The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has launched an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who posted an incendiary tweet on the eve of a high-profile congressional hearing featuring President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.
In the late February tweet in question, Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally, suggested without evidence that Cohen, who is married, had “girlfriends,” prompting some legal observers and Democrats to accuse the Florida Republican of engaging in witness tampering.
In a joint statement, the Democratic chairman and top Republican on the Ethics Committee said it had received a complaint that Gaetz “sought to threaten, intimidate, harass, or otherwise improperly influence” Cohen ahead of his testimony.
The statement said Gaetz declined to be interviewed about the matter by the committee. As a result, in keeping with committee rules, an investigative subcommittee was established to review the allegations against Gaetz, the statement said.
A spokesman for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the tweet in question, Gaetz wrote: “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.”
Hours after he posted the tweet, Gaetz apologized and deleted it, insisting that he did not intend to threaten Cohen ahead of his highly anticipated testimony before Congress.
Gaetz later said he had personally apologized to Cohen as well, and he issued a plea to his Twitter followers to “leave the Cohen family alone.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan tried to walk an impossibly narrow tightrope
.. The memo was merely about the oversight of a very few potentially bad actors in the FBI and Justice Department, the Wisconsin Republican assured reporters Thursday, before its release. “It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.”
.. Less than 24 hours later, the memo was out, and many rank-and-file Republicans disregarded Ryan’s narrow approach. Instead, they directly assailed the reputations of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III along with the overall direction of the federal investigative agencies.
.. “My heart sank,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a statement alleging a sweeping conspiracy against President Trump. “Not only did it lay bare a systemic pattern of abuse within the FBI and the DOJ, it confirmed my worst fear: America’s free and fair elections were being threatened from within.”
.. A super PAC with ties to the president launched online advertising calling for Rosenstein’s ouster. One Republican suggested that the deputy attorney general should be prosecuted as a traitor.
.. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, declined to say whether Rosenstein should be fired and instead accused top FBI and Justice officials of sweeping violations of the law
.. “That’s the type of stuff that happens in banana republics,” Nunes said.
.. To hear Meadows and Jordan, that decision undermined every aspect of the FBI investigation into Trump’s ties to Moscow. “When you look at the facts, everything revolves around a single source. A single source that continued to put it out with multiple people to appear that there were multiple sources,” Meadows told Todd.
.. “This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice,” Ryan said.
.. Ryan’s much more narrow approach to the memo stands at odds with how it is viewed by many Republicans. They very much see the memo as a bid to undermine Rosenstein — who signed off on later warrant requests after Trump appointed him last year — and, by extension, to undermine Mueller.
.. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) took an entirely different approach, suggesting the existence of a vast conspiracy because the FBI was trying to thwart the release of the Nunes memo.
“The FBI is right to have ‘grave concerns’ — as it will shake the organization down to its core — showing Americans just how the agency was weaponized by the Obama officials/DNC/HRC to target political adversaries,” Duncan said in a tweet.