able to effectively rescue 2,400 dogs and 280 cats, and successfully conducted the TNR (trap neuter and release) of over 3,000 cats,” as previously detailed on his resume.
REALITY: Sinclair failed to mention that the FOPU allegations go beyond the fake “shelter.” In November 2020, Santos claimed he “founded and ran a nonprofit 501(c)(3) called Friends of Pets United (FOPU) from 2013 to 2018, an animal rescue operation, which was able to effectively rescue 2400 dogs and 280 cats.” However, there’s no evidence FOPU was registered as a nonprofit. The New York Times explained:
In those solicitations, Santos consistently referred to the charity as a tax-exempt organization. Yet, federal and state officials could not find records of a registered charity named Friends of Pets United. New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets said it had no records that the organization was registered as a rescue, as would have been required starting in September 2017.
However, Santos handled FOPU’s finances by running GoFundMe pages. GoFundMe spokesperson Jalen Drummond told The New York Times they ultimately asked Santos for “proof of the delivery of funds” after the situation with Osthoff. Santos did not respond, and GoFundMe ultimately blocked the associated email address from running fundraisers.
That “personal funds” helped his campaign and that he had “no access to” campaign fund information
CLAIM: Santos told OAN he “absolutely” stands by claims that he used personal loans and funds to support his campaign, explaining, “When it pertains to my loans, they came from my personal money to the campaign. The changes on the filings were done without my authorization.” When Sinclair ineffectively pressed him, Santos maintained one of his fiduciaries made “unauthorized changes” on the disputed form. Santos then promised to share a “comprehensive report” after the investigation is concluded.
Santos maintained he had no access to treasurer reports:
SANTOS: When you start running for office, you need to hire what is called a treasurer. In other words, a person who is the fiduciary. The candidate has no access to that. The member of Congress who then when elected has no access to that. We're not on top of that.
Sinclair did try to press the issue, but was cut off by Santos.
When asked, “How did someone who was unable to pay their rent for so long magically appear with $700,000?” Santos questioned journalists' so-called inability to believe he “evolved as a human or as a business person and obtained better financial wealth for myself.”
REALITY: Sinclair failed to mention that Santos previously admitted those “personal” loans were not from personal funds. Sinclair also did not try to find out where those loans actually came from and why Santos didn’t disclose the terms of the supposed loan. She didn't even ask how he acquired over $700,000 “overnight” when most of his resume was fabricated.
Sinclair failed to do her due diligence on campaign finance laws. There is no rule stating candidates can’t access their treasurer’s reports. In fact, the FEC encourages candidates to work with treasurers. Candidates can even act as their own treasurer. Even if Santos never spoke with his treasurer, the FEC encourages candidates to stay on top of their finances. It routinely publishes records of campaign and committee funds and disbursements as well as requests for additional transaction information on its website, meaning they were accessible to Santos.
Sinclair also ignored myriad other suspicious transactions from the Santos campaign, including phantom donors and suspicious amounts of $199.99 campaign expenses that came in at just under the $200 threshold that triggers a spending record preservation. There are reports alleging Santos was also deeply involved in the operations of Rise NY, a PAC run by his sister which “spent $365,000 for salaries, consultant's fees and other unspecified payments to associates of Santos," including his landlord, “while he was running for Congress,” according to Newsday. Federal and NY state campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses.