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Mark Chiusano: Who Really is George Santos?

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Mark Chiusano: Who Really is George Santos?

Mark Ciusano is a columnist who has been covering George Santos since 2019. His new book, The Fabulist, peels back the lies, grifts, and alter-egos of Santos to reveal who really represents the 3rd district of New York.

In this interview, Mark details how Santos’s lies are evidence of deep-rooted insecurity and a lust for fame. He also shares his favorite moments from Santos’s career, and explains how Santos and other politicians are somehow immune to public scrutiny.

Mark Chiusano:

I did try to structure the book in this way where the beginning of it is very fun, he's a real character, and it's like kind of a catch me if you can story. He's like getting away with it and you're really into it.

And then what I hope is that the reader gets to this middle point where we start to see some of his victims. And then I hope the reader like you did, kind of gets angry and says, “Wait a minute, this is not okay.”

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn The Boats, a podcast about big decisions. My guest today is Mark Chiusano, a columnist who has been covering George Santos since 2019. His new book, The Fabulist peels back the lies, grifts and alter egos of santos to reveal who really represents the Third District of New York.

Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Chiusano:

Thanks so much for having me.

Ken Harbaugh:

For those who don't swim in politics like I unfortunately do, can you give us the George Santos greatest hits, like his top three lies so people can get a sense of who this man is?

Mark Chiusano:

Sure. So, this is, by the way, just again for people who are new to the George Santo saga, he's a representative from New York, member of Congress who represents a district that is a little bit of Queens, part of New York City, and a little bit of Long Island.

And he got famous last year after The Times ran this really great story that sort of raised questions about his biography, and it turned out that he'd been lying about almost everything. Some of the most fun ones were that he claimed to actually be Jewish in different settings, and he would tell Jewish stories.

Ken Harbaugh:

Jew-ish.

Mark Chiusano:

Jew-ish right. He later said, “I never said Jewish, I said, Jew-ish,” which there's tape of him doing it all different ways, so that's a fun one.

He also made up his college degrees at NYU and Baruch and other places as well. In my book I write about how he claimed to have gone to Harvard too, which wasn't really widely known. And he also just kind of made up this fabulous wealthy background for himself and his family as if they were sort of famously fabulously wealthy people, and they weren't.

One other kind of minor one, which this is like kind of neither here nor there, but it's just a funny one to me; is that he also pretended to have produced the Broadway play, Spider-Man. Which was like famously one of the worst Broadway plays, huge flop.

Ken Harbaugh:

And deadly, one of the few Broadway plays that killed somebody.

Mark Chiusano:

Right, yeah. So, yeah, it's a very dangerous play. So, just funny that I think that goes to show exactly how deep he'll go into the lie.

Ken Harbaugh:

So, I have been laughing at this George Santos story for what feels like years, and I know a lot of people around me have as well. I mean, there's a whole SNL industry around George Santos. Reading your book Made me angry though.

Mark Chiusano:

Interesting.

Ken Harbaugh:

Tell us about the vet that he took advantage of, because I think in all of the comedy surrounding George Santos, we lose the fact that there are real victims. A conman like George Santos leaves a wake of destruction, and I think that has been lost in a lot of the mockery, and we're laughing about it now.

But I don't want to lose sight of the fact that there was real damage done to real people. Can you just share the story of the homeless vet that he victimized?

Mark Chiusano:

Totally. And I'm really glad you brought that up because I did try to structure the book in this way where it's the beginning of it is very fun, he's a real character, he's almost a clown in a way, and it's like kind of a catch me if you can story. He's like getting away with it and you're really into it.

And then what I hope is that the reader gets to this middle point where we start to see some of his victims, and then I hope the reader like you did, kind of gets angry and says, “Wait a minute, this is not okay.”

So, in the middle of the book, you're introduced to this guy Rich Ossoff, who I spent a lot of time with for the book; veteran, really great guy, loves dogs, has a lot of dogs. And I spent some time with him just hanging out with his dogs, which was a lot of fun.

And he’s one of those people that has a great … you can tell that the dogs love him and he's really gentle with the dogs. I talked to a neighbor of his who said, it's almost like he has this kind of special connection with the dogs. So, clearly, dogs are a big part of his life.

The way that he interacted with Santos was that this was that kind of a tough moment in his life. He'd been suffering from PTSD, possibly from his service, had been having a lot of mental issues. And he had a dog who was really helping him, dog named Sapphire and loved this dog. And she was kind of the best thing in his life.

