Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on April 4, 2013, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Phil Sears/AP

Did key Trump congressional ally cross the line into witness tampering?

Updated

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, will apparently share some explosive testimony before the House Oversight Committee today, though one of the panel’s Republican members seemed to take steps last night to pressure the witness ahead of his Capitol Hill appearance.

In a Twitter message directed at Cohen, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wrote, “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.”

For those unfamiliar with Gaetz, the far-right Floridian’s antics are often so ridiculous, the Republican is perceived in some circles as more of a cartoon than a congressman. That said, last night’s missive was far more serious than his usual partisan stunts: many observers quickly suggested that Gaetz was engaging in witness tampering – which is a felony – ahead of sworn congressional testimony.

In effect, the GOP lawmaker seemed to be telling Cohen, the night before an important hearing, “It’s a nice family you have there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), without mentioning Gaetz by name, published a tweet of her own last night, explaining, “I encourage all Members to be mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties.”

And while the Florida Republican initially refused to back down, he eventually retreated.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., apologized late Tuesday for a tweet that appeared to threaten to release unsavory allegations about President Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, as the onetime attorney prepared to testify publicly before Congress. […]

“It was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did,” the congressman wrote on Twitter. “I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.”

Whether or not the congressman, one of Donald Trump’s most sycophantic allies on Capitol Hill, was encouraged by lawyers to publish this follow-up tweet is unclear.

That said, the controversy may not have run its course just yet.

For one thing, we don’t yet know if a simple apology via social media is sufficient given the circumstances. Legal experts can speak to this with authority, but if someone engages in witness tampering, walking it back in the face of criticism doesn’t necessarily negate what happened.

For another, I’d be interested to know more about how and why Gaetz went after Cohen the way he did. Did someone provide the congressman with dirt on the witness ahead of the testimony? If so, who?

Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz and Scandals

Did key Trump congressional ally cross the line into witness tampering?

Updated