JUST ASKING QUESTIONS
Trump Ally Rep. Matt Gaetz Insists He’s Not Threatening Michael Cohen, Just ‘Witness Testing’
Gaetz told The Daily Beast that he was simply ‘challenging the veracity and character of a witness,’ and not trying to intimidate a witness.
One day before Michael Cohen appears before the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a conservative firebrand from Florida and a White House ally, accused President Trump’s former lawyer of straying from his marriage and suggested that his wife would leave him once he goes to prison.
“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’s tweet, which appeared to be based on nothing of inherent knowledge, gave off the veneer of a thinly-veiled threat to Cohen in the hours before he is set to discuss his time working as Trump’s right-hand man and his involvement in hush-money payments to alleged mistresses.
But in a phone interview shortly after he posted the item, the Florida Republican insisted that he was not engaging in witness intimidation at all.
“No,” he stressed, “it is challenging the veracity and character of a witness. We do it everyday. We typically do it during people’s testimony.”
“This is what it looks like to compete in the marketplace of ideas,” he added.
Gaetz reiterated that claim later while speaking on the House floor—and doubled down on his description of Cohen as a liar.
“I guess tomorrow we will find out if there's anyone that Michael Cohen hasn't lied to. We already knew he lied to Congress. We already knew he lied to law enforcement, lied to the IRS, lied to three banks, and he's going to prison for his lies!” he exclaimed. “And so I guess it will be relevant for us to determine like, does he lie to his own family? Does he lie to his financiers? Does he lie to his financiers who are members of his family?”
Gaetz also claimed Cohen had “tangled such a web of lies that he is not to be believed.” Speaking to reporters, he said his tweet at Cohen was not witness intimidation but “witness testing.”
Not surprisingly, at least one prominent lawyer saw the matter slightly differently.
“It’s that last line that seems really problematic,” emailed Stephen Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, “‘She’s about to learn a lot…’ What is the test implied in that statement, as opposed to the insinuation that as a result of his testimony, his wife is going to come into negative information about him?”
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, saw more than just a harmless “character test” in Gaetz’s comments.
“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 conduct,” Davis said in a statement, adding that Gaetz’s constituents would “not appreciate that their congressman has set a new low.”
Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress and for those illegal hush-money payments, has already delayed his testimony, partially on grounds that he and his family felt threatened by Trump’s attacks on him.
Asked if he would comment about Gaetz’s tweet, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who will lead the Oversight panel’s questioning of Cohen on Wednesday, said “Of course not.”
“I don't argue with nonsense.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the top Republican on the Oversight panel, told The Daily Beast, “Matt can tweet what he wants.” When asked if Gaetz’s tweet could constitute illegal intimidation of a witness, Jordan replied, “Come on.”
Gaetz said he did not talk to anyone in the Trump administration before putting up his tweet. Though he does not serve on the committee before which Cohen is set to testify, Gaetz did say he “talks to members of Congress all the time about the lines of questioning we would offer.”
He noted, with a tinge of delight, that he had seen this reporter’s retweet of his own tweet.
Gaetz avoided saying whether he had any factual foundation for his claim. But he insisted that Cohen’s marriage was a fair topic—since it dealt with the “veracity” of the witness—and argued that he was merely raising the possibility that things could get rocky for the Cohen household when he goes to jail.
“If you think I have the power to determine when people leave their spouses you attribute far too much credit to me,” he said. “I just merely pondered the question, Sam.”
A few minutes after the conversation ended, The Daily Beast called the congressman back for a follow-up question. The call went straight to voicemail and the inbox was full.
—Sam Brodey contributed reporting.