Was GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz’s Tweet to Michael Cohen Witness Intimidation?

February 27, 2019, 12:31 AM UTC

As Michael Cohen apologized to a Senate panel Tuesday for having previously given false testimony, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Congressman serving Florida’s first district and a stalwart ally of President Trump, took to Twitter with a tweet that some ethics experts considered a threat to Cohen.

“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…,” Gaetz’s tweet said.

Cohen made a long-delayed return to Capitol Hill Tuesday to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, apologizing for false testimony he gave the panel during a 2017 appearance, CNN reported. Cohen’s latest testimony, conducted behind closed doors, is the first of three planned appearances before congressional committees this week.

In a reply to Gaetz’s tweet, Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, invoked the federal witness tampering statute and quoted a 2017 Congressional interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.

“Conversely, actions that have not been viewed as ‘integral’ to the legislative process and, therefore, have not been interpreted to be protected legislative acts include: speaking outside of Congress; writing newsletters and issuing press releases…,” Shaub wrote, quoting from the document.

The statute Shaub referenced reads in part, “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…influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding… shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

Rep. Gaetz didn’t immediately respond to an email from Fortune seeking further comment about his tweet. Alex Ward, a reporter for Vox, said on Twitter he asked Gaetz about claims his tweet was a form of witness tampering. “I’m witness testing,” Gaetz answered. “We still are allowed to test the veracity and character of witnesses, I think.” Gaetz also advised Ward to “watch tomorrow” for “fireworks.”

Gaetz’s tweet about Michael Cohen comes a month after a series of tweets and comments that Trump made about Stone’s family, particularly his father in law. Trump attorney Rudy Giuilani said at the time that Trump’s comments were simply “defending” himself against Cohen’s planned testimony.