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George Santos says he'll be back — and other takeaways from his Ziwe interview

Former U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York (left) sits down with comedian Ziwe Fumudoh (right) for a highly-anticipated interview about his views on Congress, personal life and future plans. It published on YouTube on Monday.
Ziwe/Screenshot by NPR
Former U.S. Rep. George Santos of New York (left) sits down with comedian Ziwe Fumudoh (right) for a highly-anticipated interview about his views on Congress, personal life and future plans. It published on YouTube on Monday.

On Dec. 1, scandal-plagued New York Republican George Santos became just the sixth member of the House of Representatives to be expelled from Congress, over a growing list of alleged finance crimes and campaign lies.

Santos pleaded not guilty in October to a total of 23 federal felony charges, ranging from wire fraud and money laundering to theft of public funds and making materially false statements to the House. A House Ethics Committee report released earlier this month corroborated many of prosecutors' allegations — and precipitated his ouster.

The following day, Ziwe Fumudoh, a comedian famous for her satirical approach to grilling controversial celebrities, tweeted him an invitation for an interview, which he publicly accepted.

The "jokester and a national joke," as Ziwe put it, did end up sitting down together for a cringe-filled conversation. The highly-anticipated video finally hit YouTube on Monday — and many viewers felt it did not disappoint.

The 18-minute video spans everything from Santos' views on his former colleagues ("they're all frauds") to his definition of empathy ("I couldn't define it") to his take on Bowen Yang's Saturday Night Live impression ("he deserves an EGOT").

Other notable mentions include Santos' penchant for Botox ("since I'm 25"), his husband's last name ("not telling you"), his view on drag queens ("not for kids") and his response to claims that he performed as a dragqueen in Brazil in the aughts ("for a day when I was 18 years old ... I wear far more makeup today").

He addressed some viral moments from his tenure and teased plans for the future: He's not interested in Dancing with the Stars, is currently working on a book and won't rule out another run for office down the road, either as a Republican or an Independent.

"I'll be back. I'm 35. They're all in their 50s," he said of his colleagues in Congress. "I'll outlive them, each and last one of them."

At one point Santos, who said earlier this month that he's making more money recording personalized Cameo videos than he did in government, answered a question surely on the minds of many: "What could we do to get you to go away?"

"Stop inviting me to your gigs," he said. "But you can't. Because people want the content."

Here's what else we learned.

Santos' legal troubles kept coming up

A quick recap: The Department of Justice announced 13 federal charges (ranging from fraud to embezzlement) against Santos in May, and another 10 (including identity theft, credit card fraud and conspiracy) in October. But he managed to survive two efforts to expel him from the House.

The tide turned against Santos this month after the release of the House Ethics Committee report, which found "substantial evidence" that he used campaign funds for personal expenses, including purchases from Sephora and OnlyFans.

Santos is set to go on trial on Long Island in September 2024, though court records released last week show that he is in talks with federal prosecutors in the hopes of reaching a plea deal.

Santos' alleged misconduct was both a throughline and a punchline of the interview, despite his request — in a sidebar on set — that Ziwe "be mindful with the DOJ stuff."

Ziwe repeatedly prompted Santos to say the word "icon," the word she always used to describe her guests on her self-titled satirical talk show, which ran on Showtime for two seasons. But in this case, it held a not-subtle double meaning.

"You con!" she said, pointing at him at one point.

At one point, she joked that she would send him a pin as long as he declared it on his taxes. He responded affirmatively: "I like paying taxes."

In one of the most tense exchanges, Ziwe asked: "What advice do you have for young diverse people with personality disorders considering a career in politics?"

Santos stared at her for a beat before responding, "You're cute."

She also asked him whether he likes the color orange — to which he responded with "really?" When asked what excites him most about going to prison, Santos answered, "that's a below-the-belt."

As they spoke, a Hermès Birkin bag stuffed with cash sat on a shelf behind Santos. Ziwe made a show of grabbing it at the end of the interview.

She also signed him a copy of her book — scribbling out a message but not her signature. Santos jokingly noted that he "might need it later."

Lawmakers and civil rights icons, as told by Santos

Santos — who earlier this year compared himself to Rosa Parks because he refused to sit in the back of Congress, and tried to downplay those remarks in the interview — got quizzed on a series of other notable civil rights figures.

When Ziwe asked what transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson meant to him, he elusively replied "very respectful, honorable person — keep going." This response suggested he was unfamiliar. He also acknowledged he didn't know of writer James Baldwin or politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

But Santos did have plenty of thoughts on newsmakers of the day, specifically his former colleagues in the House of Representatives. They weren't flattering — he stressed that he wasn't in Congress "to play nice."

"I was there to expose the rot and corruption and I did," he said. "And I'm going to continue to do it. Republicans and Democrats alike, swampy, slimy people selling this country down a river."

Santos repeatedly sought to distance himself from Congress, saying he's not a politician and "hates politicking."

"I was an elected public servant for 11 months, proud of it, never caved to the establishment of politics," he said.

When asked, Santos said he could beat any member of Congress in a lip-sync battle. What song would he choose?

"'I Will Survive," he said. "It's cliché. Why not?"

Santos says he 'had a blast'

The interview has racked some 860,000 views on YouTube alone in just over 24 hours since it went live. Clips, quotes and hot takes from the chat have been flooding social media.

Santos took to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Monday afternoon to reflect and attempt to correct the record.

He took issue with an onscreen message at the start of the video that read: "No congressmen were paid in the making of this video ... even though George Santos asked ... three times."

Santos tweeted that he never asked Ziwe "for a single penny," saying he and his team had only sought to understand what her invitation meant by "pay per view" interview.

"Anyway, I had a blast going back and forth with you and having fun with your tough as nails character!" he added. "Keep slaying mama!"

Ziwe has not commented publicly beyond sharing additional clips of the interview on social media.

Santos told the Washington Post on Sunday that Ziwe's intense approach to interviewing made him feel like "I had to match her energy and being a little d*** myself."

"She came for me," he added. "She had funny puns, and she was witty with it. But I want to think that I held my own. And I had fun with it, too."

Meanwhile, in New York, Republicans have selected Mazi Pilip — a Nassau County legislator and former Israeli paratrooper — to challenge Democratic former congressman Tom Suozzi for Santos' old seat. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.