Rep. Matt Gaetz under investigation by Florida Bar after tweet about Michael Cohen
The Florida Bar is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is licensed to practice law in the state, for his incendiary tweet accusing Michael Cohen of infidelity.
On Tuesday, he tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”
Hours after he posted the message, Gaetz apologized and deleted it, insisting that he did not intend to threaten President Trump’s former lawyer on the eve of his highly anticipated testimony before Congress.
“The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation,” spokeswoman Francine Andia Walker said in a statement to the Washington Post.
After the investigation, the bar will decide whether to file charges against Gaetz with the Florida Supreme Court, Walker said. “If rules have been violated, the Florida Bar will vigorously pursue appropriate discipline,” she said, declining to comment further.
In an email to the Post, a spokeswoman for Gaetz downplayed the regulatory agency’s investigation.
“It seems that the Florida Bar, by its rules, is required to investigate even the most frivolous of complaints,” said Jillian Lane Wyant, Gaetz’s chief of staff.
In the tweet in question, Gaetz suggested without evidence that Cohen, who is married, had “girlfriends,” prompting some legal observers and Democrats to accuse the Florida Republican of engaging in witness tampering. About seven hours later, he issued a mea culpa in a tweet addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who had earlier issued a statement obliquely admonishing the congressman.
“While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did,” he wrote just before midnight. “I’m deleting the tweet & should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.”
The apology may not appease Democrats, who are demanding action against Gaetz. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), sent an official request to the chairman and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday, asking them to open an investigation into Gaetz. Rice suggested that his tweet may violate a federal statute against witness tampering and intimidation.
“After the House Committee on Ethics thoroughly investigates this matter, I urge you to make any and all appropriate referrals to DOJ,” Rice writes in the letter.
Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally who frequents the Fox News circuit to defend the president, has a history of making inflammatory remarks and pushing conspiracy theories, such as claims that Democrats in Florida tried to steal the November midterms with illegal ballots. In 2018, he invited a right-wing internet troll as his guest to the State of the Union address and appeared on a radio show hosted by Alex Jones of Infowars.
When the Post reached Gaetz by phone after he sent the tweet, he made no apologies, maintaining that his message wasn’t meant to intimidate Cohen, but rather to question his truthfulness.
“Challenging the credibility and veracity of a witness is something that happens every day in America,” he said, “and we need more of that in Congress when people intend to come and lie to us.”
Michael Cohen, who worked as President Trump’s personal lawyer and New York fixer for more than a decade, suggested that Trump had skirted or violated federal banking, tax and campaign finance laws.
Democrats have charged that Trump, his subordinates and Republicans have been trying to silence Cohen as he has turned on his former boss. On Tuesday, Gaetz took to the House floor to question if Cohen even “lies to his own family,” saying his “web of lies are not to be believed.”
But Gaetz’s tweet drew swift rebuke from Democrats and legal observers, who argued he crossed a line.
“This isn’t a scene from ‘Godfather II,’” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), tweeted at Gaetz. “Witness intimidation is not going to work.”
“Hey @mattgaetz: Do you know about 18 U.S.C. 1512(b), which prohibits tampering with witnesses to official proceedings?” Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote on Twitter, mimicking Gaetz’s tweet to Cohen.
“Hey @mattgaetz,” began Ryan Goodman, former special counsel to the Defense Department and now a New York University law professor. “Does your personal attorney know you’ve just engaged, very clearly, in the crime of witness tampering? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”
Pelosi did not directly condemn Gaetz’s tweet. But in a statement issued around 6 p.m. on Twitter to all House members, she said: “I encourage all Members to be mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties.”
She urged that the House Ethics Committee “should vigilantly monitor these types of statements,” which she said may not be constitutionally protected speech.
Gaetz apologized and deleted his tweet about six hours later.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, is sworn in to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington.(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
makes closing remarks after testimony from Michael Cohen.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former attorney to President Donald J. Trump, becomes emotional while listening to the closing remarks of House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings(Michael Reynolds / EPA / Shutterstock)
At one point, Republican critics hung a banner in the hearing room that read, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
An image of a check signed by President Trump, that was allegedly used for hush money, is displayed on a screen as Michael Cohen makes his opening statement before the House Oversight Committee.(JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX / JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX)
A quote about Michael Cohen, attributed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is put on display during testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC.(Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) questions Michael Cohen as he testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Jim Lo Scalzo/ EPA / Shutterstock)
Michael Cohen arrives to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill.(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
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