Congress

Rep. Matt Gaetz to be investigated by House Ethics for tweet apparently threatening Cohen

Move comes after Florida Republican chose not to submit to an interview

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., refused to appear for an interview with the House Ethics Committee, which triggered the establishment of an investigative subcommittee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Matt Gaetz faces an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee for a tweet that appeared to threaten President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen with blackmail.

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it would establish an investigative subcommittee to review whether the Florida Republican, a staunch ally of the president, sought to intimidate Cohen before he testified before the House Oversight and Reform panel. The Ethics Committee had sought an interview with Gaetz, but he declined, triggering the investigation.

[Rep. Matt Gaetz will press charges in ‘milkshaking’ incident]

“If members of Congress want to spend their time psychoanalyzing my tweets, it’s certainly their prerogative,” Gaetz said in an emailed statement. “I won’t be joining them in the endeavor.”

Maryland Democrat Anthony G. Brown will serve as the chairman of the investigative subcommittee, while Mississippi RepublicanMichael Guest will be the ranking member. The panel will have the power to issue subpoenas in its pursuit of information, documents and interviews. 

Once the subcommittee completes its investigation, it could do one of two things. It could adopt a statement of alleged violation that could result in a public hearing and ultimately lead to a full House vote on the matter. This is rare — the last adjudicatory hearing was in 2010 and involved former New York Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who was eventually censured by the House.

[Matt Gaetz under investigation by Florida Bar over Cohen tweet]

The second option is for the subcommittee to issue a report to the Ethics panel with findings and recommendations. The full panel could then dismiss the charges or issue a committee-level sanction, known as a letter of reproval.

The House Ethics Committee did not offer a comment.

Gaetz sent the alleged threat in question less than 24 hours before Cohen was due to testify about his former boss before the Oversight Committee in February.

“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...” the Florida Republican tweeted.

Gaetz later deleted the tweet and apologized.

The Ethics Committee said it asked Gaetz to submit for an interview in May, warning him that if he failed to testify, the panel would establish an investigative subcommittee.

[Gaetz apologizes after appearing to threaten Cohen]

Gaetz refused to appear. 

The establishment of an investigative subcommittee is the first step in any probe by the House Ethics panel.

Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.

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