Thursday, May 23, 2024

Three days after George Santos was expelled from the House of Representatives, he sat in front of a camera to address the American people.

Well, a few American people. The ones willing to pay Mr. Santos — the former congressman who stands accused on federal fraud charges of stealing money from campaign donors for personal expenses — hundreds of dollars a pop on the video app Cameo.

“Hey, Sarah,” Mr. Santos said in one video. “Sometimes work sucks. I mean, let’s talk about bad days, huh? Last Friday wasn’t so great for me, either.”

It was a rare moment of truth for Mr. Santos, who lied to voters and his colleagues about where he went to high school, going to college, being a volleyball star, working on Wall Street, and having Jewish ancestry and family ties to the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 attacks, among other things.

There was a time when Mr. Santos expressed regret for some of those falsehoods. His videos on Cameo suggest that time has passed.

“Hey, Harper! I love that you are such a dedicated student at N.Y.U.,” Mr. Santos says in one, before pausing, smirking and chuckling. “You know,” he adds, cocking his eyebrows: “My … not-so-real M.B.A.”

“Hey, Jonny!” Mr. Santos, America’s most infamous Jew-ish fabulist, says in another. “Just wanted to stop by to wish you a Happy Hanukkah.”

Nor does Mr. Santos give the impression that the swirl of legal consequences — he is facing up to 22 years in prison in part for having used donors’ money for designer goods — worries him too much.

In one video, he tells the recipients to treat themselves to something nice. “It could be anything from Botox to luxury goods of any kind — like a trip to Hermès or makeup from Sephora,” Mr. Santos says, hamming it up with a knowing look. “Or a subscription to OnlyFans.”

It was unclear how long the former congressman’s pay-per-video hustle might last. Even without a formal business background, Mr. Santos has shrewdly raised prices to meet demand, up to $250 as of midafternoon Tuesday after starting at $75 on Monday morning.

On Monday night, his profile — which describes him as a “former congressional ‘icon’!” with a painting-fingernails emoji supplying still more attitude — was no longer offering new videos. But he began taking new orders on Tuesday, after clearing a “backlog,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr. Santos is hardly the first disgraced personality to turn to Cameo for cash. For a few hundred dollars, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who is under indictment for trying to help overturn the 2020 election, once recited the lyrics to “I’m a Little Teapot.”

O.J. Simpson, the former football star who — well, you know — also used Cameo, making videos congratulating people on their anniversaries, birthdays and pregnancies.

And Mr. Santos is not the only former politician to hope for success on the platform: Sarah Palin made so many videos that she exceeded her previous salary as governor of Alaska, earning $211,529 in 2021.

Mr. Santos’s guidance was for Bobby to follow his playbook: “You stand your ground, sir, and don’t get bogged down by all the haters out there.”

The move to capitalize on his celebrity was not surprising for Mr. Santos, 35, who throughout his short career in Congress blended politics with the antics of a millennial social-media provocateur.

Stripped of public office and the $174,000 salary that accompanied it, Mr. Santos will need to find another way to cover his mounting legal bills. He awaits trial on 23 federal felony counts.

His time on Cameo was also, in many ways, a logical extension of his political career. In the report that precipitated his expulsion, House ethics investigators said that Mr. Santos “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”

Now, no longer even nominally bound by ethical guidelines he was already flouting, Mr. Santos evidently sought to cash in on the notoriety that made him a staple of late-night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live,” where he has been memorably impersonated by Bowen Yang. (Mr. Santos’s attempts at humor have more mixed results.)

Though politicians who exit the stage — voluntarily or not — often go quietly, Mr. Santos has long eschewed silence.

On his way out of the House, he vowed revenge on Republicans he believed had betrayed him. Hours after his ouster, he wrote a series of posts on X accusing former colleagues of ethical violations and lobbing personal attacks.

But to his paying customers on Monday, Mr. Santos, known for his half-truths, acted as if he had been above the fray.

“Make sure you ignore the haters, just like I do, and everything will be fine,” Mr. Santos said in another video. He signed off with an air kiss and a grin.

Grace Ashford contributed reporting.

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