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McCarthy Finally Wins Speaker Slot; DNA's Role In Identifying Idaho Murders Suspect; Will Harry's Explosive Memoir Burn All Bridges To Royals?; Santos And America's Local News Problem. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired January 07, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, C-SPAN. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
Last night, at nearly 1:00 in the morning, America finally got its 55th speaker of the House when Kevin McCarthy won on the 15th ballot in a process that began way back on Tuesday. Along the way, we were treated to an important, at times chaotic civics lesson, including near fisticuffs, live and on camera. Friday, the fourth day of voting, we saw 15 holdouts switch their allegiance during the 12th and then 13th rounds of balloting. And then, after an adjournment, McCarthy thought he had the needed votes, and at 11:00 came to a 14th vote and yet he ended up one vote shy of a majority. For the first time all week, he couldn't hide being visibly angry.
Both Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz had voted present, while four other anti-McCarthy holdouts remained steadfast. It was all quite dramatic and gripping to watch. A fistfight nearly broke out as Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, was physically restrained from Matt Gaetz, whose supporters rushed to his side. Obscenities were heard.
It was all a stunning reversal because McCarthy thought that he'd whip the votes necessary. And then, when it seemed they were going to be adjourning for the weekend, there was more arm twisting. Suddenly, McCarthy was smiling again. They undertook a 15th vote.
Early on in that vote holdout Andy Biggs changed his vote for another candidate to present, got a standing ovation. Representative elect Eli Crane changed his vote to present. The calendar turned over from the second anniversary of January 6 to now January 7. In the end, McCarthy had 216 votes. Democrat Hakeem Jeffries maintained his party's 212. The last six holdouts all voted present.
The uniqueness of this congressional proceeding is that it was the most protracted speaker election since 1859, and that we got to watch. And not just from the usual one camera trained on electron, during normal House sessions the cameras are all controlled by a government entity called the House Recording Studio. That footage is then used by networks like CNN, news programs and C-SPAN. Many times since cameras were first allowed in 1979, C-SPAN has asked to add its own cameras, and each time the House has denied the request. But C-SPAN is allowed to bring in its own cameras during certain high-profile events.
And this event not only qualified, but it lasted all week. So, if you were watching this all go down this week here on CNN, you are watching from a feed supplied by C-SPAN. And as a result, as "The Washington Post" pointed out, we got to see all the sausage being made or as "The Post" described, "Loud booing. Animated conversations in the aisles of the House chamber. Sleeping children. Lawmakers scrolling on their phones."
We looked on as Kevin McCarthy huddled with Jim Jordan, whose own name had been put forward by some of McCarthy's detractors. And even when New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chatted with Arizona Republican Paul Gosar. Remember, it was Gosar who was censured in 2021 after he shared animated video on social media that showed him killing AOC. And Republican Congressman George Santos, who's already admitted to a series of lies and fabrication, possibly facing a House ethics investigation just days after being sworn in, there he was, sitting all by himself. The members did not want to associate with him as he sat there in his suit and sweater all alone.
And, of course, last night we saw Gaetz and Boebert huddling as people tried to sway them. These are all things you would never have seen except this week. So how did it happen? The House radio T.V. gallery told "The Washington Post" that C-SPAN was given permission in advance of the voting for its cameras to visually roam across the chamber, something normally prohibited, unless the speaker permits C-SPAN's access will again be restricted.
And I say that's not right. We should be able to see our representatives working for us at all times, not just when the speaker position is in limbo. And that goes for Congress, it goes for the courts, it goes for anywhere that a citizen has a right to watch their government in person. If you can walk in off the street, then so too should a camera be able to film.
And I think that goes for the local township building, it goes for the city hall, the school board meeting, the state legislature, your county courtroom, the Supreme Court of the United States. And without any limitation as to camera angle, whatever the naked eye can see, so too should cameras at public meetings.
I get the downside. Some are going to showboat. For those of us who remember, the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial became California's longest ever because both the judge and many lawyers seemed to relish playing for a national audience. One can argue that without cameras this week, what took 15 ballots would have been resolved much sooner if fewer were able to watch. I mean, many representatives, they saw this as an opportunity to become household names and fundraising magnets. But in normal sessions, they often don't want us to see everything.
