Rep. Stacey Plaskett got attention online and on news broadcasts for two moments – one very serious and one less so – during a congressional hearing with Donald Trump’s long-time fixer Michael Cohen on Wednesday.
Often referred to as Trump’s personal attorney, when Cohen’s home and office were raided prior to his criminal charges for bank fraud and lying to Congress, the court found almost none of the records of his actions related to legitimate attorney-client representation. His role apparently was more one of acting as Trump’s agent or general fixer.
The serious moment was Plaskett suggesting Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) be referred for ethics and possibly criminal violations over what many saw as an attempt to threaten Cohen before the hearing.
“I want to apologize for the inappropriate comments and tweets that have been made by other members of this body,” Plaskett said of the heated, partisan atmosphere in the hearing room. “And as a former prosecutor and as former counsel on House ethics, I think that at the very least there should be a referral to the Ethics Committee of witness intimidation or tampering under USC 1512 of my colleague Matt Gaetz and maybe, possibly him being referred for criminal prosecution.”
Numerous outlets highlighted the remarks, including CBS News.
At issue is a tweet from Gaetz, a Florida Republican, the day before Cohen’s testimony, saying to Cohen: “Do your wife and 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…”
The section of law Plaskett referred to deals with witness intimidation. It says in part that anyone who “uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so,” with the intent to “influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding” or cause a person to “withhold testimony … “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”
Gaetz told the Daily Beast he was not trying to intimidate a witness when he posted the comment on Twitter, but instead was “challenging the veracity and character of a witness.”
“This is what it looks like to compete in the marketplace of ideas,” he said, according to the Daily Beast.
But many media pundits at numerous outlets have pointed out that Gaetz did not question Cohen, is not on the committee before which Cohen appeared and did not call his veracity into question in the tweet. Instead the “tweet” appeared to threaten that something bad would happen at the hearing that would impact Cohen’s wife.
The Florida Bar Association is already investigating Gaetz for a potential ethics violation stemming from the tweeted threat.
The other, less serious viral moment captures Plaskett reacting with apparent disdain and frustration to comments from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). One brief video of the moment, retweeted tens of thousands of times, has been viewed more than 2.5 million times since Wednesday.
Cohen is scheduled to give more testimony to the committee on March 6. During his appearance Wednesday, Cohen called the president a conman, a racist and a cheat, and implicated Trump in campign finance violations, among much more.