MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) — The Florida Bar said it would be looking to see if Florida US Rep. Matt Gaetz violated professional conduct rules after sending a taunting tweet about former Michael Cohen before he was to appear before a congressional committee.READ MORE: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Issues Warning After 110 Card Skimmers Found At South Florida Gas Stations
On Wednesday afternoon, Francine Andía Walker, Director of Communications for the Florida Bar issued this statement:
“Any time the words or actions of a Florida lawyer result in complaints, The Florida Bar will fully investigate those complaints through its established grievance process to determine if Bar rules have been violated. That procedure is detailed on our website. If rules have been violated, The Florida Bar will vigorously pursue appropriate discipline by the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Bar takes its responsibility of regulating lawyer conduct very seriously. It handles thousands of complaints each year, filing charges and pursuing discipline against lawyers whose professional conduct is not in keeping with the rules.
The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation. Our rules of confidentiality do not permit me to provide any other information at this time but you are welcome to check back on the status of the case.
Also, please note: The Florida Bar is not an association and “association” is not a part of the organization’s name. The correct reference is The Florida Bar.”
On Wednesday morning, Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, a former federal prosecutor, asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate a statement Republican Gaetz made about Cohen, saying that she believes the GOP lawmaker’s comments could rise to the level of witness tampering and intimidation.
Gaetz, a close ally to the President, tweeted at Cohen on Tuesday, saying, “Do your wife & 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 statement — which came the day before Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, testified publicly before Congress — sparked an immediate backlash, including from some House Democrats who suggested that it amounted to witness intimidation.
In a letter sent to the chairman and top Republican on the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday, Rice asks for the panel to “immediately open an investigation” into the statement.
“As a former District Attorney and federal prosecutor, I believe this statement is in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1512, which clearly defines witness tampering and intimidation,” the Democratic lawmaker wrote. “According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), this statue applies to proceedings before Congress.”
Rice walked over to the Republican side on the House floor during votes Tuesday night and raised the issue in a face-to-face conversation with the Florida congressman, according to a source familiar with the discussion. Later, she sent the letter to the Ethics Committee.
In her letter, Rice wrote, “After the House Committee on Ethics thoroughly investigates this matter, I urge you to make any and all appropriate referrals to DOJ.”
On Tuesday evening, Gaetz posted a follow-up statement to Twitter saying that he had decided to delete his earlier tweet and apologizing.
In response to a tweet from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that lawmakers should be “mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties,” Gaetz tweeted, “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.”READ MORE: Homestead Girl With Brain Cancer Gets Furever Companion Thanks To Make-a-Wish
Cohen is testifying publicly before the House Oversight committee on Wednesday at a blockbuster hearing that is ongoing.
The President’s former attorney and fixer has given testimony about his dealings with Trump and has been harshly critical of him, saying in his opening statement that the President is “a conman,” “a cheat” and “a racist.”
The White House has attacked Cohen’s credibility, labeling him as someone who cannot be trusted after he already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
Gaetz’s congressional office did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment on the letter sent by Rice requesting an ethics probe.
A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment on the letter.
ABC News was first to report on the letter.
Gaetz defended his statement to reporters on Tuesday night, saying that it did not constitute a threat. “Absolutely not. I’m not threatening anyone,” Gaetz said.
The GOP lawmaker also said that his message was not witness-tampering, but rather, “witness-testing.”
“This is not witness-tampering. It’s witness-testing,” Gaetz said. “We have an obligation in the Congress to test the truthfulness of people who come before us.”
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said in a statement on Tuesday, “We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct.”
Davis also said that the “congressman has set a new low — which in today’s political culture is hard to imagine as possible.”
The chairman of the House Ethics committee, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, declined to comment Tuesday night in an interview with CNN on what the committee might do regarding the tweet, but he said “members should certainly be aware of the rules of the House.”
“The Ethics Committee takes seriously our responsibility to enforce House rules. I cannot comment on any matters that may come before us. But certainly we’re well aware and members should certainly be aware of the rules of the House that everyone is subject to,” Deutch said.MORE NEWS: South Florida Airports Report Flight Delays, Cancellations
(©2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)