I was reminded of this when I spoke to my SiriusXM colleague Steve Scully last night. Steve had a 30-year career at C-SPAN. He turned me on to this gem from 1992, when legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill shared his concerns about cameras with Brian Lamb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN LAMB, CHAIRPERSON, C-SPAN: By the way, you know, one of the things that people have often missed is that they think we control those cameras and the House controls them.
TIP O'NEILL (D), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I never allowed you to control those cameras and don't ever change that.
O'NEILL: Well, you know, some guy be picking his nose and scratching his fanny (ph) and the television at a convention, that's what it goes on. It goes on the negative, it goes on always trying to downcast, let the Congress handle them on. They're doing a good job, and the American people like it.
And I don't think that they should show full scale debate with 30 members on the floor or some follow taking a nap, which could happen on occasion, I just don't think that is in the best interest of our Congress, of our people. And I think that everything is going all right and leave it alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: All right. Well, there's the contrarian argument. Tips concerns notwithstanding. Here's hoping what we just witnessed can continue. Ben O'Connell, C-SPAN's director of editorial operations told "The Washington Post" he hopes the network will be allowed to show more to the American people, quote, "Those visuals are really speaking to viewers. It's helping to tell the story of this speaker election. Now, imagine if were able to do that when there's a major piece of legislation. I think that it would be far more engaging for the American people, and voters would really be able to see who's talking to who."
Well, of course he's right. Tell me if you agree. This is today's poll question @smerconsish.com. Should the speaker allow C-SPAN cameras full access to the House chamber for all proceedings? Go vote.
Joining me now with the latest on the speaker's battle, CNN's Washington Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, good morning to you. Tell me about that near brawl because it took almost fisticuffs to resolve what happened last night.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, Michael, in such an unprecedented moment that you did a great job of highlighting there -- one of many of -- on the House floor last night. Certainly the only one that got nearly violent, we saw this take place between the important 14th vote series and the 15th vote series. We saw Kevin McCarthy go right to Matt Gaetz and start talking to him. And that's where we saw Congressman Mike Rogers come over and he got in. Gaetz's face he essentially had to be restrained physically by another congressman to hold him back. And we saw Kevin McCarthy kind of look at the tussle up there on the floor and return there. That was an important moment because that was when McCarthy did not have the votes.
And then the 15th vote, of course, is when he notched that win, getting 216 votes to become the next speaker. And he got there because in the end, Matt Gaetz did vote present, along with five other holdouts, that key group of conservative House Republicans that had been voting against Kevin McCarthy all week. All of the previous votes, they ultimately voted present, which lowered that threshold for Kevin McCarthy to score this major, historic and at times very ugly victory.
SMERCONISH: So, in the end, Gaetz and company, what did they get for their opposition?
SERFATY: Well, they certainly got a lot, and significant that Matt Gaetz even himself admitted that. Someone asked him, what changed between the 14th and 16th vote -- excuse me, 14th and 15th vote? And he said, essentially, I didn't have anything else to ask for here. Kevin McCarthy in the end, made major, major concessions.
Now, some of them very procedural, but important to many of the House conservatives, members of the House Freedom Caucus that were pushing Kevin McCarthy to make changes that would essentially give them more power in the end. He lowered the threshold from five to one. Only one vote now needed to oust the speaker. That is something that he previously said he would never do. And he negotiated and compromised in the end, 72 hours to review bills, for example, more House Freedom Caucus members on the important House Rules Committee.
Also, he agreed that any efforts to raise the national debt ceiling would also be met with spending cuts. That's something that likely will cause a lot of chaos and conflict to upcoming Senate Democrats. That's a non-starter for them, also gives the ability for more members to make amendments on the floor. Essentially, it gives away a lot of the powers of his speakership. That's what he needed here, Michael, in the end to get him to victory.
SMERCONISH: Sunlen, all week long, with every vote, the reporting was all about the humiliation that was being sustained by Kevin McCarthy. And yet, when all was said and done, I'm going to run a short clip and then ask you a question about it. Here was the new House speaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): That was easy. I never thought we'd get up here.
