In 2020, Santos ran his first campaign and lost - but still went to DC for new member orientation.
Before he was caught in a web of lies two years later, he made a splash as an almost-member.
Asked about the experience this week by Insider, he flatly declared: "I was invited."
It was November 26, 2020, and George Santos was apparently feeling nostalgic.
"I miss this crew!" wrote Santos in an Instagram post that showed him beside Republican Reps. Beth Van Duyne of Texas, Kat Cammack of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Pat Fallon of Texas, Andrew Clyde of Georgia and Byron Donalds of Florida. "Can't wait to get ready to join them again in 2022, and STAY with them!"
Before Santos became known for his seemingly-infinite stream of lies, the myriad investigations he faces, his past as a drag queen in Brazil, or the headaches he's causing his House Republican colleagues, the embattled congressman played the role of almost-member of Congress in 2020.
Following his first campaign for Congress, Santos traveled all the way down to Washington, DC in November 2020 to attend new member orientation - a series of training sessions and tours held immediately after each election to give victorious House candidates a crash course on the job they've just won.
Back home, election returns still showed Santos leading Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York, though a trove of tens of thousands of mail-in ballots that were widely expected to favor Suozzi had yet to be counted.
"We all knew that Tom was going to win that race," said former Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York, who also attended the orientation, on a recent podcast episode. Jones also said Santos "asked the most questions" of any of the members-elect present. "We're all like, dude, you're not even gonna be part of this Congress."
The orientation took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and spanned November 12 to November 21. Santos would ultimately leave before the end of the session, conceding his race to Suozzi on the 17th.
Nonetheless, according to a series of posts on the Long Island congressman's Instagram from that night in late November, his brief time in Washington for orientation was a blast.
He was in the White House with Rep. Burgess Owens when he got to experience the "awesomeness" of the Utah Republican's race getting called. He took a tour of the "absolutely stunning" Washington Monument. But the "highlight" of his time in DC, according to Santos himself, was listening to a phone call from then-President Donald Trump while dining in Statuary Hall with other new Republican members.
But it all came crashing down at the Lincoln Memorial, where he says he got a call notifying him that he'd been "ambushed" by mail-in ballots. "I didn't become upset because I channeled Abe's energy," he wrote, already vowing to run again in 2022.
He eventually came back to Washington just before January 6, 2021, claiming in a since-unearthed video the day before the Capitol riot that his election had been stolen from him.
"Who here is ready to overturn the election for Donald J. Trump?" he asked a crowd. Santos has said that he saw Trump's speech at the Ellipse on the day of the riot, but that he never entered the Capitol.
'He seemed nice'
In cases where a congressional election takes more than a few days to fully determine, both candidates are sometimes invited to take part in new member orientation.
Adam Frisch, a Democrat who almost unseated Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert this past year, attended the orientation sessions in November as the vote-counting in Colorado dragged on. In 2018, current Republican Rep. Young Kim of California attended as well, despite ultimately losing her race that year.
"I was invited," Santos flatly stated in a brief interview at the Capitol this past week, declining to get into details about his time in Washington in 2020.
"Ask Young Kim about it, she had the same experience," he added. "Ask somebody with a little bit more relevant of an opinion on it."
Today, Santos seems to be having trouble managing his own office, faces a lack of cooperation from local Republican officials with even the basics of constituent work, and has chosen to renounce his committee assignments due to the "media fanfare" surrounding his lies.
But back then, other lawmakers described a man who was friendly, if a bit quirky.
"He seemed nice, and pleasant, and likable," said Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, one of a handful of Republicans who's called for Santos to resign. "I texted him a couple times over the last few years, but nothing of consequence. I didn't donate to him - thank God!"
"He was a very jovial, very outgoing guy, just like he is now," said another House Republican elected in 2020 who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about her colleague. "The Bible says that we're all sinners, and I believe that people make mistakes. I'm not one to judge anybody. I leave that up to God Almighty."
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also struck up a friendship with Santos, sending him a package that included a cookie made to look like the far-right congresswoman.
"Miss you George!" Greene replied to a photo of the cookies that Santos posted on Twitter.
Two gay members of Congress who attended the orientation - Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, both of New York - have recounted "odd" interactions they had with Santos, the first non-incumbent openly-gay Republican ever elected to Congress.
"At some point, he approached me to tell me that he is a gay Republican," said Jones on a recent podcast appearance. "Which I imagine is something that he did because he knows that I'm gay."
But Santos, despite his apparently boisterous personality, apparently left less of an impression with other Democrats.
Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, who was photographed sitting near Santos during one session held in the Capitol Visitor Center, said she had no recollection of meeting or seeing the man.
"Everyone was wearing masks," said Jacobs. "There were so many people, and we didn't know anybody yet."
And Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, also elected in 2020, said he didn't recall meeting Santos but was amused to learn that he was there.
"This Congress is a fascinating place, man," said Bowman. "You want to work in an exciting, fast-paced industry, with unlimited storylines and twists and turns? I mean, this is the place."