He was homeless at the time, he was living in a tent out in the woods. I mean, he told me this wild story that he actually had a cat living with him too at the time in this tent. And it was so primitive, the conditions were so bad, it was so cold that the cat ran away, but not the dog. The dog loved him and he loves the dog.

And then the dog gets sick, and so he’s got to figure out a way to pay for the vet bills and he doesn't have any money. And he’s kind of like tapped all his resources. Then this kind of savior pops out of nowhere, a guy named George Santos who Rich was connected to through his vet. And it seems like Santos who runs this pet charity is going to save the dog.

Santos is going to provide the money to get the operation, and this is when the shenanigans start. This is when Santos starts messing around. He's hard to reach, he doesn't want to do this vet. And ultimately, it turns out that (this is how Rich tells his story) he didn't get the money for his dog and his dog dies.

Really, really sad and it's kind of like this is not a ton of money. I can't remember the exact figure, but it's in the low thousands of dollars at most that this would've cost. And it seems like Santos was just kind of using this pet charity to increase his bank account just a little bit more.

Ken Harbaugh:

Can you talk about the pattern that these cons follow? And I'm going to make a leap here, but I won't surprise you with it. When I think about George Santos and the smooth talking followed by the con, followed by the bullying of his victims, I immediately think about the ultimate American conman, Donald Trump, who follows the exact same pattern.

I want to read a quote from your book about a woman who was conned by George Santos, and I think everyone is going to think about the Trump con as I read this. You wrote:

“It was the usual story, she experienced his charming and ingratiating side, and then a cheeky attempt, and finally, his bitter curse filled invective.”

That's the Conman's playbook.

Mark Chiusano:

That's right. And this is kind of the rise and fall with him all the time. One of the most striking things that people told me — talked to over a hundred people who knew him for this book. And a lot of them said he's really charismatic, he's really tall, he's really friendly, he really knows how to kind of have a good time and sort of be part of a crowd.

And so, that's kind of part one, where he kind of becomes friends with people and then he'll really just, he'll kind of take and take and take. It's funny you mentioned Donald Trump because he himself sees Trump as a mentor. Trump is kind of a constant figure that he's trying to model himself after.

Starting back in 2016 when Santos also got interested in politics, they kind of followed these parallel paths to national fame. And so, I don't think it's a surprise that he's kind of followed this pattern.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you think today's Republican party was especially fertile ground for a person like George Santos? Or is this just a feature of our politics writ large? I'm sure you know my take on this, but I would love your analysis.

Mark Chiusano:

Well, I do you think that there are strains in American politics going back centuries that allow for this kind of smooth talker, sort of hustler figure to do well. So, that is a feature of American politics.

The Richard Hof’s daughter, the historian wrote about the paranoid style in American politics in the sixties. So, this has been around for a while. I think what's different with Santos is that he was able to really, really skillfully just lie about issues, about himself in a way that was very sort of alluring to the particularly Republican voter in his district right now.

So, there's a chapter in my book where I talk about the kind of political forces that boosted Santos, and this was an election 2022, midterm election where the Nassau and Queens Republicans were very, very angry about a whole bunch of things, particularly like COVID mitigations, they were very, very tired of COVID.

There was a lot of sort of conspiracies being floated about anti-vax things. And sure, politicians always kind of fudge the truth a little bit or maybe even lie. But Santos didn't even have the problem of totally lying to different audiences on back-to-back nights.

He would just say whatever it took to get elected. And that particularly was helpful in the Republican primary, and Republican party in this cycle.

Ken Harbaugh:

How close do you live to Santo's district? I want to ask you about the people within the district, but I don't want to be unfair.

Mark Chiusano:

No, totally. So, I grew up and live in Brooklyn, same borough I've always been in. And so, Brooklyn is … for people who aren't in New York City, is kind of like the neighboring borough to Queens. Santos grew up in Queens and lived in Queens for a while, seems to have moved out to Long Island now, but there's been a lot of sketchiness about exactly where he lives.

The one thing I'll say is, so it's geographically very close, and Santos and I both kind of grew up in these outer borough places. So, places where you can kind of see Manhattan, Manhattan is the driving force for life in these parts of the city, but you're not in Manhattan. And you're not in the kind of hippiest parts of the borough.

He didn't grow up in a kind of, in a sort of fancy place with nice bars that are very expensive or something. So, I'm sort of familiar with his upbringing. That being said, I don't live within the district, but I was reporting on it for quite some time at Newsday.