Thank you Minority Leader Jeffries. Hakeem, I've got to warn you, two years ago, I got 100 percent of the vote from my conference. (END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Sunlen, here's the question, I know we're dug in along political lines, ours are forum d's are against them and so forth, but do you think that there's some redeeming quality for McCarthy in standing there and taking it or sitting there and taking it and in the end gets off the canvas and wins the battle he'd set out? Do you think that there's an upside for him despite what he had to give away?
SERFATY: I think there could be most likely in potentially his confidence going forward. I mean, he -- this has been a year's long quest for him. Of course, he dropped out of the speaker's race years ago as well. So certainly this is a big win for him just emotionally. But there were -- and although as you played there, he, you know, played up that this was not an easy battle to get there.
But he played up in that speech last night shortly after 1:00 a.m. this morning, the unity and that he -- you know, what he try -- will try to bring to the House going forward. But this is likely just a preview of what's to come. The fact that it took so long to get here really underscores not only, one, that he has a very narrow majority in the House, that's going to be hard for him, but that he has this raucous and chaotic side of the conference. The fact that he has this very block of very conservative members that we've seen already really flex their muscles.
This is going to continue to raise a problem for him going forward. So, it is going to be a hard slog. And that hard slog, Michael, starts on Monday. When the House reconvenes, they have to pass the rules package that potentially could not be easy and then get to legislating after that.
SMERCONISH: Well, if I get my wish, the cameras will be there and we will get to watch everything.
Sunlen, that was excellent. Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Go to my YouTube, Facebook, hit me up on social media, and I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have?
I believe the members are the most concerned a roving camera shot will catch them dozing off, Rawhide says.
Yes, they don't want it. They don't want when I'm advocating, but who cares? We should want it. We should have a right to it.
Let me show you something else. This is congressman -- Congresswoman Katie Porter from Orange County, California, reading a book. Oh, check out the title of that book. OK.
All right, I'll give you another one. Here's Marjorie Taylor Green. Check out her cell phone. Can you zoom in on that, Catherine (ph)? DT. OK. It's not ET, it's DT. You know who DT is, DT phone home? It's Donald Trump. Like it's the former president calling to try and strong arm someone to vote for Kevin McCarthy in all of this.
How can we not see this? All this great sausage being made? Make sure you go to smerkonish.com and answer this week's poll question, because this is what I'm asking. I'm asking in this week's poll question, should the speaker allow C-SPAN cameras full access to the House chambers for all proceedings?
Why should this week have to end?
Up ahead, despite studying a PhD, obtaining a PhD in criminology, the suspect in the Idaho murders, he couldn't help but leave clues behind. Cell phone signals, an identifiable car, and most importantly, his DNA on a knife sheet in the victim's bed. I'm going to talk to DNA crime solver, who's one of America's leading experts on exactly this case.
Plus, in Prince Harry's new memoir, he relates his fistfight with William, his drug use, his loss of virginity at 17, his father's coldness around Diana's death. These and many more juicy dales are now begging the question, has Harry finally gone too far? Who better to ask than Princess Diana's chief of staff Patrick Jephson about the latest dents to the crown?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two Princes, a true story.
William sat down the water. Then he called me another name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a white guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then he came at me, and we tussled. And he knocked me to the floor. I landed on the dog's bowl, which cracked under my back with pieces cutting into me, and got to my feet and told him to get out. Then I made him face the music.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The DNA will get you every time. It's how the suspect in the mid November stabbing deaths of four Idaho students was finally tracked down and arrested. That's what we learned when the affidavit of probable cause was unsealed in Idaho court this week.
Investigators had found a leather knife sheath on the bed of one of the victims. They found a DNA sample on the button of the sheath. This and the cell phone records tracing his whereabouts capped the many weeks long investigation that included narrowing down which white Hyundai Elantra had been captured on videos in the neighborhood of the house where the killings took place. A Washington State University officer then located a 2015 white Hyundai Elantra in an apartment complex parking lot. The owner's driver's license information and photograph were consistent with the surviving roommate's description of the mass suspect's height and build and bushy eyebrows.
Additionally, five days after the murders, the suspect had obtained a new license plate for his car. The car was located at the suspect's family residence in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania. CNN has reported he was under surveillance. And he was seen cleaning his car inside and out using surgical gloves and depositing trash in the wee hours in a neighbor's garbage can.
