It took Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) fewer than 40 words on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to hint at witness tampering — a possible felony.
The Florida Republican and staunch ally of President Donald Trump took an unprompted shot at Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer. “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” he wrote. “Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”
Cohen is cooperating with the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the scope of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and Cohen is expected to tell Congress this week that Trump engaged in criminal behavior related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
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…
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) February 26, 2019
Cohen is currently amid a series of hearings on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, he provided closed-door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee; he will do the same with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. On Wednesday, Cohen will appear publicly in front of the House Oversight Committee — where Democrats and Republicans will have an opportunity to question him about his knowledge of and involvement in any transgressions committed by Trump, his campaign, and his business empire.
Republicans have already begun attacking Cohen’s credibility, and Gaetz appears to be threatening to make Cohen’s personal life a central focus.
Legal scholars noted that the content of Gaetz’s tweet could constitute federal witness tampering, a felony punishable with fines and possible jail time.
According to Title 18, U.S. Code Section 1512, “Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to cause or induce any person to withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”
Reached by a Daily Beast reporter shortly after he posted the tweet, Gaetz dismissed the idea that he engaged in any kind of witness tampering at all.
“It is challenging the veracity and character of a witness. We do it everyday. We typically do it during people’s testimony,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is what it looks like to compete in the marketplace of ideas.”
His House colleagues — and Michael Cohen’s legal team — may see it differently. Gaetz’s tweet drew swift rebukes from across the political spectrum, with many calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move to expel Gaetz from the House.
Republicans last month stripped Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his committee positions after he defended white supremacy.
As of publication, neither Michael Cohen nor his attorneys have responded to Gaetz’s comments.