The staff hired by Rep. George Santos is drawing attention on Capitol Hill


The hiring season on Capitol Hill is winding down. The excitement of sending out resumes is fading, staff positions in House and Senate offices are nearly filled, and the more serious business of governing is taking over.

The biennial work carousel, a parlor game that plays out in bustling Capitol corridors, hyper-engined text chains, and chatty cafeteria lines, is always a closely watched exercise by the staff. Who’s up, who’s down? Who’s in, who’s out?

But perhaps no staff hire this year is being watched more closely than that of Congressman George Santos, the New York Republican who, since his election in November, has been buried in an avalanche of revelations that suggest he is not the man to whom he once claimed to be. He, for example, did not graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for its team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not escape the persecution of the Jews in Ukraine.

There are also questions about where his money came from, how he financed his campaign and his work for a Florida company that The SEC sued and claimed it was a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

While he had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos is staffing his Washington and district offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing job applicants, screening resumes, running background checks, and finding people willing to work for a member who seems allergic to telling the truth.

Taking a job for Santos could prove dangerous for employees. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic lawmakers and staff members, many wondered whether those who go to work for Santos, especially senior staffers, would ever be able to find another job in Congress that to hire them.

See the evolution of lies in George Santos’ campaign biography

So far, only five positions Santos has held are publicly available, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and publishes congressional appointments. Santos’ initial staff appears to lack the deep experience on Capitol Hill that new members typically look for to help them get started effectively and quickly adjust to the rhythms and demands of Congress.

Santos hired Charles Lovett as his chief of staff. Lovett was Santos’ campaign manager and worked for six months as a field organizer for the Ohio Republican Party, according to LegiStorm. He was also the political director of Ohio Republican Josh Mandel’s failed Senate primary bid. He has not worked on the Hill before. Viswanag Bura, Santos’ COO, spent less than a year as director of special operations for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and most recently served as executive secretary of the New York Young Republican Club.

His communications director, Nyssa Womer, appears to have the most experience on the Hill. She worked for three Republican members between 2014 and 2018 before moving to Massachusetts to serve as communications director for the state Republican Party and then as a communications specialist for the state Department of Revenue.

Raffaello Carone, a senior legislative assistant to Santos, worked for three members of the Republican Party, but his tenure in each office was brief. He spent six months as social media manager for Congressman Madison Cawthorne (RN.C.), two months as deputy communications director for Congressman Greg Steube (R-Fla.), and one month as press secretary for Congressman Paul A. Gosar ( R-Ariz.), according to LegiStorm. He also ran a consulting firm that worked primarily for long-term Republican congressional candidates. Gabrielle Lipsky, who served as Santos’ campaign press secretary, will be his press secretary and office manager. She has no Hill experience.

A Santos staff member familiar with the hiring process said LegiStorm’s site was not up to date and that the congressman’s D.C. and New York offices were “fully staffed.” Each member of Congress has 18 full-time positions to allocate to their offices as they see fit.

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Woomer, Santos’ communications director, said Thursday that the congressman would not be available for an interview for this story. His staff, she said, “went through all of this because we have an interest in serving the constituents of the 3rd Congressional District.” Members of Santos’ staff did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Fully staffed or not, Santos’ offices must now respond to the influx of requests from constituents and others that normally fill the inboxes of members of Congress.

Jimmy Keady, a Virginia-based Republican strategist whose career as a Hill staffer included a stint on the senior staff for freshmen in Congress, said it’s “imperative” for a freshman member of Congress to surround himself with Hill veterans who know what they’re doing — in otherwise, they can end up underwater pretty quickly.

“Capitol Hill is not a place where you can just walk in and figure out what to do,” Keady said. “There are a lot of rules, a lot of regulations and a lot of pitfalls that a lot of these freshmen fall into because they don’t have staff around them with experience.”

If a new member doesn’t immediately focus on constituent services, Kiddy said, voters will feel it.

“If you have members who decide, ‘I’m going to gut the services of my constituents and I’m not going to have [legislative director] “I’ll just have six people on the communications staff, you know, that’s good — that can get you on Fox News,” Kiddy said. “But those constituents who have been waiting six months for their veterans benefits won’t get service because that’s also a member of Congress’ job.”

At the top of a new member’s to-do list is renting a district office or offices—and equipping them with everything, including Internet, phones, desks, chairs, and paper clips. And from day one, they must begin responding to the incessant inquiries from constituents needing help with Social Security checks, veterans and passport issues. And that’s all while the new member gets to know the politics of Washington and the rules, official and otherwise, of Congress.

Jeff Jackson, a freshman Democrat from North Carolina, has been documenting his first weeks in Congress on Instagram with posts about everything including how new representatives choose their office space and explanations about financial disclosures. He said hiring people with experience on the Hill and in his district is a priority.

“Having people who are well-versed in how to do this gives me great comfort,” Jackson said in an interview. “I’ve only been here a few weeks, but what I’ve learned is that there’s a tidal wave of work that hits our office every day, and it takes a whole team to stay afloat. If you’re just one person on a surfboard, you’re going to get crushed.”

It’s hard enough for offices to operate under normal circumstances, but Santos is under intense media scrutiny. And he is facing calls to give up his seat not only from Democrats but also from Republicans, including six GOP representatives from New York.

This month, Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican freshman whose district borders Santos’, said Santos had told “outright lies” and called on him to resign. Nassau County Republican Committee Chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr. said Santos no longer has the support of Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District. “George Santos’ campaign last year was a campaign of deception, lies and fabrications,” Cairo said during a Jan. 11 news conference. “He has disgraced the House of Representatives and we do not consider him one of our congressmen.”

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Santos said he will not leave his seat. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who needs Santos’ vote as he clings to a narrow House majority, also rejected calls for Santos to resign and said this month that Santos was legitimate elected and seated without objection. House Republicans appointed Santos to the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology committees.

Freshman Rep. Chuck Edwards (RN.C.) knows all too well what can happen if members allow constituent services to be neglected: He’s cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor, Madison Cawthorne.

Cawthorne, who took office in 2021 at the age of 25 and they came out with a scandal, prioritized publicity as a legislator. “I built my staff around communications, not around legislation,” he wrote in an email to fellow Republicans published by Time magazine in 2021.

After losing the GOP primary to Edwards, Cawthorn largely went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in some of his duties as a congressman. By October, calls to his district office were met with a voicemail noting that he was closing the office and not accepting any new casework — although outgoing members of Congress typically keep the office open and transfer all files to the incoming member, so that there is no interruption of service to residents in their neighborhood.

Instead, Edwards said Cawthorne left him nothing — “no files, no data, nothing something.”

“We had to start from scratch,” he said.

He tried to gain a lead as he served out the remainder of his term in the North Carolina Senate, encouraging constituents who had been met with silence by Cawthorne to contact his state office. He recently heard from students who thought Cawthorn was going to nominate them for military academies and were getting anxious as the deadline approached.

In the state Senate, he said, “our service mantra was constituent services first. We have now made it the service mantra of this congressional office.

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For staffers who chose to work for Santos, the future on Capitol Hill could prove difficult to negotiate, said George McElwee, who served as chief of staff to former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and also served as president. of the House Chiefs of Staff Association.

“Especially for staff in these senior positions, people will wonder why they are there. Why do they continue?” said McElwee, who is now a lobbyist at a bipartisan firm he co-founded in Washington. “And that’s probably going to hurt them at some point in their job prospects.”

McElwee doesn’t expect Santos to be able to stick with employees who hope to have careers on the Hill.

“A lot of people in his office probably have their eyes on the door and are trying to find a way out,” he said. “They know this is not a stable environment for them in their political future.”

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