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Ethics panel rebukes Gaetz for tweet targeting Cohen

The House Ethics Committee is formally admonishing Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzOfficer wounded in raid that killed Breonna Taylor gets book deal McCarthy says Gaetz won't be punished unless charges filed Matt Gaetz makes six-figure ad buy targeting CNN amid sex trafficking allegations MORE (R-Fla.) for a tweet that attempted to intimidate President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE's former lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenTrump Organization adds veteran criminal defense attorney Manhattan DA investigating Trump says he won't seek reelection John Dean: 'Only a matter of how many days' until Trump is indicted MORE ahead of his testimony to Congress last year.

In a report released on Friday, the Ethics Committee delivered a rare formal rebuke against Gaetz for his tweet, which it said "did not reflect creditably upon the House of Representatives" and "did not meet the standards by which Members of the House should govern themselves."

But the panel concluded that Gaetz, a close Trump ally, did not violate witness tampering and obstruction of Congress laws.

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It cited similar findings from a grievance committee of the Florida bar finding Gaetz's tweet to be "unprofessional" and "reckless," as well as an apology from Gaetz himself.

In February 2019, a day before Cohen testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about his experiences working with Trump, Gaetz had sent a tweet accusing Cohen of having extramarital affairs.

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz tweeted. “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 and told reporters that "we’re witness testing, not witness tampering."

But Gaetz later deleted the tweet after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion Business groups oppose Paycheck Fairness Act, citing concerns it could threaten bonuses and negotiating New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (D-Calif.) warned that lawmakers' statements "can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties" and that the House Ethics Committee "should vigilantly monitor these types of statements."

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Gaetz apologized and said it was not his “intent to threaten.”

Gaetz initially declined to testify before the House Ethics Committee last year, which led the panel to formally open an investigation in June 2019 because it couldn't dispose of the complaint without his testimony before a set deadline. Gaetz then complied with the investigation and testified that he “acted improperly regarding [his] own standards" and was “sorry for doing so."

"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 said in a statement to The Hill on Friday.

While the panel did not conclude that Gaetz violated any laws, it said that his tweet violated the House's code of official conduct requiring lawmakers to "behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House."

The report further cautioned lawmakers to be more judicious about their social media postings.

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"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," the report stated.

Cohen testified to the House Oversight and Reform Committee that Trump ordered him to lie about a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who alleged an affair with the president. Cohen also described Trump as a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat."

Cohen will reportedly allege in an upcoming book set to be released next month that Trump worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

“Trump had colluded with the Russians, but not in the sophisticated ways imagined by his detractors. I also knew that the Mueller investigation was not a witch-hunt,” Cohen wrote in an excerpt obtained by NBC News. “Trump had cheated in the election, with Russian connivance, as you will discover in these pages, because doing anything — and I mean anything — to ‘win’ has always been his business model and way of life.”

Cohen began serving a three-year prison sentence last year for tax, bank and campaign finance crimes but was released in July to serve the rest of his sentence at home amid concerns about conditions in the prison that could risk exposure to the coronavirus.