Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a prominent supporter of President Trump, appeared to threaten former Trump attorney Michael Cohen on Twitter late Tuesday afternoon — one day before Cohen testifies before the House Oversight Committee about Trump’s business deals and hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump during the 2016 campaign.
Gaetz, who has represented Florida’s First Congressional District since 2017, tweeted, “Hey Michael Cohen - 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...”
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
Gaetz has a long history of controversial statements and actions, including inviting internet troll and occasional Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson to the State of the Union and becoming a leading voice in the brief movement to release a memo written by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) that many on the right believed would damage Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign. Gaetz even appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s show to discuss the memo.
In text messages with my colleague Alex Ward, Gaetz reiterated the sentiments from his tweet, promising “fireworks” at Wednesday’s hearing. (Gaetz is not a member of the House Oversight Committee, so he won’t be among the members questioning Cohen.)
My short text convo with @mattgaetz just now:— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) February 26, 2019
Me: Congressman, Any chance you have a few minutes to discuss what you implied with your tweet to Michael Cohen? Perhaps a preview?
Gaetz: Watch tomorrow.
Me: Will do -- anything I should be prepared for?
Gaetz: Fireworks https://t.co/g1bwYcjvrg
According to Ken White, an attorney at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles, a former federal prosecutor and a frequent commenter on the Mueller investigation (he goes by Popehat on Twitter), Gaetz’s tweet was “colorably witness intimidation” — which is illegal.
White directed me to 18 US Code § 1512, “Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,” which includes efforts to “influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding” as forms of witness tampering. And on Twitter, White shared 18 USC § 1505, which argues:
Generally, a defendant may be found guilty under section 1505 if the government establishes that: (1) there was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States; (2) the defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending; and (3) the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.
Gaetz, meanwhile, claims he wasn’t tampering with a witness but merely “witness testing.”
UPDATE:— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) February 26, 2019
Me: Any response to those who say you’re witness tampering? @mattgaetz: I’m witness testing. We still are allowed to test the veracity and character of witnesses, I think.
Me: So you disagree with those who say you’re witness tampering?
Gaetz: Yes. https://t.co/aBRZAF314A
(He told the Daily Beast that his tweet was an example of competing in the “marketplace of ideas.”)
White told me that while “witness testing” does exist, it generally involves cross-examining witnesses under oath, “not ‘let’s see if he still shows up if I threaten him.’”
Cohen is expected to appear before Congress at 10 am on Wednesday.