A Florida Bar Grievance Committee has found 'no probable cause' that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., violated professional standards in connection with a February post on Twitter, but a letter from the committee harshly chastises the congressman for his actions.
TALLAHASSEE — A "letter of advice" to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz from a Florida Bar Grievance Committee says his February post on Twitter regarding Michael Cohen, then President Trump's personal attorney, "was not consistent with the high standards of our profession" and adds that Gaetz's "actions do not reflect favorably on you as a member of The Florida Bar."
The Bar opened an investigation after Gaetz, who represents Northwest Florida in Congress, tweeted that Cohen, then Trump's so-called "fixer," was having extramarital affairs, and further suggested those affairs would be revealed to his family. The tweet came on the eve of Cohen's testimony to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, in which Cohen accused Trump of criminal conduct in connection with a hush-money scheme involving a pornographic movie star.
Gaetz — a staunch Trump supporter — wrote, “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. ...” Gaetz subsequently deleted the tweet and apologized to Cohen.
The letter of advice to Gaetz came from a 10-member committee in the state's First Judicial Circuit. The committee found "no probable cause" that Gaetz violated professional standards, and went on to note the letter "does not constitute a disciplinary record against you ... ." The complaint has been dismissed, but under Florida Bar rules the investigation could be reopened.
"I crossed the line," Gaetz said in a Friday text message addressing the tweet that sparked the Bar probe and the committee's letter. "I walked it back and apologized. No rules were broken. I'm very pleased with the result and I'm always grateful when I get advice from my fellow attorneys and constituents."
The letter left no doubt of the committee's displeasure, telling Gaetz the group "wants to make it clear ... that this finding does not indicate that the committee condones your conduct in this matter." The committee called the Twitter post and its timing "unprofessional, reckless, insensitive" and said it "demonstrated poor judgment."
In the hours after sending the tweet, Gaetz rejected suggestions it was tantamount to witness tampering. According to The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, Gaetz at the time told reporters, “We’re witness testing not witness tampering ... when witnesses come before Congress, their truthfulness and veracity are in question and we have the opportunity to test them.”
Gaetz deleted the tweet after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote a Twitter post encouraging “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.”
In a Twitter response to Pelosi, Gaetz wrote, in part, " ... While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.”
According to March reporting in Vanity Fair magazine, Gaetz sent a text message to Cohen apologizing for the tweet, writing in part, "It was never ever ever my intent to threaten you in any way. ... I was upset at what was transpiring and chose my words poorly. I will work to be better ... .”
In response, according to Vanity Fair, Cohen sent Gaetz a text message reading, in part, "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. ..." But Cohen also wrote, "... 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.”
The Florida Bar's Grievance Committee's letter included that exchange, and also referenced another Twitter post from Gaetz, in which he wrote, "I've personally apologized to @MichaelCohen212 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."
The Grievance Committee noted Gaetz's "prompt withdrawal of the tweet, as well as your public and personal apologies to Mr. Cohen, his attorney, and the Speaker of the House," as mitigating factors leading to its "no probable cause" finding. But the committee also told Gaetz it "hopes this letter will make you more aware of your continuous obligation to uphold the professional standards of a lawyer in The Florida Bar and, in the future, you will adjust your conduct accordingly."
The Florida Bar has established Grievance Committees in each of the state's 20 judicial circuits. The committees comprise volunteers, at least one-third of whom are not lawyers. When a complaint is filed, one member is assigned to investigate, and after a hearing the committee determines whether there is probable cause to send the case further into the disciplinary process.