Legal experts agree Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz committed 'witness tampering' by threatening Michael Cohen

Legal experts agree Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz committed 'witness tampering' by threatening Michael Cohen

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.

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."

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."

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