How often does a member of Congress use a public hearing to call for a fellow member to be criminally charged? Man, the Cohen hearing has everything.
Plaskett thinks Gaetz should be referred to Ethics Committee, and possibly, for criminal prosecution pic.twitter.com/e1NuPEGBDL
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) February 27, 2019
(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to—
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;…
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
Gaetz would have a defense under the statute if he can show that his conduct “consisted solely of lawful conduct and that the defendant’s sole intention was to encourage, induce, or cause the other person to testify truthfully.” I only meant to warn Cohen that he should tell the truth, he might say, although his threatening tweet never made that clear. And there’s no such defense under the obstruction statute, 18 U.S.C. 1505, the one various lawyers pointed to yesterday after Gaetz promised to reveal Cohen’s “girlfriends” to his wife — although Gaetz could argue that he’s not guilty there either because he lacked the requisite intent to obstruct. That seems to be what he had in mind when he tweeted today that yesterday’s threat was really just a bungled attempt to impeach Cohen’s character, as though there wasn’t already reams of better evidence (including a criminal conviction) available for that.
I think he should go with this argument: “I wasn’t trying to obstruct the hearing by convincing Cohen not to testify, I was merely attempting to destroy his family by exacting vindictive revenge on the president’s behalf. I would have published the dirt on his girlfriends regardless.” It was punishment, see, not attempted extortion — which feels very “GOP 2019” as far as political morals go.
According to the Daily Beast, the Florida bar’s not waiting around for Congress to address this:
The organization, which licenses lawyers to practice in the state, would not disclose details of the investigation, but bar counsel Chuck Hughes confirmed to The Daily Beast that a probe [of Gaetz] is underway based on a complaint received from a member of the general public…
The Florida Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct state that lawyers “should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs” and “should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others.”
“While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold legal process,” the rules state.
I assume he’ll get a wrist slap from the bar and some sub-censure reprimand from the House, especially since he deleted the tweet under pressure and apologized. The key question with Gaetz isn’t whether he’ll be punished — modern American politicians rarely suffer consequences for misconduct — but which high-ranking position in the Trump administration he’ll eventually receive. That may be the only real consequence of his Cohen tweet, in fact. He’s made his odds of getting confirmed as Bill Barr’s eventual successor as AG by the Republican Senate slightly worse. Slightly.
Here’s Cohen being asked what it’s like to have TrumpWorld turn on you in its characteristic way.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 27, 2019