In the aftermath of a federal indictment charging Rep. George Santos (R-NY) with wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and false statements, a top staffer for the serial fabulist publicly lashed out this week at a freelance journalist he claims is “obsessed” with him and “fixated” on his “every move,” before seeming to suggest she would welcome a violent sexual attack.
Convicted drug dealer Vish Burra, Santos’ 32-year-old director of operations and a former producer for MAGA mastermind Steve Bannon’s podcast, will be disciplined for targeting reporter Jacqueline Sweet in a series of menacing tweets, The Daily Beast has confirmed.
“This kind of behavior from anyone is unacceptable, much less from a congressional staffer,” Santos communications director Naysa Woomer told The Daily Beast on Friday. “Threats of violence of any kind will not be condoned. The tweets have been deleted and disciplinary action will be taken.”
A source close to Santos’ office said the incident is being taken “very seriously.”
Responding to Sweet’s various workaday tweets about courthouse goings-on, Burra attacked the newswoman, who has documented some of the most stunning allegations against Santos. She exposed that the first-term congressman was quietly charged in 2017 after writing a series of bad checks to an Amish dog breeder, that he had been accused of heading up an ATM skimming ring, and that he had a penchant for stealing his roommates’ property. (Santos appeared at a 2021 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally wearing a scarf he allegedly purloined from a man who rented a room from Santos. The 2017 charge, Sweet reported, was dismissed and expunged after Santos claimed his checkbook had been stolen.)
Vish Burra and Joe Murray arriving at the courthouse for Santos’ arraignment pic.twitter.com/mg3CDPCUP7
— Jacqueline Sweet (@JSweetLI) May 10, 2023
“I knew you were looking into my eyes!” Burra posted Thursday night, in response to a tweet by Sweet about him glaring at her in the courtroom during Santos’ arraignment a day earlier on Long Island. “Jacqueline couldn’t keep her eyes off me!”
From there, Burra continued to directly attack Sweet multiple times for her coverage of the hearing. When an account under the name “George Santos stan” told Burra he “should have hit [Sweet] with that venom,” Burra replied in a since-deleted tweet, “I think she wants me to hit her with something else!”
Burra kept up the harangue, seemingly trying to provoke Sweet into a public dispute.
“Hey now we can’t have both of you in court,” the “George Santos stan” account tweeted.
To that, Burra responded, “I think she wants me to lock her up somewhere else!”
The tweet storm came shortly after Santos cast a vote on the House floor for a bill he co-sponsored, cracking down on unemployment fraud—one of the very crimes he is accused of in the 13-count indictment unsealed this week. Just 48 hours after being freed from federal custody on a $500,000 bond, Santos left Capitol Hill with Burra, in Burra’s Ford Bronco Sport, after which the tweets denigrating Sweet began.
Craig Holman, a congressional ethics expert at nonprofit D.C. watchdog group Public Citizen, told The Daily Beast that Burra’s public attacks on a political reporter is behavior that would not have been tolerated until recent years.
“The tweets of Vish Burra reflect the vulgar behavior that is becoming increasingly commonplace among Trump Republicans,” Holman said on Friday. “Trump first led the way for such behavior, and now many of his followers believe that vulgarity is acceptable politics as normal. George Santos’s staff are now joining Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and others’ disruptive behavior inside and outside the Halls of Congress. It is not illegal, but it shows a lack of respect for American political institutions specifically and American culture generally.”
The ugly comments from Burra included one in which he insisted Sweet was at the hearing specifically to see him, as well as another that claimed Sweet was “not the first” liberal woman to fall for him.
“Don’t worry, I know I have an effect on your [sic] types,” Burra tweeted.
On Thursday night, Sweet tweeted a photograph of someone’s shoe left behind on the courthouse plaza following a particularly intense media scrum. Naturally, Burra found a way to needle Sweet about it, inserting an obvious sexual innuendo into the exchange.
“I think it was @JSweetLI who left it behind hoping I would find who it belonged to and return it,” he wrote.
And when another Twitter user commented that the situation was “shaping up to be a modern day Cinderella story,” Burra mockingly shot back, “She just needs to be nice and come say hi!”
Burra did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. However, in a tweet posted early Friday afternoon, Burra complained, “These people really expect to tweet shit about you all day and I can’t even joke and roast them back without them crying vIoLeNcE. I will never comply! Never!”
These people really expect to tweet shit about you all day and I can’t even joke and roast them back without them crying vIoLeNcE.
I will never comply!
— VISH BURRA 🏴☠️ (@VishBurra) May 12, 2023
When reached on Friday afternoon, Sweet declined to comment.
Santos brought Burra on board in January, as he faced growing calls to resign over the firehose of lies he foisted on his constituents since he began his unlikely rise to national office.
“[Burra] has no problem working for controversial figures—and that’s kind of what makes him a prized staffer in that regard, because he’s not going to run away scared,” a Santos source told the New York Post shortly after Burra’s hire. “He doesn’t care about the supposed professional, reputational risks because this is what he does.”
Burra’s presence on Santos’ team was “only further hurting” the embattled congressman, who would be “better off alone,” the source said.
Burra has also worked for far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has faced allegations of sex trafficking (but was ultimately not charged, although one of his confidants has been convicted for his role in the alleged crime), as well as Carl Paladino, a GOP firebrand and unsuccessful congressional and New York State gubernatorial candidate who once professed his admiration for Adolf Hitler. Last year, Paladino appeared on a radio broadcast during which he said Attorney General Merrick Garland “should be executed” for authorizing an FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s home for improperly retained classified documents.
In that case, Burra was the one to push back, insisting to the Associated Press, “The comment is clear: Carl does not think Garland should be executed and when you listen to the interview, when asked what he meant, he stated he was being facetious.”
With additional reporting from Pilar Melendez.