Ken Harbaugh:

I get the sense that Santos’s constituents and I have lived in very red parts of Ohio, that I think there are some similarities, although I am not comparing Ohio to New York, lest some of my viewers get really mad at me.

Mark Chiusano:

Both sides, both sides.

Ken Harbaugh:

But the constituents, they don't seem to be as offended by the lies as they are by the reaction of people like me to the lies. It's almost as if, as long as someone like George Santos is offending the right people, as long as the right people hate him, people on the left, then he can say whatever he wants and he's going to get a pass.

Now, clearly, lines were crossed, he's likely going to get expelled, but for a long time, it's like the lies added to his aura and just made him an even more powerful provocateur. And what's the phrase? Owning the libs, right?

Mark Chiusano:

There was definitely a section of the electorate that felt that way and continues to feel that way. And he's kind of found a home in Congress with those furthest right, sort of shameless members of Congress. I call them a shamelessness caucus in the book — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, people who kind of are willing to just say anything to get ahead, and he is part of that.

The interesting thing though, and I talk about this in the book, the district was very, very primed to go red almost no matter who the candidate was. So, Long Island's experienced this real, real significant red wave in 2022 for a variety of reasons.

But just to give your listeners an example, we all know Chuck Schumer, very famous national figure in New York. He's a famously, famously incredible campaigner. He goes to every single, I think every single county in the state, every cycle, and kind of shows his face.

Ken Harbaugh:

What's the phrase? The most dangerous place in politics is between Chuck Schumer and a camera.

Mark Chiusano:

That's right, that's right. And it's true, he's always unavailable for no comment. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think that's the phrase. He's always commenting, and he is famous for these Sunday press conferences. He’s just very attuned to district level issues.

Chuck Schumer lost in George Santos’s district this cycle, and he won the state easily. It was no problem. He is a super powerful senator, but he lost in that district.

So, I think that just goes to show how angry people were at Democrats writ large for various reasons. Some of them fair, some of them kind of conspiratorial and having no basis in fact. And so, that's kind of what helped Santos win.

Ken Harbaugh:

You talked about his shamelessness, I don't think we can overstate how that has become a superpower for the people you mentioned for Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, I'll add him to the rogue’s gallery, George Santos.

It used to be that someone like George Santos was exposed, was caught, and they retreated, they hid under a rock. And I have a theory as to how we got here, that the power of shame no longer holds sway over the Republican politician.

It still does by and large for Democrats. We police our own. I say this as a former Democratic candidate; when someone is exposed for bribery as a certain democratic senator recently was, we hold him accountable. Shame doesn't seem to have that power over people like Santos all the way and up to the former president himself.

Mark Chiusano:

Yeah, Menendez provides an interesting contrast. And so, we'll kind of see what happens in the next couple of weeks and months there. But you're right that there was a time when shame was way more potent.

And one character that I kind of talk about in the book is this former representative Doug Stringfellow, who was a true World War II veteran. He was a veteran congressman and was elected partially on his war record.

But then he kind of makes up all these kind of wild stories about what he did in the war, really lured stuff. Like he was working on spy missions, kind of crazy things. None of it was true. But he gets found out, this is in the fifties — he gets found out and he is running for reelection. And pretty quickly, he says, “Yeah, okay, I'm not going to run anymore. That's it, I'll drop out.”

And it didn't really take that much pressure. That was sort of the ethos of the time. And what I found fascinating is he kind of disappeared after that. He just like kind of lived his life in sort of out off the grid — not off the grid, but off the grid of public perception, and that was it.

And I think that's indicative of the previous, the way shame used to work. Now, Santos has been shamed by so many different bodies, official and otherwise, and it's taken him so long to even make any moves at all.

Ken Harbaugh:

And I think the real verdict on Santos and what his tale implies for not just American politics, but the health of our society, the real verdict won't be rendered until a year or two year, two years or three years from now when we see what he does with that shameful exit.

I don't often predict, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he makes a career of it. If in some way, he's able to leverage the fame, infamous fame, but his ability to leverage shame for attention and then translate that attention into dollars, I think we’ll see that play out, and I think that's going to be a sad commentary on American society. But do you have a prediction on where he winds up?

Mark Chiusano:

So funny, I'm working on a piece about this this morning, kind of looking through his biography and thinking about where he'll end up.

I have this funny tape of him on that campaign trail where he talks about wanting to be a celebrity someday. And he kind of jokes about it, but this is kind of a long standing thing with him. He's fascinated with fame, he loves celebrities, the Real Housewives. This is a constant thing with him.

And so, I think that in a weird way, he's kind of achieved some of his goals of being famous, being notorious. And obviously, I don't think that anyone would've wanted it to turn out exactly this way if you're in his shoes, but in some ways he's won. And so, we'll see what happens. He says he isn't going to run for reelection.

If he doesn't take a plea deal, he'll go to trial in September or probably face jail time. But it doesn't sound right now, like it will be the hundred years that Sam Bankman-Fried got. It would be much shorter. So, again, that's what we know right now.

And so, then he'll come out in a few years, and I could see him doing a kind of Dancing with the Stars appearance, cameo, the app that lets you sort of like give shout outs for birthdays and things, or he kind of dives into the podcast world and in a more far right way which he's already kind of dabbling in, and makes money in a sort of Alex Jones style.

So, I agree with you. I don't think we've seen the last of him. I think he's kind of warmed his way into the American culture and it's going to be hard to get him out.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to make the connection back to Trump again, because people who are honest observers of the former president, people who are close to him — we had his niece on this show say that one of the main motivations for his entry into politics, in fact, for everything he's done, an adult, is this desire for respect, this desperation to be approved and accepted by elites, which he never had.

In fact, every attempt has just led to further mockery and estrangement. And the kind of teasing as a child that that Mary Trump talks often about that had a serious impact on the former president's psyche.

And I see that same pattern with George Santos, where he spent his money campaign funds, where he hung out this desperate desire to be part of the glamorous set, but always he's on the outside looking in. Did you pick up on that as well?

Mark Chiusano:

Absolutely. That's kind of the thesis of my book in a way, that he had a deep sense of insecurity that he built these lies, this kind of architecture of lying to make up for. And it's interesting, if you kind of put all the lies together and look at them as if they were real, they sort of paint this picture of the American dream that Santos wanted, but wasn't really able to achieve.

And it's someone who's very wealthy, someone who is a civic guy. He has all these lies about his mother's sort of charity work, which don't seem to be true. Someone who wanted a bigger life for himself that he wasn't able to get. And there's a tragedy there, I think, because on the one hand, the life that, for example, his mother led and the life that he led up until now, there's nothing really wrong with them.

I mean, you're working, you're making a living, it seems like he had some good friends and relationships with some members of his family. What's the problem? But there was this deep urge within himself to kind of get these markers of elite status. And when he couldn't get them, he lied to get there.

The other thing I'll say, the Trump story, there's that famous Trump story about him at the White House correspondence dinner. Where Obama's kind of making fun of him after the birther gate lies that Trump really promulgated. And a bunch of people sort of point to that moment as a kind of origin story for Trump running.

And I think Santos has that as well. He feels that this is kind of the main sphere for a person who is serious, a person who has sort of kind of power in the world. This is the place to go, is politics. It's for someone who's both kind of significant and also famous. And there he goes, that's where he ends up.

Ken Harbaugh:

The second part of that story is the desire to get even. The first part, of course, is the desperate attempt to be accepted, but upon rejection, the second part of the story of both Trump and Santos, and I think there are other examples of this — is the desire to get back at those who delivered that rejection.

I mean, Trump himself has said his second term will be his revenge tour. I think you see some of that vitriol and that anger at his critics from George Santos as well.

Mark Chiusano:

Definitely. And I think that we may see some of that too in his second act. There is the kind of comic element of sure, he'll do maybe Dancing with the Stars kind of thing. But I do think he's the kind of person who keeps a bit of an enemies list and will not be thrilled about the many enemies he's made.

I'm one of them. I think he's not so thrilled with me these days. Though I tried to talk to him for this book, he didn't agree. So, we'll see. Maybe he'll file a lawsuit against me, but I'm not holding my breath.

Ken Harbaugh:

Can you just share with our audience some of those exchanges? I mean, some of the text messages back and forth from George Santos, I mean, they seem like they fit into that cycle of abuse category as well.

Mark Chiusano:

Yeah, I mean luckily, I wasn't too worried, and I had a good kind of team behind me both at Newsday at the paper and working on this book.

I'll preface all this by saying I'd talked to him a bit for stories. I was just kind of writing standard pieces about him during his campaigns. So, he'd pick up the phone and I'd write a piece. Even when I was critical, I wrote pieces about where does this guy actually live. Like why is he lying about where he lives?

And he would still pick up the phone or at least answer a text message. But that ended once the book happened. And then I kept reaching out, like you said, kind of, “Hey, representative, would love to kind of chat and hear your point of view.”

And the funny thing with him is that he kind of can't help himself. He would say, “No, no, no.” And then once he picked up the phone when I called and he's just kind of saying, “No, no, no, I'm not talking to you. Get off the phone.” He hangs up and then calls back a second later and kind of keeps threatening me.

Like “We have video of you trespassing in my family's apartments,” which is not true. I had knocked on doors to see if someone would talk to me. And he's like, “Oh, they'll call the police next time.” Things like that. Usually, these things are threats that don't pan out, which has been the case here.

Ken Harbaugh:

What first tipped you off? Why did you start covering him and did you have any inclination at all how rich this story would get?

Mark Chiusano:

Definitely didn't think it was going to get this rich for sure, but I write about this in the book too. In the very first call I had with him, there were these strangeness. Like he was launching his campaign supposedly in November 2019, but he's on the phone telling me he's in Florida at the moment.

And again, this is the New York district. I was like, “Why are you in Florida?” So, these things, he was strange from the very beginning and almost every piece I wrote about him over the next couple years, the piece was about something weird he was doing.

Like he was retweeting QAnon stuff during the 2020 campaign and claiming he didn't even know what it was, which who knows. So, I definitely was sort of skeptical of him for a long time as were a bunch of reporters. Well, The Daily Beast was doing some really good work, the North Shore Leader had raised some questions about him.

The sad thing, unfortunately, is that none of us kind of pulled all the threads and said, “Oh, this guy is making everything up.” We all had like little threads of it, and that's what changed with the great Times piece that sort of said, “Hold on, everything is fake, including this crazy Brazil check fraud story.”

Ken Harbaugh:

Why did the Republican establishment tolerate him for so long? There are some who still defend him. Why did senior leaders like Stefanik within the party not only tolerate the lies, having known about some of them, but endorse him and get behind him? I mean, I understand political hardball, but it seems like a moral indictment.

Mark Chiusano:

Yeah, I mean, I use a Stefanic quote on the back of my book of her endorsing him before all this stuff came out, but not before everything came out. I mean, there were, like you mentioned, there were sort of kind of mutterings about something's off about this guy from pretty early.

So, there definitely was an ability to know that this candidate was very different from other Long Island candidates, like Andrew Garbarino for example, or Nick LaLota — candidates who they're Republican, but their sort of standard issue, backgrounds, the party kind of knew where they came from, had a sense of what they were going to do in office.

Santos was very different. In some ways, he kind of slipped in. He was not expected to win. No one was kind of interested in running in the seat at first when it seemed like it was going to be a Democratic seat.

So, in the beginning, there was this fuzzy like, well, whatever, it's someone running. But like you said, eventually, there certainly came moments where the Republican leadership could have pushed him out, including very prominently when his own campaign team did this vulnerability study on him, and found that he was lying about almost everything, and the team actually quit.

And there's evidence that members higher up in the party were aware of some of these issues. And so, this, I think is where the Republican party has real culpability. But he was a candidate of diversity. They were looking for a more diverse candidate set. He was a candidate who claimed he could raise money, and he did raise money and get money (some of it improper), but get money to the Republican party in Nassau County.

So, I don't think they mind it as long as the spigot was still flowing. And now, of course, we have this very tight majority that the Republicans have. So, for very cynical partisan reasons, they kind of needed his vote.

Ken Harbaugh:

And for Democrats, I know some who will say this openly; he is a perfect avatar for the wider corruption of the Republican party. He’s actually an asset for Democrats as someone we can point to, someone who is propped up and whose behavior is excused by the Republican party. And it's an easy story to tell to people who, like I said earlier, don't swim in politics every day about just how corrupt this party is.

I mean, I think we're going to have others once George Santos goes, but it's a pretty easy story to tell about the implosion of moral standards within the Republican party.

Mark Chiusano:

That's right. I don't think that Democrats necessarily mind in a political sense that Santos is around, and that may also be one reason why he is still around. But certainly, he seems to be on his way out in one form or another.

Ken Harbaugh:

How did you feel about the first vote against Santos and the Democrats like Jamie Raskin who didn't come to his defense but made a principled vote against, I think it was censure or expulsion, can't remember which. But they appeared to side with Santos, but it was a matter of principle.

Mark Chiusano:

So, the sort of rationale that they gave mostly was that think what you will about George Santos, but someone accused of wrongdoing deserves due process. And we don't want expulsion votes to become just the kind of thing that you do for a member of Congress that you don't like. It shouldn't become this very political tool.

