A Republican Congressman Just Threatened Michael Cohen on Twitter. Did He Break the Law?

The tweet by Rep. Matt Gaetz has raised questions about potential witness tampering.

Tom Williams/AP

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Did a Republican member of Congress just commit a felony crime?

On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Michael Cohen’s public appearance before the House oversight committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted out this threatening message: “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…”

https://twitter.com/mattgaetz/status/1100503846386835456

Commenters on Twitter immediately raised the question of whether Gaetz had engaged in witness tampering, which is a federal crime. Within minutes, Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted out the part of the federal criminal code that could apply:

https://twitter.com/waltshaub/status/1100508004665962496

It notes, “Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to…influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

The code’s definition of an “official proceeding” includes congressional proceedings. 

Gaetz has been one of the most vocal Trump backers in the House, scheming with other Republican legislators to undermine the Trump-Russia investigation by promoting false conspiracy theories about the deep state. But this move goes beyond the deployment of diversionary distraction. It’s a heavy-handed and brazen attempt to intimidate a witness poised to provide explosive testimony about President Donald Trump. And it’s possible it’s a crime—which makes it a very Trumpy way of dealing with the president’s Cohen problem.

Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but the Florida Republican denied to a Vox reporter that he was tampering with a congressional witness. “I’m witness testing,” Gaetz said. “We still are allowed to test the veracity and character of witnesses, I think.”

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in a statement, “We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct. I also trust that his constituents will not appreciate that their congressman has set a new low—which in today’s political culture is hard to imagine as possible.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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