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'Washington Post': Santos is linked to a cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We've learned more about the finances of embattled freshman Congressman George Santos, who lied about much of his life story during his election campaign last year. Reporters at The Washington Post have uncovered close ties between the New York lawmaker and a businessman who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch. For more, we're joined now by Isaac Stanley-Becker, political investigations reporter with The Washington Post. Thanks for being here.

ISAAC STANLEY-BECKER: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So who is this business man, Andrew Intrater? And how is he connected to George Santos? And why does it matter?

STANLEY-BECKER: So as you say, Andrew Intrater is an American businessman and the cousin of a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Mr. Intrater is key to this story because he's one of Santos' main benefactors and in ways that our reporting shows goes beyond mere campaign contributions. What we were able to reveal is that Mr. Santos claimed privately in 2020 that Mr. Intrater's company was his client. And separately, a different Intrater company made a deposit of hundreds of thousands of dollars into a investment firm based in Florida, where Mr. Santos once worked.

FADEL: Now, Intrater's company also has links to former President Trump, right? What are those?

STANLEY-BECKER: That's right. So both Mr. Intrater and his Russian cousin were caught up in the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller because of the ties that they tried to forge with Michael Cohen, who at the time was Mr. Trump's lawyer and self-described fixer. Mr. Intrater donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's inaugural committee, attended the inauguration along with his cousin. And his company, Columbus Nova, began paying Mr. Cohen as part of a contract to locate new deals and investors for his company.

FADEL: So bottom line, what does this all mean? Why does it matter if Santos is connected to this businessman and this company?

STANLEY-BECKER: Well, we've learned a lot over the last several weeks about the various lies that Mr. Santos has told about himself in the past. One of the enduring mysteries is his financial background, how he went from receiving a salary of about $55,000 in 2020 to multiple millions of dollars two years later in 2022...

FADEL: Wow.

STANLEY-BECKER: ...Enough to loan his campaign more than $700,000. So my colleagues and I at the Washington Post are hard at work, understanding his background, his benefactors and some of the business ties that he forged on his way to public office.

FADEL: Does it appear that Santos did something illegal here?

STANLEY-BECKER: You know, I think I would leave that question to prosecutors. We know that he's under scrutiny both in New York and in Rio de Janeiro. I will also say that we've sent a long list of questions to the congressman. He has not responded. But he has my email as well as my cellphone number, so he can call at any time to discuss this and clarify.

FADEL: Have any of the companies involved responded?

STANLEY-BECKER: No. Mr. Intrater as well did not respond. You know, I think if someone said that I was their client and I wasn't their client, I would quickly clarify that. We asked Mr. Intrater if it was true, this business relationship, and to weigh in. He has also not responded.

FADEL: Isaac Stanley-Becker, political investigations reporter with The Washington Post, thank you so much for your time.

STANLEY-BECKER: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.