Matt Gaetz, a Trump Ally, Is in Hot Water Again for Cohen Threat

WASHINGTON — Representative Matt Gaetz, an outspoken Florida Republican with close ties to President Trump, has landed in hot water — again.

The bipartisan leaders of the House Ethics Committee said on Friday that Mr. Gaetz had flouted their requests for an in-person interview to answer to accusations that he had “sought to threaten, intimidate, harass or otherwise improperly influence” the congressional testimony of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer.

Refusing to talk to the committee, which polices the ethical conduct of House members, is exceedingly rare, and the committee leaders said Mr. Gaetz had left them no choice but to form a special investigative subcommittee to look further into the possible threat.

“The committee informed Representative Gaetz that its ability to resolve the complaint would be hindered without his testimony and explained that if the committee was unable to dispose of the complaint by June 24, 2019, House and committee rules would require” the creation of the investigative body, a statement from the Ethics Committee’s top Democrat and Republican said.

Mr. Gaetz, 37, brushed off the committee’s complaint with typical bravado.

“I’ve been a little busy trying to stop a war in Iran lately,” Mr. Gaetz said in a text on Friday afternoon, when asked why he had not appeared for an interview, an apparent allusion to his push to deny funds for a military strike against Iran unless Mr. Trump first secures Congress’s approval.

The excuse does not really hold up. The committee first requested an interview with Mr. Gaetz in early May, well before the latest tensions with Iran flared.

He would not commit to talking to the investigative panel in the future, either.

“As the president likes to say, we’ll see,” he said.

The inquiry stems from a post on Twitter that Mr. Gaetz wrote in February on the eve of congressional testimony by Mr. Cohen in which the congressman threatened to expose what he said were Mr. Cohen’s extramarital affairs. Democrats called the tweet a clear effort to intimidate Mr. Cohen, who promised to and ultimately did implicate Mr. Trump in possible crimes and other unsavory behavior.

“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,” Mr. Gaetz wrote in his tweet, which he later deleted and then issued an apology for.

The secretive Ethics Committee shared few other details about the case, though its statement did clarify that its review began after another lawmaker filed an official complaint on March 13. The committee could ultimately recommend the House take action to punish or reprimand Mr. Gaetz.

Complaints from one lawmaker about another are highly unusual. In this case, it was filed by Representative Kathleen Rice, Democrat of New York, according to a congressional aide familiar with the matter. Ms. Rice, a former federal prosecutor, confronted Mr. Gaetz on the House floor on the night of his tweet, warning him it could be witness intimidation, the aide said.

In her letter of complaint to the Ethics Committee, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Rice asked that Mr. Gaetz be investigated for witness tampering and intimidation.

“After the House Committee on Ethics thoroughly investigates this matter, I urge you to make any and all appropriate referrals to” the Justice Department, she wrote.

The panel formed to investigate the claims against Mr. Gaetz will be led by Representative Anthony G. Brown, Democrat of Maryland, and consists of two Democrats and two Republicans.

Mr. Gaetz’s comments also set off an investigation by the Florida Bar, which licenses lawyers to practice in the congressman’s home state. A spokeswoman for the group, Francine Andía Walker, said on Friday that staff for the Florida Bar conducted an initial inquiry into whether Mr. Gaetz violated its conduct rules before recommending in mid-May that a grievance committee be empaneled to render its own judgment.

Its work is continuing, she said.

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