And that's a reasonable argument that you can make. We've seen the kind of partisan nature of other tools like it. Even impeachment after Trump was impeached multiple times. So, I think that's a reasonable argument.

The argument has sort of shifted now that this House Ethics Committee report came out, which was different than some other kind of reporting in that the committee had access to bank records. And they could really see what Santos was spending money on and how his money came in as well.

And I think that a lot of members of Congress have said, “Okay, this was at least another level of evidence he has had more due process at least.” And so, now, perhaps they feel that it's time for him to go.

Ken Harbaugh:

You wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Mr. Santos stands out by exposing just how much craziness the Republican party is willing to tolerate in pursuit of narrow partisan gains.”

Now that a fuller picture of the truth is out, now that expulsion seems imminent, do you think that same Republican party has learned anything or are they still vulnerable to this kind of candidate?

Mark Chiusano:

Well, I think one very telling detail is that Santos’s peers in that “shamelessness caucus” that we talked about before, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, they have been kind of at the center of controversies, not as kind of colorful and fun and clownish as Santos is, but in some ways, even more sort of dangerous to our body politic.

Greene has shared this kind of crazy, crazy beliefs and conspiracies about forest fires and the Rothchild’s and all sorts of wacky things. And Democrats took away their committees when Democrats were in control of the House, and Republicans gave them back when Republicans took over, I guess earlier this year.

So, I think that's very telling that there is a willingness to kind of finally, finally get rid of this very obvious, fabulous and faker, but not so much interest in pushing out other people who have acted, what would I think be considered inappropriately in the sweep of American history.

Ken Harbaugh:

The title of that New York Times op-ed is, “George Santos is more dangerous than you know.” What about George Santos is dangerous? And I'm sure you're referring not just to the individual victims of his fraud, like that disabled vet, but to the body politic.

Mark Chiusano:

That's right. I wrote that piece because I think there is an element of fun to this story, and I really enjoyed it as well, reporting on it and finding all these fun details about Santos’s life in Brazil and dressing in drag, and even just kind of living a fun life in New York. And there's a real drama to all that. So, I think it's fun and worthwhile and good to kind of check out.

But we can't forget that this guy is a member of Congress. He's not just some guy that is running around doing fun things, scamming people on low levels. This is a person who is … they call members of Congress honorable X, Y, Z for a reason. This is a position of honor. And not only is it a position of honor, it’s a position of real power. He has the power to vote, he has the power to introduce bills, both of which are things he's done on some very scary, scary issues.

So, I write in that piece about a sort of conversation he was in on X, Twitter, one of these like audio conversations where he is floating this wild stuff after the Hamas terror attack on Israel, where he’s saying, “Oh, we need a police state in the U.S., we need to go door to door. If someone's waving a Palestinian flag at a rally, someone should be checking them out. There's probable cause to check them out.”

I mean, even the other people in the Twitter space with him who seem to be Republican leaning, even like far Republican leaning, they were saying, “Wow, Congressman, this is kind of crazy. I don't know about this,” but Santos finished it by saying, “I'll vote for anything that makes us safer.” Which is the kind of blanket statement that I think we saw after 9/11 to really bad effects.

He also introduced this kind of wacky anti-vax bill that he named after Nicki Minaj, who tweeted a kind of vaccine conspiracy that I don't really want to get into to spread it. But this this is someone at the highest levels of American government, and it's not just a joke.

Ken Harbaugh:

You spoke earlier about George Santos’s motivation to pursue the American dream, and that's such an aspirational framing, but it made me think of the subtitle of your book, The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos.

Obviously, pursuit of the American dream is a very American thing, but there's a dark side to it, right?

Mark Chiusano:

I think that's right. I think that's right. And he is this sort of example of that dark side of the kind of endless hustle, the endless push for more, more, more, more money, more power, more resources. And that's obviously, led to lots of good things in American life, but it has this kind of dark underbelly that is true on the highest levels.

When we kind of don't see it so much and corporations doing kind of terrible things in pursuit of profits, but I think you don't see it as much on the individual level. And that's why Santos was so interesting to me, is the way the dream can be so destructive for him personally, and then for all these people around him.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, Mark, thanks for joining us. It is a great yarn and we'll put a link in the show notes. Really appreciate your time.

Mark Chiusano:

Thank you so much. This was so fun.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Mark for joining me. His book, The Fabulist releases today, and you can find a link to it in the show description.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected], we're always looking to improve the show. For updates and more, follow us on Twitter at Team_Harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.


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