Tall Tales: Before George Santos, politicians from Biden to Clinton fibbed about their past
Political history is littered by figures who exaggerated their credentials, or told tall tales about the backgrounds.
Well before Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.) admitted to fabricating key details of his biography, lying about one's past was a rich political exercise. President Joe Biden got caught boasting about bogus academic credentials, Hillary Clinton made up a sniper attack in Bosnia, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren had to apologize for claiming Native American heritage.
Santos made headlines this week for admitting to the New York Post and WABC radio that he lied on the campaign trail about his education and work experience – specifically about where he attended college and his alleged employment history with high-profile Wall Street firms.
"My sins here are embellishing my resume. I'm sorry," Santos said Monday, confessing he never graduated from any college and "never worked directly" for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Santos chalked up his misleading claims to a "poor choice of words."
Santos, the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican elected to the House, has also been accused of lying about his family history and sexual orientation, although he's defended some of those claims from criticism.
Santos has received widespread backlash for his fibs, and a Long Island prosecutor said she intends to investigate whether the soon-to-be-congressman committed any crimes. However, he's hardly alone in padding his resume for political gain.
Here are eight prominent political figures who have done the same:
Biden is no stranger to embellishing his past accomplishments, stretching the truth if not outright lying on several occasions.
In 1987, for example, then-Sen. Biden claimed in a video filmed by C-SPAN that he ''went to law school on a full academic scholarship – the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship." Biden also said that he ''ended up in the top half'' of his class and won a prize in an international moot court competition. In college, Biden added, he was ''the outstanding student in the political science department'' and ''graduated with three degrees from college."
Biden later released a statement acknowledging he misstated several of these facts. For example, Biden only received a single B.A. in history and political science and never graduated in the top half of his class in law school.
Thirty-five years later, in May, Biden erroneously stated that he applied to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Beyond academics, Biden has made several other false or misleading claims about his past, such as that he was once arrested in South Africa while trying to see Nelson Mandela. The Washington Post labeled the assertion "ridiculous," and Biden's campaign was forced to concede it never happened.
Two-time failed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed infamously – and erroneously – in 2008 that she arrived in Bosnia "under sniper fire" and had to run with her head down during a visit there in 1996.
The Washington Post fact checker deemed Clinton's story "simply not credible," describing how "photographs and video of the arrival ceremony, combined with contemporaneous news reports, tell a very different story."
Warren identified herself as a Native American for almost two decades. In October 2018, Warren released the DNA results showing she had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago. The report showed that if her great-great-great grandmother was Native American, Warren would be 1/32nd Native American, but she could possibly be just 1/1024th if it extends to the 10th generation.
The move, meant to show a connection to a tribe, backfired, outraging Cherokee leaders. In February 2019, Warren apologized for misleadingly calling herself Native American.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led voters in Connecticut to believe he was a Vietnam veteran when, in fact, he was never deployed to Vietnam.
In 2010, the New York Times revealed that Blumenthal had made misleading statements about his war service since at least 2003, and that the media had reported that he was a Vietnam veteran for at least a decade.
Blumenthal later apologized for lying about his service, saying he regretted claiming he had served "in" Vietnam instead of "during" Vietnam.
Wendy Davis, a Democrat who served in the Texas state Senate and ran for governor in 2014, admitted there were inaccuracies in the biography she used to promote her campaign. Davis portrayed her life as a rags-to-riches story from a 19-year-old single mother living in a trailer home to graduating Harvard Law School and serving as a Texas state lawmaker.
However, the Dallas Morning News found several holes in Davis' story. For example, while she lived in a trailer with her daughter and husband until she was divorced at age 20, Davis later got help from her second husband who helped pay for her to attend Texas Christian University and then Harvard.
Former Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) was another lawmaker to embellish his military service.
Miller said he "served" in the military in 1967, despite never seeing combat or even finishing basic training. He was "honorably discharged" after seven weeks of boot camp.
Former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said during the campaign to fill former President Barack Obama's old Senate seat that he won the U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year Award during the conflict with Serbia in the 1990s. However, Kirk failed to mention the award was not given to an individual but to his entire unit.
"Upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified," Kirk wrote in a blog post. He claimed the award should have been listed as being given to his unit, not himself.
Kirk made a similar misleading statement in 2010, claiming he served "in" Iraq, when he actually was stateside during the Iraq War.
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, who served in the Obama administration, in 2015 admitted to and apologized for lying about his military record.
McDonald, a U.S. Army veteran, claimed he served in the special forces during his time with the military. However, media reports at the time found he never served in a special operations unit, having instead been assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.
"I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces," said McDonald. "That was inaccurate, and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement."