After a little over a week working with embattled Rep. George Santos (R-NY), Derek Myers was informed that he would not be getting a permanent job. During that tense conversation, Santos also offered some parting advice.
“Stop going to Colombia for your diluted Botox,” Santos told Myers.
The exchange was captured on an at times bizarre audio file Myers said he recorded in Santos’ office on Capitol Hill. During the conversation, Santos cited Myers’ recent legal troubles that stemmed from his work as a reporter. For Santos, this was potentially a reason to remove him from the team. Myers was stunned by the hypocrisy. Santos fabricated much of his biography en route to getting elected last year and is currently facing multiple investigations related to his finances.
“I’m thinking to myself, I’m a threat and concern to this institution — George Santos, you’re George Santos!” Myers told TPM.
Myers — like others on Santos’ staff — has a fairly nontraditional background for a Hill staffer. His experience and the conversation he captured on tape underscores the unusual atmosphere in Santos’ office as he and his small team deal with the fallout from his cascade of controversies.
A local news reporter from Ohio, Myers faced unusual criminal charges last year after he published surreptitiously recorded audio of courtroom testimony that he said he obtained from a source. The criminal case, which is in limbo, sparked a national outcry from press freedom organizations who rushed to his defense.
The meeting with Santos that Myers recorded took place on Monday, Jan. 30. It was one week after he began working with Santos’ team on a volunteer basis. Myers suspected it would be a discussion about his past and potentially an end to his time on the team.
Myers never became a full-fledged employee for Santos, as his offer was rescinded before he could be added to the representative’s staff. He contacted TPM to discuss his situation five days after we reached out to various members of Santos’ team in the wake of the uproar over Santos’ biography. Myers provided TPM with an audio file on Wednesday that he claims is a recording of his conversation on Jan. 30. Myers requested not to publish the audio until he had one last chance to go in and ask for his job back the following day.
In the recorded conversation, as they discussed Myers’ future, Santos and Lovett didn’t stick to the topic at hand. The discussion began with Santos admiring Myers’ tie.
“You can have it if you want,” Myers said, adding that he bought them at thrift stores for $2.
“His ties are from thrift stores,” Santos exclaimed later. “He says he paid $2 for them.”
The congressman then asked for candy which he said his father brought from Brazil, which he then shared with Myers, who tried to cut to the chase.
“Are you firing me?” Myers said.
The response from Santos — who had been remarking on the taste of the candy — was garbled at first.
But Santos gave Myers a chance to tell his story, which began with a trip to Bogota for a Botox treatment. According to Myers, he had been covering a local mass murder trial, before leaving halfway through to go to Colombia “to get my Botox.”
“It’s like $100, but it’s $400 here,” he explained.
“I spend a lot more than that on Botox, but I trust the people,” Santos replied.
Myers continued explaining, but Santos interrupted with his worry about Myers’ Ohio past: “It’s not concerning to us, it’s concerning to this institution.”
That original drama provided an ironic backdrop to this story. As Myers pleaded his case and defended his actions as newsgathering in the public interest he did not appear to disclose to Santos or his chief of staff, Charley Lovett, that he was recording their conversation. On the audio file received by TPM, both Lovett and Santos joke about Myers potentially recording the conversation without their knowledge.
“From my understanding, recording in this building is a federal crime, and you get seven years,” Santos told Myers on the tape. “Have fun at your peril!”
The brief saga of Myers’ time on Capitol Hill is a sign of just how chaotic things have become surrounding Santos. Myers, 30, told TPM he had been a journalist since he was 15. He previously worked as a TV reporter, before switching to print journalism after a 2015 incident in which a Baton Rouge NBC affiliate fired him for accosting Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) about a prostitution scandal that had unfolded eight years earlier. He ended up back in Ohio, saying that he runs a local newspaper called the Scioto Valley Guardian. Myers eventually set up a Washington D.C. bureau for the rural Ohio paper, after a personal relationship prompted him to relocate to D.C.
All that left Myers with a lust for the flash and crash of Washington politics. He was eager to stay on Santos’ team. However, during the meeting where his future was being debated, Santos continually swerved off topic. At one point, Santos interrupted Myers to exclaim that he was texting with CNN’s Don Lemon.
“Don Lemon just texted me — I’m sorry, I’m listening to you — Don Lemon just texted me!” Santos said on the recording.
Lemon has discussed texting with Santos on air.
That exchange was particularly stinging for Myers.
“It was insulting and it hurt my feelings,” Myers said.
The frustrating meeting was the beginning of the end of Myers’ quick journey to Santos’ inner circle.
As Santos made headlines in recent weeks, Myers said that he reached out to Vish Burra, a right-wing operative who Myers knew from Twitter who had become Santos’ chief of operations. Myers said he expressed interest in a job, arranged a dinner with Burra on Jan. 18, and flew to D.C.
Myers recalled sending a $90 Uber Black Tahoe SUV to pick Burra up for their dinner, which was held at the swanky Bombay Club across from Lafayette Square. Myers provided TPM with a receipt showing a $120 expense from that night.
Burra, Myers said, told him to come to Santos’ office the following week. It was a morning when Santos greeted the crush of reporters outside his office with boxes of donuts.
Santos, Myers said, gave a preliminary offer: He’d be a staff assistant. Per an offer email from Lovett that TPM reviewed, Myers would receive a salary of $50,000 per year in the position.
“I had about a 15 minute meeting with them,” Myers recalled. “They didn’t ask me any questions.”
Santos discussed this unconventional arrangement during the recorded meeting in which the offer was rescinded. It occasioned some thoughts on “trust” from the congressman who also addressed his own scandals and issues in that department.
“I’ve made bad judgment calls, and I’m reaping the consequences of those bad judgment calls,” Santos said.
“I’ve obviously fucked up and lied to him, like I lied to everyone else,” Santos later added, apparently referring to Lovett, the chief of staff. “And he still forgave me and gave me a second shot, unlike some other people.”
“I trust his judgment more than my own judgment,” Santos added.
Ultimately, Santos did not decide whether to rescind Myers’ offer during that conversation, telling Myers towards the end of the discussion that while he was “not not giving you a shot,” “it’s bad enough that I have to answer for myself these days, I don’t want to have to answer, prospectively, for you.”
Myers said that Lovett finally informed him that the job was off the table in a phone call on Wednesday.
Lovett confirmed that he rescinded the offer on Wednesday over concerns about the Ohio case.
For Myers, though he was only in Santos’ orbit for a matter of days, losing the position hurt. He enjoyed being in the eye of the storm.
“This is a war,” Myers said, recalling what he told Santos during his job interview. “And I said, it’s fun. He’s like, oh, okay. Well, um, we’ll be in touch. And so it lasted about 15 minutes.”
Myers also was drawn in by a vision of what life in D.C. and on Capitol Hill would be.
“It was quite a mesmerizing feeling to be in that proximity to power,” Myers said. “Not only was I working with a sitting congressman, but I would see all these other U.S. senators and congressmen and women who I would only see on the news walking through the basement.”
There was another D.C. dream that drew Myers to Santos: a potential book or Hollywood project.
“George Santos is making history,” Myers said, reflecting on his thinking at the time. “There’s gonna be a book about it. There’s gonna be a movie about it.”
While Myers was clearly drawn to the spotlight, he insisted the thing he will miss most is the opportunity to help people.
“It’s staff that does the grunt work,” he said. “You know, we’re the ones that are processing the passport applications and helping facilitate IRS questions and White House tours and proclamations and all that great stuff.”
While Myers feels his actions in the trial were justified and found Santos’ decision to hold past transgressions against him hypocritical, he also clearly broke the congressman’s trust.
Myers told TPM that the conversation published on Thursday was the only one that he recorded at Santos’ office. He added that, now that the offer was rescinded, he believes it “shines a light” on how Santos “differs from his staff.”
“It’s all about George and it’s — we’ll be talking about my livelihood and then here’s a text from Don Lemon,” Myers said.
Along with talking about his own experience, Myers described the climate in Santos’ office. In his telling, it was an unorthodox setup with young staffers doing much of the work as they struggle to make new hires, a claim Santos’ team has disputed.
One twentysomething former Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) staffer, Rafaello Carone, “does all the legislation,” Myers said, directing Santos on how to vote.
Lovett, the chief of staff, is bound by a “three-year NDA,” per Myers’ recollection and the recording. Myers said this is because Lovett “knows too much.”
“George knows that Charlie knows things about George,” Myers said. “That is why George made Charlie sign a three year non-disclosure agreement.”
Lovett rejected that claim.
“The congressman said that in a lighthearted joking kind of manner, neither I nor anyone on staff is on a non-disclosure contract or agreement,” Lovett told TPM.
Myers suggested that the Monday decision not to give him a job was partly due to a conversation that Santos held the same day with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.
“Basically the speaker told him, look, you’ve gotta be more like a statesman,” Myers recalled.
During that conversation, Myers said McCarthy stripped Santos of his committee posts. That contradicts the narrative from Santos, who has suggested he made the choice to step aside without pressure from Republican leadership.
“He feels terrible about lying, he feels terrible that he got caught,” Myers said of Santos.
Amid all this, Myers still wanted to stay.
On Thursday, Myers returned to Santos’ office to ask for his job back one more time. He was rebuffed, he said, only holding a conversation with Burra before departing.
Even as he got the axe, Meyers left two parting gifts for Santos.
One was the tie that Santos complimented as he began to rescind the job offer.
The other, Myers told TPM, was a coffee mug that he bought Thursday morning from the Spy Museum gift store.
“Deny Everything,” the mug reads.
Listen to an extended, unedited excerpt of the audio here: