The House Ethics Committee on Friday admonished Rep. Matt Gaetz for a threatening tweet last year directed at Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer.
Gaetz suggested it was a good idea for Cohen to talk to his wife and father-in-law about “your girlfriends” a day before Cohen was to testify before the House Oversight Committee about his former boss. At that hearing, Cohen referred to Trump as a “racist” and “con man” and said he came forward because he was concerned Trump would not accept the result of the 2020 election.
Gaetz, a Florida Republican and ardent supporter of Trump, initially refused to sit for an interview with the Ethics Committee, which resulted in the panel establishing an investigative subcommittee. Gaetz eventually testified and told the committee he was “not comfortable with the language” he used, that he acted “improperly regarding [his] own standards” and was “sorry.”
The Ethics panel found Gaetz’s tweet “did not violate witness tampering and obstruction of Congress laws, but Representative Gaetz’s actions did not reflect creditably upon the House of Representatives.”
Admonishment is essentially a public warning. It is also one of the lesser forms of discipline the committee can dole out. Harsher punishments such as recommending censure or even expulsion, which require votes by the full House, are much less common.
“The Ethics Committee has given me an admonishment,” Gaetz said in an email to CQ Roll Call that referred to his renomination in Tuesday’s primary. “My fellow Northwest Florida Republicans gave me 81% of the vote on Tuesday. I accept both with humility.”
The inquiry originated from a member complaint submitted in March 2019 by Rep. Kathleen Rice, a New York Democrat.
On Feb. 26, 2019, Gaetz wrote the controversial tweet directed at Cohen. Cohen went to federal prison following a conviction for lying to Congress, among other legal transgressions.
“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 wrote.
Gaetz later deleted the tweet and apologized for the language.
The committee noted it “is not the social media police,” and that not every mistake on social media calls for disciplinary action. Further, the committee cautioned members to use sound judgment on social media.