George Santos, on CNN, Clashes With Interviewer

In the months since Representative George Santos’s series of lies and exaggerations were exposed, he has adopted a defiant stance toward reporters, accusing the news media of leading a biased crusade against him.

But on Tuesday, the House’s first day back after its summer recess, Mr. Santos did something that he has avoided since taking office: He gave a major television interview.

The pugilistic attitude that Mr. Santos has long held toward critics was on full display. He called CNN a “hack network,” said the reporting around his life bore little resemblance to reality and tangled with the anchor Erin Burnett.

The message seemed clear. Even as Mr. Santos, 35, faces a raft of federal criminal charges and awaits the conclusions of a monthslong House ethics inquiry, to which Republican leaders have tied his fate, he will not go down without a fight.

Mr. Santos, a Republican representing parts of Long Island and Queens, became a national figure late last year after reports found that he had invented broad chunks of his personal history. Federal prosecutors in May charged him with 13 felony counts, including money laundering, wire fraud and theft of public funds.

Mr. Santos, who is running for re-election, has admitted to falsifying some of his biography and exaggerating other details. He has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case, accusing the Justice Department of conducting a “witch hunt” against him.

But last week, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York said they had been discussing “possible paths forward” with Mr. Santos’s lawyer, indicating a plea deal could be in the offing.

In the interview on Tuesday, Mr. Santos denied such conversations had taken place. “There is no talk of negotiation, and the reality is, for me to even get in the weeds of it would cheapen, also, again, my ability to defend myself,” he said.

Mr. Santos’s interview on CNN was ostensibly meant to discuss Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Mr. Santos told Ms. Burnett that he supported a transparent investigation but acknowledged that he had not seen evidence worthy of impeachment.

But Ms. Burnett quickly pivoted to ask Mr. Santos about whether he still had the support of Mr. McCarthy, who said that he did not back Mr. Santos’s re-election bid. Mr. Santos grew irritated, criticizing her and other reporters for denying him a fair shake.

“You guys in the mainstream media don’t want to see a process,” Mr. Santos said. “You want to see the gun jumped.”

Mr. Santos has courted the mainstream media and rejected it. In his first month in Congress, he seemed to relish the pack of reporters following him around the Hill, leaving food outside his office and engaging in quick banter. But Mr. Santos brushed off their questions, insisting he would answer them later.

Other than a Fox News interview late last year in which he was excoriated by the former Democratic representative Tulsi Gabbard, Mr. Santos’s television interviews have largely been restricted to smaller outlets or conservative media.

About halfway through the interview on Tuesday, Ms. Burnett asked Mr. Santos about a criminal case against him in Brazil involving a stolen checkbook. Earlier this year, Mr. Santos confessed to using the checkbook and agreed to pay a settlement, according to his lawyer and another person familiar with the case.

But Mr. Santos seemed to deny making such a deal. When Ms. Burnett hesitated in her response, he accused her of being unprepared.

“You’re not prepared,” Mr. Santos said. “So you brought me on air, on national television, trying to read me the riot act, but you’re not prepared.”

“You can come on and say that that’s false,” Ms. Burnett said. “That’s your right to say that it’s false.”

Ms. Burnett concluded by asking about Mr. Santos’s past lies, prompting him to explain his behavior to her viewers.

“Erin, you know what would be great?” Mr. Santos responded. “And I’m not deflecting, but I’m just going to call you out here on CNN.”

He then accused the network of failing to ask similar questions to Mr. Biden and other Democrats. Whenever it does, Mr. Santos added, “I’ll continue to talk to you guys. But for now, no, I’m not answering these questions.”

Grace Ashford contributed reporting.

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