By Reis Thebault, Meagan Flynn and Rachael Bade | Washington Post
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 Donald 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-Calif., 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.”
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.
Cohen, scheduled to testify Wednesday morning before the House Oversight Committee, and is expected to say that Trump is “a racist,” “a con man” and “a cheat” who had advance knowledge of the WikiLeaks plot to publish stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans are expected to question Cohen’s credibility. Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison after being convicted of financial crimes and lying to Congress, in what U.S. District Judge William Pauley described as a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct.”