On December 27, Pennsylvania law enforcement discovered that trash and sent it to the Idaho State Lab for DNA testing. The very next day, the lab was able to match a DNA profile obtained from the trash as all but assured as being from the biological father to a person whose DNA was found on the knife sheath. As the document states, "At least 99.998 percent of the male population would be expected to be excluded from the possibility of being the suspect's biological father."
Joining me now is Cece Moore, Head of Genetic Genealogy Services for Parabon NanoLabs Law Enforcement Unit, which has made more than 200 successful identifications of violent criminals. She's not worked the Idaho case. She stars in the documentary series, "The Genetic Detective," now streaming on ABC. And she also has worked on all 10 seasons of the PBS television documentary series "Finding Your Roots" with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Cece, thank you for being here. What does this mean single source of male DNA, which I'm reading from the affidavit?
CECE MOORE, GENETIC GENEOLOGIST: It means there was no other DNA detected on that. Meaning, sometimes you can have a mixture, you can have multiple people's DNA. You want to have single source DNA if at all possible because that really just ties that one person to that item.
Now, it was likely that this was touch DNA. Certainly it's possible there was blood. They didn't tell us what type of DNA, but most likely it was touch DNA. And that would typically be just a few skin cells. This might have been a very small amount of DNA, but because of today's technological advances, we can detect even the tiniest bit of DNA.
SMERCONISH: How reliable is touch DNA if it is skin cells in comparison to, say, blood?
MOORE: It's a great question. It is more transferable. So, of course you would like to have blood, you would like to have semen or saliva, and they might. You know, they haven't shown all their cards, we don't know all that they have. But touch DNA, now that we can use it because of the sensitivity of our equipment, it also means you have to be more cautious about using DNA as your only evidence.
So it's a really positive thing that they clearly have other evidence. This is just one piece of it. We have seen DNA -- touch DNA transfer in other cases. Of course it's fairly rare, but it is something that you have to be aware of and make sure that there are other aspects of the case also pointing at the same person.
SMERCONISH: Cece, good news, I guess it's hard to commit murder without leaving something behind.
MOORE: That's right. Yes. I've been saying this for weeks, that type of violent, intimate crime, it is virtually impossible not to leave something behind, even if you are a criminology PhD student. So, I am not at all surprised they were able to find something. Even if he tried hard not to leave something, you still would.
And that is great news, because what it means is that anyone who perpetrates this type of crime in the future should be aware that they will be identified, they will be caught. There really is no reason that we should see serial killer, serial rapist moving forward. This guy, you know, potentially could have become a Ted Bundy or even a Zodiac not identified 50 years later. But because of the DNA technology, the advances that we're seeing both investigative genetic genealogy and the ability to use tiny amounts of DNA, we can identify someone whether they are in the law enforcement database or not.
SMERCONISH: Cece, the cases that you have cracked for which you have become famous, are the cases that necessitate you putting together with -- in connection with a private lab? A very complicated family history, family tree, and tracing back cousins and generations. That doesn't seem to be what took place here.
MOORE: Well, I don't think we can reach that conclusion yet. Investigative genetic genealogy is simply a tip. It's a lead. It should never be used as evidence against a suspect.
And so, it is proper that it would have been left out of the affidavit, in my opinion, because it should not form the basis of an arrest warrant. And so, even though they didn't put it in there, I don't think we can rule it out.
We don't know whether it was what initially identified him as a person of interest and they looked more closely at that tip about the car, or it could have gone the other way where they identified him through that tip about the car. And at the same time they were working on the genetic genealogy and may have built his family tree to see if it was consistent with what they were seeing. I have done that in some cases.
If there are persons of interest, you can very quickly rule them out or potentially not be able to exclude them, which is what would have happened in this case. Maybe they could have connected him to one or more of those matches, maybe a second 3rd, 4th cousin, and said, look, you know, this is somebody who is a strong person of interest. So, I think there's still a lot for us to learn on what happened here. I do think it is highly likely that an advanced private outside lab was used at least somehow in this case.
You know, we've all been hearing whispers of this. There's been lots of leaks that investigative genetic genealogy was used. So I do think --
MOORE: -- that they were at least trying to or in the process of doing so.
