Republican congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida questioned the credibility of President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, ahead of Cohen’s congressional testimony. However, Gaetz denied threatening Cohen in a tweet on Tuesday. (Feb. 27)
WASHINGTON – The Florida Bar opened an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz after the Republican posted what was viewed as a threat to President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, just before providing public testimony to Congress.
Gaetz, a fierce defender of Trump from Florida, posted an apology on Twitter hours after his viral tweet alleged Cohen had cheated on his wife. The tweet sparked calls for an ethics investigation and concerns that he was attempting to intimidate a witness.
The Florida Bar said in a statement that an investigation was opened after at least one complaint was made about Gaetz, who is a member of the organization.
“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,” said Francine Andía Walker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Bar.
She added, “Any time the words or actions of a Florida lawyer result in complaints, The Florida Bar will fully investigate those complaints through its established grievance process to determine if Bar rules have been violated.”
Gaetz, in a text message to USA TODAY, said he did not believe the investigation would lead anywhere, saying “it seems that the Florida Bar, by its ruls, is required to investigate even the most frivilous of complaints.”
Earlier, he had apologized for tweeting that Cohen’s wife was “about to learn a lot” and alleged he’d been unfaithful in his marriage.
” Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz wrote in the since-deleted tweet. “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…”
Gaetz did not elaborate on his allegations that Cohen had an affair, which hasn’t been previously reported, or where he obtained this information, only saying that reporters should tune in during Wednesday’s hearing.
He said he deleted the tweet and denied he was aiming to threaten Cohen.
“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,” Gaetz wrote early Wednesday on Twitter. “I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.”
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The apology followed criticism that Gaetz’s tweet could be seen as intimidating a witness. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that members’ comments “on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of the House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties.”
Cohen is appearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a bombshell hearing where Cohen described his former boss as “a conman” and “racist.”
While Gaetz is not a member of the Oversight committee, he was in the room at the start of the hearing. He stood stone-faced along the wall on the Republican side of the room as Cohen described his 24-year marriage, his wife and two children.
Gaetz told reporters as he entered the room that he sought to ask questions, a practice sometimes allowed for non-members if the committee consents.
Cohen, in his opening statement to Congress, asserted that Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks planned to release stolen emails damaging to political rival Hillary Clinton; that he personally reimbursed Cohen for an illegal hush-money payment to a porn star; and that the president indirectly encouraged him to lie to Congress about his pursuit of a potentially lucrative Trump Tower development in Moscow, even as Trump repeatedly denied any business interests in Russia throughout the 2016 campaign.
Cohen pleaded guilty and agreed to provide evidence to prosecutors in two separate criminal investigations involving Trump and those around him. He admitted to illegally paying hush money to two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump and lying to Congress about the extent of negotiations for a Trump real estate project in Russia.
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said the post “set a new low” for the congressman, adding they would not respond to his lies and “personal smears.”
“We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct,” Davis said in a statement.
Contributing: Bart Jansen and Eliza Collins
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