Michael Cohen was trying to decompress. He’d just returned to his hotel room after his five-hour public hearing before the House Oversight Committee during which he called President Donald Trump a cheat, a liar, a racist, and a con man. Now, room service was set out on a table by the door, and a TV blared the wall-to-wall coverage of the fiery testimony. His phone buzzed endlessly. Reporters checked in. Friends told him they were proud. His lawyers reached out with prep work for the following day’s hearing.
One text broke through the noise. The previous night, Congressman Matt Gaetz had tweeted a missive at Cohen: “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, a Trump Fox News warrior and vitriolic representative of the Florida panhandle, initially defended his comments, noting during a speech on the House floor that it was “entirely appropriate for any member of this body to challenge the truthfulness, veracity and character of people who have a history of lying and have a future that undoubtedly contains nothing but lies.” He told reporters he was “witness testing, not witness tampering.” That evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned him that such comments could affect the committee’s ability to “obtain the truthful and necessary information.” The Florida Bar Association confirmed that it has opened an inquiry into whether his tweets violated any laws, and other lawmakers suggested that he could be referred to the Ethics Committee for witness intimidation or tampering. After this whipped around Washington for hours, Gaetz again tweeted, attempting to try to settle things down. “It was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did,” though he added that “it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen.” He wrote that he was deleting the initial tweet and “should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.” Throughout the hearing the following day, Gaetz tweeted and re-tweeted articles disparaging Cohen and his testimony, even as lawmakers and critics continued to ridicule his comments.
Now, after Cohen’s day on the Hill, Gaetz was backpedaling even further. “Mr. Cohen, this is Congressman Matt Gaetz,” he wrote in a text to Cohen. “I am writing to personally tell you I’m sorry for the tweet that I sent which many believe was threatening to you. It was never ever ever my intent to threaten you in any way.”
“While you don’t know me,” he continued, “that is not who I am and how I operate. I do not wish any harm to you or your family. I was upset at what was transpiring and chose my words poorly. I will work to be better, as I know you said today you will as well. Have a good evening. – Matt.”
Cohen wasted no time in responding. “Congressman Gaetz, I cannot thank you enough for your message. The tweet, sadly, has only made a bad situation worse . . . not only for my wife but for my children as well. With your permission, I would like to share your message with my wife and children. Hopefully, it will bring a little peace to their damaged life. We all make mistakes especially in this crazy partisan time. Thank you again for your text and I hope that the tweet does not cause you any harm. If it does, and there is anything I can do to help you correct it, please feel free to reach out and I would be happy to assist.” (A spokeswoman for Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cohen did not respond to an immediate response for comment, either.)
Later that evening, Gaetz tweeted that he had personally apologized to Cohen “4 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.”
Gaetz repeated his apology in an interview with Fox News on Friday night, saying he should not have invoked Cohen’s family. He took the opportunity to pat himself on the back, and to chastise those he feels are unduly hard on him because of his vocal support for the president. “The reason your network has me on a lot is because I’m one of the leading voices standing up for the president,” he said. “This time I crossed the line. It’s a sign of valor that I’m willing to admit that.” He added that “it seems as though the people who defend the president most vigorously do spend their time in the barrel with the Ethics Committee, so I guess it’s my turn.”
Gaetz’s unseemly tweets may also recall a different sort of symbolism. One of the most poignant moments of Cohen’s testimony occurred when he turned the tables on his inquisitors. During one fraught moment, Cohen pointed to a poster that a Republican lawmaker had assembled with the words “LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!” next to a blown-up photo of him. “I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years,” he told Republican committee members. “I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years. The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”