George Santos invited a guest at the State of the Union. He said yes.
Rep. George Santos of New York, who is being investigated over a string of false claims, including a connection to the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks, will invite a former firefighter to the State of the Union.
Santos’ guest, Michael Weinstock, a Democrat who once ran for the House district that Santos now represents, said that Santos officially extended an invitation two weeks ago. Santos made the official confirmation Monday in a speech to the House floor.
Weinstock explained that he attended because he currently suffers from a neurological condition due to his work as an emergency manager and wanted to increase awareness about the needs of others like him.
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“I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to stay focused enough on the issue of 9/11 responders receiving the health care that they need without being sullied by George Santos,” Weinstock said.
It has been difficult to do so. Weinstock, a lawyer, claimed that his law firm fired him last week after he decided to attend the State of the Union meeting with Santos.
The State of the Union addresses are usually attended by members of Congress. They can bring one guest, but many of them choose to make symbolic statements to make political statements or highlight issues.
But Santos’ choice of Weinstock is particularly curious given the questions over the congressman’s purported ties to the Sept. 11 attacks. His mother Fatima Devolder was there that day. He claimed that at times she was working as a financial officer at the World Trade Center. In a Twitter post from July 2021, he said that “9/11 claimed my mother’s life.”
Santos’ campaign website currently says that Devolder “survived the tragic events on September 11th, but she passed away a few years later when she lost her battle to cancer.”
According to her obituary as well as local news coverage, Devolder died in 2016. The New York Times reviewed immigration documents and found that Devolder stated in 2003 to government officials that she had left the United States for good in 1999. She has never been back. Santos’ friends and former roommates could not recall Devolder ever having worked in finance, and in immigration documents, she described herself as a housekeeper and home aide.
Santos’ assertions about his mother was one of many that have come under scrutiny after the Times disclosed that he had misled voters about his background and raised questions about both his personal and campaign finances. Both sides of the aisle have largely excluded Santos. Ten Republican colleagues called for his resignation. Others said that they would not associate with him.
Weinstock, like Santos has been scrutinized for his ties to Sept. 11. Weinstock was being challenged by former Rep. Tom Suozzi in the 2020 Democratic primary. The president of his ex-fire company stated that there was no evidence Weinstock was at ground zero for the company. Other former firefighters claimed they worked with Weinstock in rescue and recovery efforts, and Weinstock provided at least one photograph of him from that day to news outlets.
Weinstock would not comment on the doubts around Santos’ claimed links to Sept. 11, saying he had been avoiding news coverage about it in part because of his illness and in part because of his personal ties to the congressman.
Weinstock says that Santos and he first got to know each other in April 2021, when they exchanged Instagram posts about Santos’ comments on his trail campaign.
After Weinstock sustained a foot injury, which later led to complex region pain syndrome (a chronic nerve disorder that causes persistent pain in an area of the body), they reconnected in summer 2021. Santos visited Weinstock to check on him after he was incapacitated from walking for a while.
On the 20th anniversary the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, Santos uploaded a picture of Weinstock to his Instagram account. “I can’t thank Michael enough for his brave actions and for having been a first responder,” the caption read. “Michael also happens to be a Democrat and former congressional candidate in 2020 who believes in serving his country.”
Weinstock, who was a volunteer firefighter in 1990-2001, claimed that his illness was caused by pollutants he had inhaled while rescuing victims from the World Trade Center rubble. At least two medical studies have found a link between nerve-related conditions like Weinstock’s and Sept. 11 rescue workers. However, the World Trade Center Health Program which provides medical care for ground zero personnel and Sept. 11 survivors does not cover such conditions.
Weinstock claimed that he could not work in the first year following his injury. He says that he still feels severe pain almost every day, which can make it difficult for him to focus and sometimes require a cane to move.
During his 2022 campaign, Santos offered to “host a GoFundMe” to raise money for Weinstock’s medical care, Weinstock said, noting that he declined the gesture, fearing the fundraiser would be used as part of Santos’ political campaign.
But Weinstock said that Santos returned to him in December, saying that he wanted to sponsor a bill that would push to get Weinstock’s condition covered by the health fund. Santos requested Weinstock to prepare a briefing paper to support the cause. But the issue was dropped after the Times’ initial report on Santos and others that followed.
Weinstock said that he did not vote for Santos last year but was touched by Santos’ concern over his condition, and he was eager to bring more awareness to the issue. Still, he said that he found the congressman’s falsehoods on the campaign trail to be “inexcusable” — a sentiment apparently shared by his former law firm and its leader, Wesley Mullen.
According to Weinstock, Mullen told him, “I know your motivations are pure, but George Santos is so toxic, I don’t want any association with Santos and this firm.”
Mullen declined to comment.
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