Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Further investigation into Matt Gaetz is needed for tweet at Michael Cohen, Florida Bar determines.

The Panhandle Republican faces discipline for a message he posted the day before Trump’s former lawyer testified to Congress.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., voices an objection to a resolution by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to subpoena special counsel Robert Mueller's full report, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Published May 8
Updated May 8

An investigation into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz will proceed, the Florida Bar said Wednesday, meaning the Panhandle Republican could face discipline for allegedly intimidating President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

A grand jury-like panel called the Grievance Committee will next decide whether there is probable cause that Gaetz’s tweet broke the state Supreme Court’s rules for lawyers. Gaetz, one of Trump’s top allies in Congress, is licensed to practice law in Florida.

If the Florida Bar had determined in its initial review that discipline was not warranted, then the case would have stopped. But it has not, meaning the Bar has decided that further investigation is needed.

In moving the case against Gaetz to this step, the Florida Bar is also signaling that its initial review determined that the allegations against Gaetz would, if proven true, be a violation of the rules.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Matt Gaetz under investigation by the Florida Bar for Tweet at Michael Cohen

Did Matt Gaetz just threaten Michael Cohen right before he testifies to Congress?

Matt Gaetz apologizes and deletes tweet about Michael Cohen

No further information is available, said Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker.

Gaetz initially shrugged off the investigation in February, insisting the bar association must investigate all complaints. Now that the case has advanced beyond the initial inquiry, Gaetz "remains confident that the Florida Bar will not impair his vigorous and successful representation of his district,” spokeswoman Jillian Lane Wyant said in a statement.

The complaint against Gaetz stems from a menacing tweet he sent on Feb. 27, the eve of Cohen’s testimony before a House committee.

Gaetz wrote: “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...”

He has since deleted the tweet, but not before it went viral. Legal experts compared it to intimidation of a witness. Walter Schaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics replied to Gaetz’s tweet with the federal statute number for tampering with a witness. Sen. Rick Scott, a fellow Florida Republican, called the tweet, “disgusting.”

Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, later said he “should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.” However, he maintained that he was not attempting to threaten Cohen, who was scheduled to testify before Congress the next day.

MORE ON GAETZ: In deep red Florida Panhandle, DeSantis and Gaetz campaign on Trump

Gaetz called Jared Kushner to help Ron DeSantis fill his staff

Matt Gaetz’s talk of mug shot raises questions about DUI arrest

During Cohen’s testimony, Gaetz was spotted in the hearing room staring down the witness and whispering to Republicans even though he wasn’t a member of the committee meeting that day.

The grievance committee will assign the case to an investigator who will interview witnesses and review evidence. The investigator will then make a recommendation to the committee. It could take up to 6 months.

If the committee finds probable cause, a formal complaint will be filed with the Supreme Court of Florida for a trial.

Most cases are settled before reaching the trial phase.

Gaetz personally apologized to Cohen in a text message, according to Vanity Fair. Cohen responded that the tweet made a “bad situation worse” for his wife and kids, but added: “I hope that the tweet does not cause you any harm. If it does, and there is anything I can do to help you correct it, please feel free to reach out and I would be happy to assist.”

It’s unclear if Cohen has spoken with the Florida Bar. Trump’s former confidant and fixer reported for prison this week for a three-year sentence. Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to hush money payments he made or orchestrated on behalf of Trump.

Cohen warned Congressional Republicans not to pledge allegiance to Trump like he did.

“I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” Cohen said. “The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”

MORE FROM THE TIMES POLITICS TEAM:

Florida passes ban on ‘sanctuary cities’

Here’s how Florida Republican lawmakers got their way in 2019

Who are the six Republican Florida lawmakers who voted against the bill allowing teachers to be armed?

Gaetz has been one of Trump’s most willing defenders, a posture he continued during a busy Wednesday for the Republican.

He spent the morning in Washington, D.C., where the House Judiciary Committee was deciding whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not delivering to Congress an unredacted version of the Mueller report.

During his five minute turn at the microphone, Gaetz continued his effusive defense of Trump and mocked the hearing as “all about impeaching the president.”

“I bet a bunch of my friends on the other side of the aisle low key wish that their actual bills that would impact the lives of Americans would get heard, instead of this garbage,” Gaetz said.

The committee voted 24-16 along party lines to hold Barr in contempt.

In the evening, Gaetz is expected to join Trump at a political rally in Panama City Beach.

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Ok losers, who needs access to our state politicians, anyway?
  2. Fox News host Tucker Carlson (left) and former national security adviser John Bolton Associated Press
    Carlson said Bolton was “one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration.”
  3. Wreckage left behind by Hurricane Michael. News Service of Florida
    Entire school systems are still recovering from long-standing damage and dealing with the disruptive aftermath of the storm.
  4. An aerial view of the AmericanAirlines Arena, of the Miami Heat. American is set to leave as the named sponsor by the end of 2019. DRONEBASE VIA AP
    BangBros, best known for filming sex scenes in vans, announced it had submitted a $10 million bid to replace American Airlines as title sponsor of the county-owned arena.
  5. From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    This time, the Democratic debate showed clear policy differences. But which ones were factual?
  6. An architect's rendering shows part of a planned research center and hospital on N McKinley Drive in Tampa for the Moffitt Cancer Center. During the 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, the center will seek an increased share of Florida's cigarette tax to finance the McKinley Drive project and other improvements. Moffitt officials said Thursday that the increase initially would finance $205 million, to be paired with $332 million they have already allocated for the project. Moffitt Cancer Center
    Florida lawmakers are the key to unlocking the money, which would pay for more hospital beds and research space.
  7. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities [Special to the Times]
    Potential changes could affect virtually every client that receives services through the state’s disabilities program, to save tens of millions from the agency’s bottom line.
  8. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck have been serving on Florida’s highest court since January.
  9. From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro are introduced Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    It’s the the third time the Democratic presidential candidates met to debate, and the first time that all three front runners, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, shared the same stage.
  10. Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson wants the city's Community Redevelopment Areas to have an executive director that answers to council members, not Mayor Jane Castor. JONES, OCTAVIO   |  Tampa Bay Times
    Council members voted Thursday to advance a plan to hire an executive director to manage the city’s Community Redevelopment Areas, removing that position from Mayor Jane Castor’s control.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement