Has anything been more riveting, in the past couple of weeks, than watching the wheels fly off the shiny, sad, needle-on-empty vehicle that is George Santos?

And if these past weeks are any indication, there are certainly still more wheels to go careering off.

Santos, 34, the Republican recently elected to Congress, whose Web site prematurely announced he’d been “sworn in as a Member of the United States House of Representatives by the Speaker of the House on January 3rd, 2023”—what Speaker of the House?—is now the subject of federal and local investigations into his finances. (During his campaign, he spent $84,000 on airfare, hotels, and car services, even though his district, a swatch of northern Queens and Nassau County east of New York City, comprises a modest 250 square miles.)

The phrase “lying politician” might sound redundant in this Age of Trump, but based on the evidence Santos is an Olympic-class specimen. Who exactly is he? For a while, he wasn’t even George Santos, preferring to go by “Anthony Devolder” (his middle name and his mother’s maiden name). Here, from various statements and interviews he’s given, is who he is not: “not a cartoon character,” not “some fictional character,” and “not a criminal.”

He is bi-racial (“Caucasian and black”), “a proud American Jew” who has “never claimed to be Jewish,” only “Jew-ish.” He claims that his maternal “grandparents survived the Holocaust,” having “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.” This despite their having been born in Brazil and there being no record of them ever being in a concentration camp.

Santos himself was “born and raised in abject poverty” in Queens—or possibly Brazil, where he was living when, at 19, he was charged with writing fraudulent checks for smart clothing, which he confessed to at the time but now denies. (See “not a criminal,” above.) He skipped the country before his trial and, what with his newfound fame, Brazilian authorities have just taken a renewed interest in the case.

His mother, who died in 2016, was reportedly a domestic worker and a cook, though according to Santos’s campaign Web site she was “the first female executive at a major financial institution” in the World Trade Center’s south tower. He said she survived the 9/11 attacks. (Or did she? “9/11 claimed my mothers [sic] life,” he has written on Twitter.) He has also said that his father was at the W.T.C. as well: “I get emotional. My parents were both down there the day of the attacks and fortunately none of them passed.”

Who exactly is he? For a while, he wasn’t even George Santos, preferring to go by “Anthony Devolder” (his middle name and his mother’s maiden name).

Santos grew up—that much, anyway, is beyond dispute—and eventually “started making a lot of money” in finance and “fundamentally started building wealth.” Citing no evidence or details, he told an interviewer last March that “I’ve been to Moscow many times in my career,” according to The Washington Post. “He also referred to ‘carbon capture technology’ as something ‘that I’ve helped develop and fundraised for in my career. I’ve had a very extensive role in gas and oil in this country.’”

He claimed to be one of the first Americans to be infected with the coronavirus but couldn’t keep relevant dates and symptoms consistent, finally saying, “They’re calling me a survivor. I don’t know if I really survived anything.” (Well, maybe he did: “I also battled a brain tumor a couple of years ago.”) In 2020 he declared an income of $55,000, and two years later—after having been evicted from his Queens apartment over back rent—claimed to be worth millions, thanks to his ownership of a Florida company with no Web site or phone number called the Devolder Organization. So while he didn’t have enough to make rent, he was able to lend himself (through Devolder) $700,000 to underwrite a successful campaign to represent New York’s Third Congressional District. He was, in short, “the full embodiment of the American dream.”

Show of hands for those who don’t know their true identity …

Santos has admitted to fabricating or exaggerating much of his past—“We do stupid things in life,” he told the New York Post. But it was just little things, about his career on Wall Street (Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, neither of which he worked at), his education (Horace Mann, Baruch, and New York University, none of which he attended), his ancestry (see above), his property ownership (he admitted to the New York Post that he didn’t own the 13 properties he’d claimed), his charity work (a mysterious, unregistered animal-rescue organization). Also, whether he really “lost four employees” in the Pulse-nightclub shooting, in Orlando, in 2016, as he’d claimed. He backtracked on this, saying that he was going to hire those four, but even this watered-down version doesn’t hold, well, water.

There are serious doubts as to whether the apartment he shared with his husband in Queens was egged and stoned while the couple was at a party at—where else?—Mar-a-Lago. Santos acknowledged that, under the circumstances, “I understand everybody wants to nitpick at me.”

Well, let them. Because all his current troubles are entirely the fault of the “elitist” New York Times. Questions about Santos’s finances and credibility were first raised in September by a small Long Island newspaper, The North Shore Leader. The Times’s investigation in December sent the dominoes cascading.

“It’s frustrating,” Santos complained. “We sit here and we’re bombarday’d [sic] by all these allegations and all these accusations.… This is not journalism. This is attacking a human being.” Besides, “a lot of people overstate in their résumés or twist a little bit or engranduate [sic] themselves. I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that.… To get down to the nit and gritty, I’m not a fraud.”

Don’t linger too long on the pleasures of that “nit and gritty,” because we need to go back a little further in that paragraph—not quite as far as “bombarday’d” but to “engranduate,” yet another thing Santos apparently made up out of whole cloth. But it’s good, and versatile, and should be a word: having engranduated from Baruch College, and subsequently engranduated his résumé and his wealth, Santos this week was set to be engranduated to Congress. Land of opportunity, indeed.

After saying nothing about the Times’s reporting for a week, a peevish and aggrieved Santos talked to a WABC radio talk show hosted by John Catsimatidis, a Republican hanger-on who owns a local supermarket chain (and WABC, as it happens). The infamous “sexter” Anthony Weiner popped up as well, and asked the only substantive questions, while Catsimatidis lobbed softballs (“So in other words, you said you exaggerated your résumé a little bit”) and wished him luck at the end (“I hope things work out for you”)—but not before co-host Lidia Curanaj had come on to declare, “Congressman-elect, once and for all, what do you think about the New York Times piece on you? Will you sue them for defamation? Because that article basically set out to destroy you, to destroy your career. Basically called you a liar. Once and for all, settle the record straight.”

Santos has admitted to fabricating or exaggerating much of his past—“We do stupid things in life,” he told the New York Post.

Santos did not once and for all “settle the record straight,” replying, “I don’t know what my options are,” and attributing his initial silence to the sixth anniversary of his mother’s death: “It wasn’t the best week for this to happen.” There are apparently weeks when it’s relatively O.K. to have your entire public persona revealed as a sham.

In contrast, Fox News, of all places, did not treat Santos with kid gloves. The former representative Tulsi Gabbard said to him, “If I were one of those in New York’s Third District right now, now that the election is over, and I’m finding out all of these lies that you’ve told, not just one little lie or one little embellishment—these are blatant lies—my question is, do you have no shame? Do you have no shame?”

Santos was ready. “Tulsi, I can say the same thing about the Democrats,” he replied. “Joe Biden has been lying to the American people for 40 years. He’s the president of the United States. Democrats resoundingly support him. Do they have no shame?” Touché!

It remains to be seen whether anything will interfere with Santos’s continuing in office.

Most of his Republican colleagues, especially desperate-to-be-House-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who needed his vote (and lots more, as it turned out) to secure the job, and even many of Santos’s constituents don’t seem to have a problem with his fabulism. Why should they? As Santos himself said, while whining to WABC about the press, “We’re living in times when people get to say what they want.” Do they ever.

George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL