Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is under investigation by the Florida Bar Association following Gaetz’s recent tweet aimed at former Donald Trump associate Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast reports. The investigation aims to determine if Gaetz violated rules of professional conduct when he tweeted what has been widely accepted as a threatening message to Cohen on the eve of Cohen’s congressional testimony, which continued today.
“Hey @MichaelCohen212,” Gaetz wrote in his tweet, which has now been deleted, addressing Cohen by his Twitter handle. “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…”
Following an immediate and intense public backlash against the statement, which was generally characterized as a textbook example of witness intimidation, Gaetz initially defended the statement, indicating that his words represented “what it looks like to compete in the marketplace of ideas,” a common expression which virtually no one would use to describe publicly musing about the marital indiscretions of a political figure.
Gaetz would later walk the statement back, firmly indicating that it wasn’t intent to threaten or intimidate. Regardless, the tweet elicited a public response from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who reminded members of the House via Twitter about the importance of minding their public statements broadcast on social media.
Gaetz replied to Pelosi’s sentiments, likewise on Twitter, indicating “it is important 2 create context” around testimony like Cohen’s and that it was “NOT” his intent to threaten. He ended his tweet with contrition, stating simply, “I’m sorry.”
Speaker, I want to get the truth too. 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. I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry. https://t.co/Rdbw3sTQJD— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) February 27, 2019
A number of legal experts and lawyers have since weighed in on the implications of Gaetz’s words, discussing whether there could be consequences with respect to his role as congressman or as a lawyer. Stephen Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Daily Beast that the last line of the tweet was of particular concern, which said Cohen’s wife is “about to learn a lot.”
“What is the test implied in that statement, as opposed to the insinuation that as a result of his testimony, his wife is going to come into negative information about him?” Vladeck wonders.
As far as Gaetz’s status as a lawyer in the state of Florida goes, the state bar’s rules of conduct indicate that lawyers “should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs.”
Bar officials have indicated that they are aware of Gaetz’s statements and the controversy surrounding them, but have not yet announced any formal action as a result.