Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) "very clearly" committed witness tampering.
That appeared to be the consensus view of legal experts and scholars on social media late Tuesday after the Florida Republican fired off a tweet accusing President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen of infidelity just hours before the latter was set to testify against his former boss in a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.
"Hey @MichaelCohen212—do your wife and father-in-law know about your girlfriends?" asked Gaetz, a fervent Trump loyalist.
While Gaetz later apologized for and deleted the offending tweet—insisting that it was "not [his] intent to threaten" Cohen—legal analysts were quick to describe the congressman's question as a cut-and-dry case of witness tampering and intimidation.
"If any of my clients did anything remotely close to what Gaetz did, prosecutors would charge witness tampering and obstruction. Haul them before a judge. Ask for detention on Rikers," declared Scott Hechinger, senior staff attorney and director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services. "But if you're a congressman, you get to question the witness you intimidated the next day."
As Slate's Matthew Dessem put it, "every law professor with a Twitter account" seemed to agree with Hechinger's sentiment.
"Does your personal attorney know you've just engaged, very clearly, in the crime of witness tampering? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat," New York University law professor Ryan Goodman wrote in response to Gaetz's tweet.
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— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 26, 2019
Shortly after Gaetz's initial tweet, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) officially requested that the House Committee on Ethics launch an investigation into the Florida congressman's behavior.
"After the House Committee on Ethics thoroughly investigates this matter, I urge you to make any and all appropriate referrals to [the Department of Justice]," Rice wrote in a letter to House Ethics Committee chairman Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) echoed Rice's call for a probe, describing Gaetz's tweet as "grossly unethical and probably illegal."
One of my colleagues, a duly elected member of Congress, has taken to twitter to intimidate a witness. This is grossly unethical and probably illegal (18 USC § 1512(b)).
House Ethics must investigate this disgrace and stain on our institution. https://t.co/MLEsqkarfC
— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) February 26, 2019
Gaetz's accusation against Cohen came on the eve of the former Trump fixer's testimony before Congress Wednesday morning, in which he will call the president a "conman" and accuse him of criminal activity.
"He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat," Cohen will say, according to a copy of his testimony (pdf). "He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails."