The Florida Bar has opened an investigation into a tweet sent by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz on Tuesday that appeared to be an attempt to intimidate President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen the day before he was to testify against his old boss.
The Florida Bar confirmed to Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon that it has begun investigating Gaetz’s tweet. It would not release any additional information, citing confidentiality rules.
“Any time the words or actions of a Florida lawyer result in complaints, The Florida Bar will fully investigate those complaints through its established grievance process to determine if Bar rules have been violated,” Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Andía Walker said.
A day before Cohen’s public testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Gaetz tweeted: “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…”
He later deleted it and apologized following an admonishment by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Gaetz followed up late Wednesday with tweet announcing that he had “personally” apologized to Cohen for “referencing his private family in the public square.”
“Regardless of disagreements, family members should be off-limits from attacks from representatives, senators & presidents, including myself. Let’s leave the Cohen family alone,” he said.
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Gaetz was spotted Wednesday at the House Oversight hearing where Cohen testified for hours about his involvement with the Trump Organization.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, suggested that Gaetz’s tweet should be taken up by the House Committee on Ethics, saying his action was “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
The Florida Bar’s Walker said the association handles thousands of complaints each year and files charges or pursues discipline against lawyers whose professional conduct is not in keeping with the rules.
Gaetz’s chief of staff, Jillian Lane Wyant, said the office is aware of the Florida Bar investigation.
“It seems that the Florida Bar, by its rules, is required to investigate even the most frivolous of complaints,” Lane Wyant said.
The Florida Bar handles complaints through its attorney consumer assistance program, according to its website. Once it gets a complaint, it first conducts a preliminary investigation. If the complaint is deemed to be a violation, the accused attorney is given 15 days to respond to the complaint. If not, the case is closed.After the program gets a response, or if it receives no response, the program either closes the file or refers it to one of the bar’s branch offices for further investigation and potential disciplinary action.Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.