A lawyer representing one of George Santos’ former treasurers, Derek Ross, says he was also lied to—and the false information he provided to the media wasn’t his fault.
When George Santos’ congressional campaign came under federal investigation this year, no one wanted to be his treasurer—to the extent that one person took the unprecedented step of asking for a criminal investigation into how his name appeared on the forms in the first place.
Now, the lawyer who filed that request has taken another unprecedented step by retracting those statements, claiming his own client gave him false information as part of what increasingly appears to be a cover-up of a sham operation to mask the true identity of the person running Santos’ books.
In a series of identical apology letters to the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 26, the lawyer, Derek Ross, rescinded correspondence and “other communications” that he’d submitted in January on behalf of his client, professional Republican political accountant Tom Datwyler. Ross is now telling the FEC that he acted as an unwitting middleman, ferrying false information from his client and inaccurately disavowing Datwyler’s campaign role. The letters cited The Daily Beast’s recent reporting that Datwyler had in reality operated as a shadow treasurer for Santos—despite disavowing that role to the public, to the FEC, and apparently even his own lawyer.
“Regrettably, recent public reporting has caused me to lose confidence in the accuracy and veracity of the information provided by Mr. Datwyler at the time I submitted those communications on his behalf,” Ross wrote in the letters, which were posted to the FEC pages for half a dozen Santos committees over the weekend, including the campaign.
Upon “careful review of the new information and a reevaluation of the facts,” Ross wrote, “it has become evident that the content of the original communications may no longer accurately represent the situation described in my correspondence.”
That original correspondence, which Ross submitted to the FEC on Jan. 26, requested that Datwyler—a veteran political accountant whose client list boasts hundreds of GOP campaigns and political groups—be “removed from the public record” for those half-dozen Santos committees. The letters, which prompted the FEC to fire back at the campaign, also asked the FEC to “refer this matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency to determine whether a crime has occurred.”
But now Ross has apologized, emphasizing his commitment to provide the FEC “the most accurate and up-to-date information in all matters that concern it.” He added that he was “currently evaluating my ethical obligations in regard to future representation of Mr. Datwyler.”
When The Daily Beast reached out to Ross for comment in a text message, Ross replied with the “shrug” emoji: 🤷♂️.
Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance law specialist and deputy executive director of watchdog Documented, told The Daily Beast that he had “never seen anything like” the first disavowals, which had called for a criminal investigation into how Datwyler’s name appeared on the forms.
“But then a second letter disavowing the first is more incredible still,” Fischer said.
“Santos has his own challenges with the truth, and it seems like the people around him do, too,” Fischer added. Additionally, Fischer pointed out that knowingly giving the government false information can carry “potentially serious consequences.”
Brett Kappel, campaign finance lawyer at Harmon Curran, noted that Ross’ recent letters bear the letterhead of Elections LLC, a law firm with extensive ties to Donald Trump’s political operation—including an alleged witness tampering scandal involving key Jan. 6 witness Cassidy Htuchinson. (Ross filed his first letters for Datwyler under Compass Legal Group, but he has since changed firms.)
“Wow—the FEC law firm that works for Trump is drawing the line at representing this case,” Kappel told The Daily Beast.
Kappel observed that the letters indicate Ross wanted to head off possible legal exposure.
“Your ethical obligations to your client do not include going to prison for them for making a false statement to the FEC,” Kappel said. Even if those statements were made unwittingly, Kappel said, “you may wind up being compelled to testify against your client.” (Santos’ first treasurer, Marks, pleaded guilty this month in connection to false FEC statements about the campaign’s finances.)
The letters further confirm The Daily Beast’s reporting this month that Datwyler played a central role in a bizarre backdoor campaign scheme to install a sham treasurer after Santos came under intense federal legal scrutiny in January. The scheme had played out in the media, a bewildering chain of events marked by the unique brand of blundering, uncalculated chaos now synonymous with Santos.
But as The Daily Beast reported, Datwyler had secretly accepted the Santos gig, doing so in a way that kept the popular treasurer’s name off the books. While Datwyler appears to have taken on the accounting work himself, the Santos campaign’s filings replaced his name with a mysterious stand-in—“Andrew Olson,” an old high school friend of Datwyler’s with no political accounting bona fides and a footprint so small that legal experts suspected he didn’t even exist. And while this all happened with the knowledge and cooperation of the Santos campaign—including Santos himself, The Daily Beast reported—it was so secret that Datwyler appears to have misled his own lawyer about the true arrangement.
Today, Santos—who in March admitted committing check fraud in Brazil—stares down a buffet of federal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, unemployment fraud, false statements, and identity theft, in addition to alleged campaign finance crimes. He also faces the renewed prospect of expulsion from Congress, a possibility Santos appears to be taking seriously after Republican colleagues introduced a resolution to remove him last week.
In a social media post last Wednesday, Santos seemed to take a fatalistic view of his odds.
“Everything has an end in life,” he wrote.