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House Ethics Committee investigating Gaetz over Cohen threats

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it is formally investigating whether Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzFlorida passes 850k coronavirus cases Florida GOP Rep. Mike Waltz tests positive for COVID-19 Gaetz says he has coronavirus antibodies MORE (R-Fla.) attempted to intimidate President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE's former lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenPress: Trump's biggest fear is — lock him up Biden faces politically thorny decision on Trump prosecutions New York expands Trump tax fraud investigations to include write-offs: report MORE ahead of his testimony to Congress earlier this year.

In a statement, Ethics Committee Chairman Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid MORE (D-Fla.) and Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantRepublican Van Duyne wins race for Texas House seat Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority MORE (Texas), the panel's ranking Republican, said that Gaetz declined their request to appear before the committee for an in-person interview in May.

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The Ethics Committee said it told Gaetz that it wouldn't be able to resolve the ethics complaint against him without his testimony and warned that if it couldn't dispose of the complaint by June 24, the rules would require formally opening an investigative subcommittee to review the allegations.

Gaetz defended his refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

"If members of Congress want to spend their time psychoanalyzing my tweets, it’s certainly their prerogative. I won’t be joining them in the endeavor," Gaetz said in a statement Friday.

A day before Cohen's testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February, Gaetz accused the former Trump attorney of having affairs.

"Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?" Gaetz, one of Trump's most loyal GOP allies in the House, wrote. "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 initially defended the tweet, telling reporters that "we’re witness testing, not witness tampering."

"And when witnesses come before Congress, their truthfulness and veracity are in question and we have the opportunity to test them," he said.

But Gaetz later deleted the tweet and said it wasn't intended as a threat after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) said lawmakers' comments "on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of the House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties."

Pelosi at the time said that the Ethics Committee should "vigilantly monitor" lawmakers' statements on social media.

"Speaker, I want to get the truth too. 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," Gaetz tweeted.

Cohen testified to the House Oversight panel that Trump directed him to lie about a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who alleged an affair with the president. Cohen also called Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat," testifying that Trump made racist remarks about African Americans and inflated his wealth.

Cohen said that Trump pressured him to lie about the timeline of discussions about a project to build a Trump property in Moscow.

“He would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen said.

Cohen reported to a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., in May to begin a three-year sentence for tax, bank and campaign finance crimes.