On Friday, the House Ethics Committee formally rebuked Florida’s Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz over a tweet that he posted last year that many observers denounced as an apparent attempt at witness intimidation. The tweet targeted Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who at the time was slated to soon testify before Congress and who Gaetz baselessly insinuated had secret “girlfriends” who his family didn’t know about. Gaetz deleted the tweet, but not before the backlash set in — the Florida Bar has already issued its own report about the tweet (Gaetz is a lawyer), concluding that he was “unprofessional” and “reckless.”
In this case, although the House Ethics Committee concluded that Gaetz did not violate laws against witness tampering or obstruction of Congress, his behavior nonetheless “did not reflect creditably upon the House of Representatives” and “did not meet the standards by which Members of the House should govern themselves.” That constitutes a violation of the House’s code of official conduct, which demands that members of Congress “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”
The House Ethics Committee’s Friday report stated, in part:
‘The committee is not the social media police. The committee has acknowledged that the fast-pace and wide dissemination of electronic communications, while in some ways a boon to greater transparency between members and their constituents, can lead to embarrassing mistakes and unintended consequences.’
Eventually, Gaetz issued an apology for the tweet, which came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that public statements like the tweet from Gaetz “can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties,” although she did not single Gaetz out by name.
On Friday, following the Ethics Committee’s report, Gaetz said he accepted the findings. He commented as follows, referring to the recent Florida primaries, in which he won the race for the Republican nomination for his seat’s Congressional district:
‘The Ethics Committee has given me an admonishment. My fellow Northwest Florida Republicans gave me 81% of the vote on Tuesday. I accept both with humility.’
Gaetz is an ardent defender of the president. He was first elected to Congress in 2016, and in the time since, he has made a name for himself with his high-profile and often belligerent defenses of the president’s conduct in contexts like the recent impeachment proceedings against Trump.