SMERCONISH: And you make a great point. They of course, don't have to put in this affidavit of probable cause. They, the prosecutors, all that they have.
Cece Moore that was tremendous. I thank you as always.
MOORE: Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via social media. Catherine, what else do we have now about the Idaho Quadruple murders? DNA testing is still a relatively new technology and, as such, should be viewed with healthy skepticism."
I don't know the exactitude, Michael, with which they've expressed the likelihood of how many others would have been ruled out as pretty convincing to me. But read this affidavit of probable cause. It's the triangulation of those cell phone records. It is also, of course, the white Elantra and it's the DNA.
And I have to say that CNN's Gary Tuchman has a great package that continues to run on the network where he takes you to the crime location, but makes the observation that for this guy's car to have been in close proximity, I think the number is twelve times in the weeks leading up to the murder. It's not an area where a lot of people are circulating like you have to go looking for this particular house. And I hadn't appreciated that until I saw Gary's reporting.
Make sure that you're voting @smercoish.com on this week's poll question. The aftermath of the speaker battle I'm asking, should the House speaker, that's now Kevin McCarthy, allow C-SPAN cameras full access to the House chamber for all proceedings? Mine's a yes vote.
Up ahead with his explosive new -- with his explosive memoir has Harry now ruined his relationship with his family? I'm going to ask Princess Diana's former Chief of Staff Patrick Jephson.
Plus, the House leadership crisis pulled the media spotlight away from GOP Congressman George Santos' fabrications about his biography, his resume, and so much more. But the Santos story is still a troubling reminder of a much larger problem, a lack of local investigative journalism. And I want to say something about that.
SMERCONISH: Has Prince Harry finally burned all of his bridges? I'm about to ask that of Princess Diana's former private secretary and chief of staff Patrick Jephson, who will be here. This Tuesday, of course, comes the publication of the Duke of Sussex's much anticipated memoir "Spare," the title referring to his role as the extra in case anything happens to his brother, the heir.
But the juiciest parts have already started to leak. "The Daily Mail" got access to a copy when it went on sale early in Spain. And the press went Harry wild publishing dozens of separate pieces about each tidbit.
This is just a sampling. Prince Harry brands William his arch nemesis, claims that his father didn't hug him when Diana died because Charles is not good at expressing his emotions, claims Camilla plotted to take the crown and marry Charles, and that he and William begged his father not to marry her, claims Charles made a poor taste joke during rumors that he was the son of Diana and her ex-lover, Major James Hewitt.
That he smoked, drank, and partied through his 20s, taking cocaine at 17, did a stint in rehab, claims that he was physically attacked by his brother, who called Meghan rude and difficult, claims William and Kate told him to wear the Nazi uniform and then they howled with laughter when they saw him in it.
He revealed that he killed 25 enemies in Afghanistan, reveals that William confronted Meghan for telling Kate she had a baby brain before she snapped back, take your finger out of my face, recounts losing his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a pub at age 17, and reveals that he got frostnip on his penis during a trip to the North Pole. Insert your own joke.
On and on it's a lot from a couple that claims to be avoiding the spotlight and avoiding the paparazzi. But by airing all this dirty family laundry, has Harry finally gone a step too far? Patrick Jephson is going to join me but we're going to do that after the break because we lost -- oh, we have him now? Oh, good.
Sorry about that, Patrick. I wasn't sure if we had you. I'm thrilled that we do.
So, Princess Diana went public. How do you think, although after being sold a bill of goods, I should add, by Martin Bashir, how do you think she would regard Harry's revelations?
PATRICK JEPHSON, PRINCESS DIANA'S PRIVATE SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think, Michael, she'd have very mixed feelings about all this. On one hand, she (INAUDIBLE) Harry's father, King Charles, can't really deny that they also gave into the temptation (INAUDIBLE) -- in this so you can understand how you might think this is how --
SMERCONISH: Yes. Hey, gang, let's -- hang on a second. I want to -- I want to hear everything that he has to say but I'm not able to hear him and neither is the audience. We will come back in just a moment and we'll get into this subject with Patrick Jephson. Don't go away.
SMERCONISH: OK. I think we've re-established contact with Patrick Jephson, who was Princess Diana's chief of staff. Patrick, welcome back. Tell me how Diana would regard the release of this book.
JEPHSON: I think Diana would have two thoughts about this. One, from her own experience she knows that going public with your own dirty laundry is a very dangerous game to play.
Harry's father did this too, King Charles, with his tell-all book in 1994. So Harry has an example from both his parents of how not to do this. I think Diana would be sad that he had not learned from their mistakes.
SMERCONISH: Patrick, I watched the six-part Netflix documentary, and Harry and Meghan make the case that there are parallels between the way that she, Meghan, has been treated, and the way that Diana was treated. Do you see those parallels, those similarities?
JEPHSON: There are a few. I think specifically in the area of briefing, media briefing. The palace, I see, is denying that it does any briefing. But in reality the palace surrogates are up and busy, they are organized, they are orchestrated. And I think that what Meghan is referring to is the way in which Diana also found herself briefed against in a much more systematic and overt way, I might add.
But it is -- it is the reality of what happens to people when they fall out with the royal establishment. The organization reacts to defend itself, which is understandable, I suppose, given that it does operate the head of state apparatus.
SMERCONISH: With the palace, will the firm respond to the release of this book? If not directly, will they work their media sources to make sure there is a response?
JEPHSON: I think what we'll see is a response on two levels. On the one hand, the palace will delight -- will take satisfaction from being above the fray. It will maintain a dignified silence, which traditionally is what the royal family does. It helps maintain respect for the institution.
But under the radar, there will be a lot of activity by past media advisers. This is after all at the very least an annoyance, possibly a threat, not an existential threat, but it's not good for the image of the organization. It does not look like King Charles is keeping his house in order. And therefore, they will want to close this down as soon as they can. But they can't do it overtly. It has to be done --
SMERCONISH: They were both of course at the funeral. Harry and Meghan were at the funeral for the queen. Do you think they'll be at the coronation for the king in May?
And we lost him. OK. Well, we did get some good information from him while it lasted.
Still to come, the fabrications of GOP Congressman George Santos about his past so extensive that when he arrived at the Capitol this week his own colleagues shunned him. Why didn't we learn about this before Election Day?
SMERCONISH: Nobody was happier about the House speaker impasse than the congressman elect from New York's third district, George Santos. If Kevin McCarthy had won on the first ballot, we'd be focusing more on how Santos was visibly shunned by his fellow Republicans because of his fabrication of his resume and unclear sources of his campaign financing.
But something else about Santos troubles me, and that is how did someone like him get elected in the first place? I see it as a systemic failure that is only getting worse. It was only after his election in November that questions about who he is became national news.
On December 19th, "The New York Times" published the result of an investigation which revealed that his resume is largely fiction. Santos seems to have lied about every aspect of his background -- his education, his employment, his volunteerism with an animal rescue, his income, his property ownership, his mother's ethnicity and cause of death, his religion, even whether he'd employed people who died in a mass shooting.
CNN's KFile then confirmed "The Times'" reporting and found even more evidence of false claims. But now he's been sworn in as a member of Congress because he had not violated the constitution's only requirements -- age, citizenship, state residency.
How long he can remain in office, well, that's an open question. He will now likely face ethics inquiry in Congress and officials in Brazil say they'll reinstate fraud charges against Santos now that they've found out where he is.
The Federal Election Commission has flagged issues with contributions made to his campaign and the fact that dozens of expenses listed were just below the commission's threshold to keep receipts. Santos' lawyer, Joe Murray, responded -- quote -- saying this -- "the suggestion that the Santos campaign engaged in any unlawful spending of campaign funds is irresponsible, at best."
Much of this you've already heard, but here's the question we need to address which transcends this one mythomaniac -- how did he fly under the radar in a race run in a pretty sophisticated area, Queens and northern Long Island, where ultimately more than a quarter million people voted? The answer is the diminished presence of local news.
Gone are the days when local newspapers have the resources to cover the borough council, the school board, the county courthouse, and the area's congressional race. In its report on the state of local news 2022, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism found that in the United States two newspapers are disappearing every week and we've lost more than 2,500 papers in the last two decades.
Furthermore, most of the communities that have lost newspapers do not get a print or digital replacement, leaving 70 million residents, about a fifth of the country's population either living in an area with no local news organizations, or one at risk. About seven percent of the nation's counties, or 211, now have no local newspaper.
No amount of blogging, podcasts or websites are replacing their watchdog function. In this case, there was one local paper, a weekly, that was on to Santos but their coverage was the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Nobody else heard it.
The "North Shore Leader" is a seven decades old publication that reaches every town you've ever heard of on Long Island from listening to Billy Joel albums. Grant Lally is the publisher. His family has owned the "North Shore Leader" for the past 25 years. A lifelong Republican, he himself had run for the same seat in 1994, '96 and 2014. During the 2000 presidential election he served as George W. Bush's floor manager in the recount.
Well, here is what Lally told me this week on SiriusXM.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GRANT LALLY, PUBLISHER, NORTH SHORE LEADER: We're embedded in the local community. So, we hear things.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Back in September, Maureen Daly, the newspaper's managing editor, she wrote this. This is in September.
Controversial U.S. congressional candidate George Santos has finally filed his personal financial disclosure report on September 6th, 20 months late, and he is claiming an inexplicable rise in his alleged net worth to 11 million. Just two years ago, in 2020, Santos' personal financial disclosures claimed that he had no assets over $5,000, no bank accounts, no stock accounts, no real property. A net worth barely above zero.
And then just before the election, the same newspaper wrote this in an editorial. Quote -- "This newspaper would like to endorse a Republican for U.S. Congress in New York's 3rd district. But the GOP nominee, George Santos, is so bizarre, unprincipled and sketchy, that we cannot. We endorse Democrat Robert Zimmerman."
Bizarre, unprincipled, sketchy, pretty tough stuff from the weekly but no other outlets with a larger reach amplified their work. Publisher Lally told me that Santos benefited from generic voting, people supporting their own label regardless of a candidate's individual merit, and the fact that the congressional district map had changed significantly in June.
Initially, it was a strong Democratic district, but after a gerrymandered map was thrown out it shifted to a lean Republican district. Well, by then, Santos had announced, but any would-be opponent had only a little bit of time before the primary to put together a competitive campaign, so he won the nomination and ultimately the general election by a comfortable eight points.
George Santos is what you get when everyone with a laptop is a wannabe journalist but no one is left being paid to run down tips. And that should make all of us nervous. The next time you hear about the closure of a local newspaper or the scaling back of a newsroom, think about George Santos and how many more like him might be getting away with something.
Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and YouTube and Facebook comments, and the final result of this week's poll question. Please go to Smerconish.com right now, register for the newsletter while you're there, and answer this week's question. Should the House speaker allow C-SPAN cameras full access to the House chamber for all proceedings?
SMERCONISH: All right. There it is. The result of this week's -- wow, 94-6 and 36,000 people voting.
Mr. Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, we want to keep watching. Please, give C- SPAN, give CNN, give all the media the same access that we've all enjoyed this week watching the sausage be made. It could be your first item of business on Monday.
Here is some of the social media reaction that came in during the course of the program. Totally agree. Let's put cameras everywhere. Especially in politics. They are elected officials and they represent us. Let's see everything.
David, to me it's quite logical. As a citizen, you could have your sat in the gallery of the house. It's a wonderful thing to do. Take your kids.
I mean, wherever you can go as citizen, as I said earlier, county courthouse. Here is another pet peeve of mine. Supreme Court of the United States. Those audio recordings are not enough. We ought to be able to see. If I can go in there are a citizen and look around, a camera ought to be able to do the same in any governmental setting.
Here's more social media that came in. What do we have? Spare us the drama, Harry.
Has Harry finally -- I mean, look, when I watched the Netflix documentary, I was more sympathetic to Meghan than I have been heretofore. Because the way in which the media mob follow her is reminiscent of Princess Diana.
Remember that airport scene where she has got the tennis racket? There is some of that going on. But if you want to escape the media -- first of all, is California where you go?
And do you live up the road from Oprah? And do you sign a six-part Netflix deal and then a five-book deal with Penguin Random House?
That doesn't seem to me like a couple seeking to evade the spotlight. Harry has got to sell a lot of books. I think he will. I think it's 1.7 million units to recoup what the publisher laid out. I'll see you next week.