Rep. Matt Gaetz facing investigation over tweet about Michael Cohen

By Brian Pascus

/ CBS News

GOP rep tweets cryptic warning to Cohen

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, is facing some potentially serious fallout after he tweeted a message many perceived as threatening Michael Cohen, prior to Cohen's public testimony this afternoon before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Gaetz, an attorney, is now being investigated by the Florida Bar for a potential violation the organization's conduct rules, and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) suggested that he should be referred for possible criminal prosecution for "witness intimidation or tampering."

Tuesday at 4:12 p.m, Gaetz's official Twitter account published a tweet that read: "Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do you 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…"

The account has since deleted the tweet, and Gaetz apologized after being chastised by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

"It was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I'm deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I'm sorry," he wrote.

Speaker, I want to get the truth too. While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry. https://t.co/Rdbw3sTQJD

— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) February 27, 2019

When asked by reporters yesterday if Michael Cohen should perceive the tweet as a threat, Gaetz said, "Absolutely not. We're witness testing, not witness tampering."

Others aren't so sure about that.

In a statement to CBS News, Florida Bar spokesperson Francine Walker said, "The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation."

She explained that the Florida Bar opens an investigation "any time the words or actions of a Florida lawyer result in complaints," suggesting that complaints were registered over Gaetz's tweet.

"If rules have been violated, The Florida Bar will vigorously pursue appropriate discipline by the Florida Supreme Court," Walker said in the statement. "The Florida Bar takes its responsibility of regulating lawyer conduct very seriously," adding that it pursues discipline against lawyers "whose professional conduct is not in keeping with the rules."

According to its website, the Florida Bar is the organization of all lawyers licensed by the Supreme Court of Florida to practice law in the state, serving over 106,000 members.

Gaetz may also face further inquiries from inside Congress, where he represents Florida's 1st congressional district. During Wednesday's hearing with Michael Cohen before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, a non-voting delegate who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands, made a point to discuss Gaetz's conduct when she received her chance to speak.

Congresswoman calls for ethics prosecution for Matt Gaetz

Addressing Cohen directly, Plaskett said, "I want to apologize for the inappropriate comments and tweets that have been made by other members of this body, and as a former prosecutor, and as a former counsel on House ethics, I think at the very least there should be referral to the Ethics Committee of witness intimidation or tampering under U.S.C. 15.12 of my colleague Matt Gaetz, and it may be possible of him being referred for criminal prosecution."

Michael McQuerry, Plaskett's director of communications, confirmed the congresswoman's intentions.

"She's serious about that," McQuerry told CBS News in a phone interview. "As a former prosecutor she thinks it was reprehensible and illegal, what he did."

Gaetz's offices in Washington, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola were all unavailable for comment.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Gaetz wrote: "I think it's entirely appropriate for any member of this body to challenge the truthfulness, veracity, and character for people who have a history and future full of lies. That's the story of Michael Cohen."

First published on February 27, 2019 / 5:25 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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