Marisa Kabas on being fully immersed in George Santos's lies
"Based on what I've seen and reported, there was a huge failure in opposition research."
Since the New York Times first broke news just over a month ago that the biography George Santos sold to voters in New York’s 3rd congressional district was almost entirely fabricated, the story surrounding him has only gotten weirder. It now includes allegations of involvement in a Ponzi scheme, a secret marriage, and defrauding a veteran of money raised for his ailing dog, among other scandals.
We’ve reached the point where no new revelation about the congressman would be surprising. And there certainly will be more, because a lot of questions remain unanswered, including where Santos got $700,000 he loaned to his campaign.
Santos swindled the voters of his district, and there’s nothing humorous about that. But MSNBC columnist Marisa Kabas broke an amusing and viral tidbit last week when she interviewed a Brazilian drag queen named Eula Rochard who dished about Santos’s previously unknown life as a drag performer.
As Kabas points out, the story is not that Santos dressed up in drag. It’s that Santos postures as a member of an intolerant party that has targeted drag shows with violence while clearly having very different personal values.
Given that context and his status as a shameless liar, it wasn’t a surprise that Santos initially denied Kabas’s reporting, even though the evidence is hard to dispute.
But over the weekend, Santos belatedly acknowledged that the man in Rochards’s photos and videos is indeed him. Add another fib to the pile.
Kabas’s scoop didn’t come out of nowhere. In part because her parents live in Santos’s district, which includes parts of Long Island and a sliver of Queens, she’s obsessed with the story. In fact, over the past couple weeks, her Substack newsletter has been devoted to updates she calls “The Daily Santos.” She’s also appeared on Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show to discuss her reporting.
So to get expert perspective on all things Santos and where the story may be heading, I talked at length with Kabas last Friday about his district, the opposition research failures that allowed him to get elected in the first place, and why she thinks his shady finances could be the thing that lands him in serious legal trouble.
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
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How could George Santos, a guy who lies about everything and fabricated a fictional life story, get elected to Congress in this district?
There are a few factors that contribute to him getting elected. The first is that the district has definitely gotten redder in the Trump years and a lot of local Republicans have had success in lower offices. This past November it was a case of a rising tide lifting all ships, especially with Lee Zeldin running for governor and him vastly overperforming what he was supposed to do against Kathy Hochul. People were scared about crime, even though Nassau County is one of the safest counties in the country. There were just a lot of anti-Democratic sentiments.
Santos had a well-funded campaign and was able to run alongside Zeldin. I will say that I was on Long Island the day before Election Day, and I've never seen more lawn signs in my life. There were Santos signs absolutely everywhere to the point where I was like, who's paying for these and who put these up? I've truly never seen anything like it, not even in a presidential year. So there was definitely a blitz and there was a huge effort for people to know his name.
Were there any hints before Election Day that things about this guy weren’t adding up?
He had this air of being a weird guy and people not really knowing much about him. The story I remember from before last November’s election was that he had been at the Mar-a-Lago New Year’s party at the end of 2020, and he got a bunch of press for claiming that his husband lost his job as a pharmacist for attending. He was this barely relevant local political figure who had run in 2020 unsuccessfully, so he just seemed like someone who would do anything to get attention.
As far as him having a real shot and people being scared about him winning in the district, I didn't get that sense at all. My parents live there, two of my best friends and their families live there — I know a ton of people in the district, and everyone was in shock as much as the rest of the country. Everyone was so focused on Zeldin, especially because Lee is from Long Island as well. So the fact that he lost but Santos won just like broke everyone's brains, because they couldn't imagine that happening.
There has been a lot of criticism of New York Democrats for not getting to the bottom of Santos’s fraudulence before the election. Do you think they were asleep at the wheel here?
Based on what I've seen and reported, there was a huge failure in opposition research. The Democrat who ran against him, Robert Zimmerman, is a public relations professional. It’s literally his job. And he had a lot of cash on hand — his campaign raised over $3 million. So the idea that they couldn't afford to do some pretty expensive opposition research just doesn't make sense to me.
Add to all that the report from the New York Times about Santos’s own campaign running a routine background check on him and finding a lot of the stuff that we're finding out now, including fact that he had been married to a woman for eight years. So it seems pretty unconscionable that no one in the Democratic opposition could be bothered to do the same.
In the immediate aftermath of the original New York Times bombshell, there were a number of Long Island political people claiming they tried to pitch the story and that media wasn't interested. The DCCC did put out a report about Santos and how he's a little bit sketchy. But from my perspective, if you weren't able to pitch that to reporters, if you weren't able to make people understand why it’s compelling, then that's on you, because look where we are now and how much people care. You obviously didn't do something right.
The Santos story is now at the point where no new revelation would surprise me. Like, you could tell me he did a smash and grab last night at a local candy store and I’d buy it, so it’s obviously pretty tough to predict where this is going. But what should we be looking for as more comes out?