Democrats urge House Speaker McCarthy to deny GOP Rep. George Santos access to classified information

Key Points
  • Two congressional Democrats asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to restrict Republican Rep. George Santos' access to classified information.
  • Santos "cannot be trusted" with confidential materials, argued Reps. Gregory Meeks and Joseph Morelle, both of whom are from Santos' state of New York.
  • Santos has admitted to "embellishing" parts of his resume but denies committing any crimes.
Rep. George Santos (R-NY) leaves a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on January 25, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

Two congressional Democrats asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday to restrict Republican Rep. George Santos' access to classified information, arguing the scandal-plagued freshman lawmaker "cannot be trusted" with confidential materials.

"It is clear that Congressman George Santos has violated the public's trust on various occasions," Reps. Joseph Morelle and Gregory Meeks, both from Santos' own state of New York, said in a letter to McCarthy.

"His unfettered access to our nation's secrets presents a significant risk to the national security of this country," the Democrats wrote. "We urge you to act swiftly to prevent George Santos from abusing his position and endangering our nation."

Santos' office did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the letter.

Just weeks after winning his congressional race in the November midterms, Santos admitted to lying about key details of his personal life and professional history. He has apologized for having "embellished" his resume but denies committing any crimes.

But as Meeks and Morelle note in their letter, Santos is embroiled in local, state, federal and international investigations. They also flagged recent reporting about Santos' alleged ties to figures related to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, among other issues.

"The numerous concerning allegations about his behavior over decades put his character into question, and suggest he cannot be trusted with confidential and classified information that could threaten the United States' national security," the Democrats wrote.

Top GOP officials in New York have denounced Santos as a liar and a fraud, and a handful of his fellow Republicans in Congress also have urged him to resign. For his part, Santos has vowed to serve out his full two-year term, arguing his district's voters should be the ones to decide his political fate.

McCarthy, who leads a slim House majority that Santos' departure could shrink even more, has echoed that line and refused to join in his party's blaring criticism of the freshman congressman.

"You know why I'm standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him," McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. The Republican leader said Santos would only be removed from the House if its ethics committee determined that he broke the law.

A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately comment on the Democrats' letter.

The McCarthy-led GOP Steering Committee last week awarded Santos spots on the Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Small Business Committee.

Wednesday's letter from Morelle and Meeks asked McCarthy to limit Santos' ability to access classified materials, "including preventing him from attending any classified briefings and limiting his access to such information through his committee assignments."

The Democrats appeared to acknowledge that Santos was assigned to lower-profile committees, but they noted that he could still potentially gain access to swaths of sensitive information.

"As it currently stands, Members are not mandated to have security clearances nor sign a nondisclosure agreement, however, that does not entitle them to unlimited access to classified information," they wrote.

"Congressman George Santos was assigned to committees whose jurisdiction may pertain to only a portion of our country's national security and foreign policy agenda, yet this does not stop or inhibit him from requesting a secure briefing or classified documents regarding a breadth of topics at any time," they said.

Santos' "untrustworthiness could warrant the Intelligence Community to slow down or limit certain classified information it shares with Congress," they told McCarthy in the letter.

They argued: "This could have profound implications for the Legislative Branch's ability to perform its legislative, oversight, and investigative duties over the Executive Agencies' classified programs."

The Democrats' letter comes amid an expanding controversy over the removal of classified documents from secure locations by high-profile politicians.

A lawyer for Mike Pence revealed Tuesday that classified documents were discovered at the former vice president's Indiana home. That news was seen as a relief for President Joe Biden, who has come under intense scrutiny after classified documents were found at his home and office, prompting the appointment of a special counsel to investigate.

Last summer, the FBI raided former President Donald Trump's Florida home and removed thousands of pages of records, including numerous sets of classified documents, after the Department of Justice said it found evidence of obstruction of an investigation.

Trump has announced he is running for president again in 2024, while Pence and Biden are both widely speculated to be gearing up to launch their own campaigns.