By: CBS News
February 26, 2019
Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch White House ally, issued a cryptic warning to President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, who is expected to accuse the president of racism and criminal activity at a high-profile hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
"Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat," Gaetz tweeted late Tuesday afternoon. "I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot...."
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
The Twitter post by the conservative firebrand from Florida was sharply criticized by Democrats, including New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, who accused Gaetz of attempting to intimidate a congressional witness and called on the House Ethics Committee to launch a investigation.
"One of my colleagues, a duly elected member of Congress, has taken to twitter to intimidate a witness. This is grossly unethical and probably illegal (18 USC § 1512(b))," Pascrell tweeted Tuesday evening. "House Ethics must investigate this disgrace and stain on our institution."
One of my colleagues, a duly elected member of Congress, has taken to twitter to intimidate a witness. This is grossly unethical and probably illegal (18 USC § 1512(b)).— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) February 26, 2019
House Ethics must investigate this disgrace and stain on our institution. https://t.co/MLEsqkarfC
The statute Pascrell cited 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—(1) 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."
Cohen will be testifying before lawmakers during an open House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday morning. Gaetz does not sit on this committee.
Although she did not name Gaetz, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned members of Congress that they should be cautious about making comments on social media or to the press corps because they could "adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties."
"Congress has an independent duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch, and any efforts to intimidate family members or pressure witnesses will not be tolerated," Pelosi said in a statement.
Asked by reporters outside his Capitol Hill office if his ominous tweet could be considered a threat against Cohen, Gaetz replied, "Absolutely not. We are witness testing, not witness tampering, and when witnesses come before Congress, their truthfulness and veracity are in question and we have the opportunity to test them."
In a statement to CBS News, Lanny Davis, one of Cohen's attorneys, said he expects lawmakers to "repudiate" Gaetz's statement.
"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. "I also trust that his constituents will not appreciate that their congressman has set a new low — which in today's political culture is hard to imagine as possible."